The Buffalo Bills ended a two game losing streak behind another dominating performance by their defense and an offense that came together at just the right time with their 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
After trailing 14-3 through most of the third quarter, the Bills orchestrated several impressive drives to score 14 unanswered points and pull out their first come from behind win of the season.
The first half of the game saw the Bills’ offense look just as shaky and inefficient as when EJ Manuel was under center. However veteran quarterback Kyle Orton, after having one of his passes picked off and returned for a touchdown by Rashean Mathis in the second quarter, righted the ship and would go on to complete nearly 70 percent of his passes for the game for 308 yards and a touchdown to lightly used tight end Chris Gragg in the fourth quarter.
Unlike Manuel who was completing just 33 percent of his passes to Bills’ wide receivers, Orton would connect on 14 of 21 of his attempts to his receivers (67 percent) for 203 yards. In the process Orton snapped the Bills’ 27 game streak – the longest in the NFL – without producing a 300 yard passing game.
Initially the Bills’ offense looked just like the one that lost in dismal fashion to the San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans. Sammy Watkins was barely involved (2 receptions for 13 yards in the first half), Orton was inaccurate and made some questionable decisions (namely Mathis’ pick six), and the running game was inconsistent and not generating much traction outside of Fred Jackson.
All of this should be familiar to Bills’ fans and was plenty discouraging.
Yet, Orton seemed to generate more trust from his teammates in his ability to take charge of the huddle and it wasn’t long before the Bills began moving the ball. Orton was quicker on his throws and is better able to read defenses at this point in his career than Manuel is.
He found Watkins for four catches in the fourth quarter including a 20 yard completion to set up Dan Carpenter’s game winning 58 yard field goal in which Watkins made an acrobatic move to reach behind him and reel the ball in.
Orton made use of all of the Bills’ weapons, completing passes to Watkins, Jackson, CJ Spiller, Gragg, Scott Chandler, Robert Woods, Mike Williams, Chris Hogan, and Marquise Goodwin in the process.
Orton’s poise and experience – two words that have gotten thrown around a lot in the wake of Doug Marrone’s decision to replace Manuel with Orton – were certainly factors in the determination of the outcome of this game but they were not the only ones. Jackson continues to defy age and act as the leader on and off the field for the Bills.
The only reliable performer on the offensive side of the ball through the first four weeks of the season Jackson would produce all but nine of the Bills’ positive yardage on the ground in addition to catching seven passes for 58 yards.
His fellow back, Spiller, would not be so successful, accounting for just nine yards on seven carries and essentially being benched for nearly two quarters in the middle part of the contest. Spiller’s struggles have been largely overshadowed by the entire offense’s general malaise but it is a story line that bears watching. Spiller is a back that is at his best operating in space but the designed run calls for him seem to be pushing him more up the middle.
Spiller is not a physical type of back and does not seek contact – he needs to elude with his shiftiness and speed outside of the tackles but is finding little traction there right now. His inconsistent efforts in the running game impact the entire state of the offense as well as his ability to secure a financially lucrative long term contract for himself following this season.
Right now Jackson, even at 33, is the better option.
Once again Buffalo’s defense kept them in this game, giving the offense the time it needed to gel. Missing defensive tackle and heart of the defense, Kyle Williams – out with a knee injury suffered in last week’s game against the Texans – the defensive line didn’t skip a beat. They would hold a usually prolific offense to 263 total yards – 95 in the first half alone – and sack Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford six times.
Marcel Dareus produced a career high three sacks – the last being a strip sack in the fourth that effectively ended the Lions’ last drive – and three tackles for loss. Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant did an admirable job of filling in for Williams and the Bills once again were dominant against the run, allowing just 69 yards on the ground.
The defense held Detroit to just one third down conversion (out of 11 attempts) and in general held every offensive player in check with the exception of Golden Tate (7 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown).
And for that Jim Schwartz probably deserved to be carried off the field – as he was – in what was an emotional win for him in his return to Detroit.
Not all was perfect. The Lions were missing their top offensive weapons in Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush – both of whom left the game early with injuries. Lions’ linebacker DeAndre Levy (13 tackles) nearly shut down the Bills’ entire run game by himself and the Bills were further aided when Lions’ kicker Alex Henery missed all three of his field goal attempts including the potential game winner on the Lions’ last drive. The Bills are still struggling on third down efficiency (5 of 16) and are racking up too many penalties.
But Buffalo did manage to halt a potential three game losing streak – keeping them atop of the AFC East for another week at least until they face the New England Patriots in Week Six- and regain some confidence in the ability of their offense to play from behind.
And for Week Five of the NFL season, at a time when there are no more undefeated teams left in the league, that was enough.