ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Maybe Rex Ryan was right about firing Greg Roman two weeks into the season. The Bills (1-2) certainly didn’t miss their former offensive coordinator on Sunday. And even down Sammy Watkins – sidelined with his lingering foot pain – Anthony Lynn offense did it’s part in earning a statement win over the Arizona Cardinals (1-2), 33-18.
Still, it was the defense that stole the show on Sunday, forcing forcing six Cardinal three and outs and intercepting Carson Palmer four times, in an absolutely suffocating effort.
After a week filled with criticism and hot takes over the controversial firing and Ryan’s job security his team swiftly silenced the chatter.
“I don’t know if anybody needed a win more than we did. Just feel fortunate to get one” Ryan said after the Bills first victory of 2016. Our guys did a great job, they were able to keep everything out, all the noise from the outside, able to block it off and prepare and I think that’s the mark of a good team.”
The defense was tremendous in creating chaos for the veteran QB Palmer, who looked rattled and inaccurate all afternoon. Buffalo racked up nine QB hits and five sacks, doubling their total sacks on the season, which was five entering Sunday.
Without the services of CB Ronald Darby the secondary rebounded from an embarrassing outing against the Jets by batting down 10 passes on the afternoon. Buffalo was one of only six teams to not record an interception in the first two weeks of the season, but left Week 3 having notched four , including two from Stephon Gilmore.
“They played this one a lot different than the first two,” Palmer said of the Bills secondary after the game.
Despite three receivers finishing with over 60 yards receiving and RB David Johnson coming up just 17 yards shy of 100 yards and scoring twice, lets not be coy – this was an outstanding effort from the Bills defense. They disguised their blitzes, held up in coverage and rarely took their foot off the accelerator.
“We were really embarrassed by the type of play we had last week, but we had to really look deep and try to help ourselves and come up with different ways and change the look on them,” Ryan explained. And as he tends to do, added in a little parting shot for the critics. “Dennis Thurman did a great job calling the game and then my brother’s contribution in the red-zone looked pretty decent I think.”
The debut of Anthony Lynn’s offense got off to a rough start with the Bills receiving the opening kick and swiftly moving backwards on three plays before punting from their own five. As the first half wore on though they began to find their stride. Sparked by a beautifully executed read option that Tyrod Taylor broke off for a 49-yard gain, the Bills would go on to score on three of their final five drives in the first half and mount a 17-0 lead.
Taylor’s legs were a huge factor on Sunday – something Ryan emphasized wanting to incorporate into the offense more – as the speedy QB went for 76 yards and a touchdown. Through the air he had far from his best outing – 14-of-25, 119 yards and an interception – but today they didn’t need him to be spectacular.
At least through one game of Lynn’s guidance it appears that Ryan got his wish of utilizing Taylor’s “unique” abilities more. RB LeSean McCoy reflected on that best after the game. “Every coach or team wants to to have the best players, but every coach doesn’t think that’s the reality,” he remarked. “So why wouldn’t you use the players you have, use their best abilities? Tyrod, one of the best things he can do is run the ball. I mean he’s like a running back at quarterback, so why wouldn’t you not have him using his legs?”
Well said. Still, it was McCoy’s day on offense as the eight-year veteran piled up 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns, the second of which was the 50th rushing score of his career.
On the day Buffalo finished with 296 total yards of offense, with 208 coming on the ground.
The first two drives under Anthony Lynn’s tutelage were not promising to say the least. But, as they say, the third time is a charm and after forcing back-to-back three and outs on Arizona, Buffalo’s offense sprung to life. On the first play of their third possession Taylor put those unique skills to good use keeping the ball on a designed read option, busting around the left sedge and weaving his way through some great downfield blocking to the Arizona 29 for a 49-yard run.
Two plays later LeSean McCoy would break free for a 17 yard gain and move the ball to the nine-yard line for a first-and-goal, but the the drive was squandered on the one. The Bills would settle for a field goal.
After yet another Arizona three and out the Bills offense would do one better on their fourth possession, capping off a five play, 53-yard drive with a 24-yard LeSean McCoy touchdown run.
“Oh man! They blocked that up,” an excited McCoy said of the scoring play. “It was a trap up the middle. The safety was deep to the left so I knew I could run at them, but they got me to the secondary and that was it.”
The struggles continued for the Cardinals on the ensuing possession and after three plays they punted yet again and gave the ball back to Buffalo with a chance to take a commanding lead. They’d wind up going backwards after a Taylor fumble on second down, then heaved it deep on third down, resulting in a ridiculous one-handed interception by Patrick Peterson – the highlight of Arizona’s first half. Regardless the turnover essentially served as a punt and the Bills defense would force yet another three and out and set their offense up in great field position at their own 48.
From there it took the Bills just six plays to get on the board again as they worked the ball down to the Arizona five and McCoy punched it in on first-and-goal, building the lead to 17-0.
On the subsequent Arizona drive they’d pick up there first, first down of the afternoon, only to be stopped three plays later on third-and-14 courtesy of a Lorenzo Alexander sack. Or so they thought. As Palmer was pulled to the ground, Jerry Hughes came in late and ripped off his helmet, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty, which kept the drive alive.
Naturally, that series went on to cover 84 yards in 17 plays and ended in a Johnson TD to give the Cardinals some life before the half.
Generally that’s where things start to unravel for the Bills. A costly penalty leads to a score for the opponent and the flood gates open, but out of the half the defense slammed the door again and forced their six three-and-out of the game.
The offense would follow suit and orchestrate a six play 47-yard drive, capped off by a 20-yard run by Taylor and the Bills led 23-7.
On their next possession, Arizona pushed the ball all the way to the Bills eight where a fourth-and-one they were initially going for, turned into a fourth-and-six after an inexcusable delay of game penalty. Bruce Arians would opt for a FG instead, which would have kept things interesting.
But this day belonged to the Bills.
Arizona long snapper Kameron Canaday would snap the ball well over holder Drew Butler’s head and the ball pinballed all the way to midfield where Aaron Williams would scoop it up and take it to the house for an incredible touchdown that put the Bills up 30-7.
Things got dicey late with the Bills up 33-16 as Buffalo halted two straight Arizona drives with interceptions, the second of which gave them the ball at their own one. That would result in a safety, which gave the ball back to Arizona with three minutes left. Fortunately, the Bills defense rose to the occasion again snaring two more interceptions in the closing minutes of the game to lock up their first win of the season.
“You can call it whatever you want,” safety Aaron Williams pronounced after the game. “We wanted to come out here and play the way we were supposed to be playing and we came out here and did it.”
“You start off 0-2 and you’re going to be questioned about everything, so I definitely understand that,” Ryan said reflectively. “But all you can do is line them up and play again, and that’s what we did.”
Beating a team like the Cardinals in that fashion certainly restores some hope at One Bills Dr. however the Patriots loom next. And even with their mysterious quarterback situation that even Scooby Doo couldn’t solve, they’re certainly no walk in the park.
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