Sometimes in sports when a bad team rebuilds, a specific progression can be traced. First, they are the bad team that everyone wants to play because they’re an easy target; that was the Buffalo Bills last year. Then, they become the bad team that nobody wants to play: they still lose most of the time, but they scrap and claw and fight and always keep the game close. That could very well be the Buffalo Bills this year, especially after the opener yesterday, which they lost, 37-31 in overtime, to the New York Jets.
Most of the Bills’ “question marks” going into the game actually did well. The offensive line was able to run-block effectively, allowing Bills RB Travis Henry to put up over 140 yards rushing. Their pass-blocking wasn’t as good — Drew Bledsoe faced an awful lot of pressure — but that will most definitely get better. The defense also did a good job of keeping the Jets offense from ever really developing a rhythm for more than a series or two. So how did the Bills end up losing? Because their special teams, which for more than three years now have been substantially less than “special”, blew the game by giving up a blocked punt and two kickoff returns for touchdowns — including the opening kickoff in overtime, so the game ended in OT before there was ever a play from scrimmage. Special teams play has been a train-wreck for the Bills ever since that playoff game in Tennessee that they lost (also on a kickoff return, this one with twenty seconds or so left in the game). Oh, where is Steve Tasker when you need him?
How was Drew Bledsoe’s performance? Well, it’s wonderful to be able to watch the Bills and have some confidence in the quarterback again, something which has not really been the case since Jim Kelly’s retirement. He did throw two interceptions, although I only consider one of them to be a true interception because the other was one of those deals where the receiver gets a hand on the ball, but then the defender pops him, knocking the ball into the air where another defender, who happens to be in the right place at the right time, plucks it from the air. Calling those against a QB’s stats has always struck me as a bit unfair. Maybe they should be called “deflections” instead of “interceptions”. Bledsoe also engineered a last-minute drive to tie the game, which was utterly thrilling. Welcome to Buffalo, Drew.
(An interesting side note: Drew Bledsoe’s first play from scrimmage in his NFL career, back in 1994 with the Patriots, was a pass play on which he was sacked by Bruce Smith of the Bills. His first play from scrimmage as a Bill was a pass play on which he was sacked. Weird.)