Late October is when the NFL starts to really get interesting, especially here in Buffalo. The question on everyone's mind is: Which Bills team is the real Bills team? Is it the power-running, stifling defense team that throttled the Redskins yesterday 24-7, beat New England and Jacksonville earlier in the year? Or is it the team with the sputtering offense that leaves its defense on the field too long, resulting in one-sided losses to teams like Miami, Philadelphia, and the New york Jets and barely pulled on an overtime victory against Cincinnati? We Bills fans are desperately praying for the former, especially with a couple of stiff tests coming up: the Bills play at Kansas City (where they almost always get crushed) and Dallas the next two weeks.
:: The Bills actually ran the ball yesterday, and they kept running it. Even when Travis Henry got stuffed a few times, they didn't instantly go pass-wacky. Wow, patience with the running game! Who'da thunk it! (Attentive readers will know that I'da thunk it. In fact, I did thunk it. And "thunk" is one fun word.) They rushed the ball 39 times for once. They ignored the nay-sayers who constantly point out that Travis Henry fumbles occasionally (he didn't fumble at all yesterday). And they actually decided to use Antonio Brown, the rookie receiver-kick returner who's the fastest guy on the team, on an end-around play, which was a nive changeup to throw into the mix (certainly better than fake punts and halfback options and other nuttiness the Bills have tried).
A very welcome development, in addition to the definite signs of life in the running game, was in the success the Bills had passing the ball without Eric Moulds in the lineup. Drew Bledsoe had a fine game, going 19-26 for 244 yards, one touchdown and only one interception. The leading receiver yesterday was none other than Josh Reed, who has come under heavy criticism for too many dropped passes and failing to get open. My contention is that Bills fans have been a bit too demanding of Reed, who is after all only in his second year. I think fans' expectations of receivers have been warped by the careers of such players as Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss, players who are spectacular pretty much from the minute they enter the league, but it's far more common for receivers to take a year or two to develop. Josh Reed's rookie year was better than Eric Moulds's, and if he only catches one pass a game for the entire remainder of this season, Reed's second year will end up eclipsing Moulds's second as well.
The defense played a tight and physical game as well, punishing Redskins QB Patrick Ramsay and eventually knocking him out of the game. Their backup, the former Bills' starter and incredibly injury-prone Rob Johnson, came in and almost immediately was swarmed to the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf. (I still maintain that the Bills did the right thing in making Johnson the starter a few years back over Doug Flutie, even though it didn't work out.) The Bills held the Redskins to 56 yards rushing and allowed only ten pass completions. That's pretty good. They'll need that stiffness next week, though, when they see Chiefs RB Priest Holmes.
One final bit of negativity: the Bills are still far too undisciplined. They are still prone to stupid penalties, and in something I've never seen before, they had to call a timeout before running the very first play of the second quarter -- when they had a two-minute television timeout anyway. That's not the mark of a precision team that's hitting on all cylinders.
Other football stuff:
:: If there is one thing I'm getting sick of seeing in the NFL, it's the way every time a wide receiver has a pass broken up by a defender, he immediately whirls around at the officials and makes that wrist-gesture that mimicks the ref's throwing of the penalty flag. If you get the call, fine; if not, quit begging for it. Yeesh.
:: The Dolphins have now blown two winnable games at home -- first, their opener against the Texans, and then yesterday against the Patriots. And it's not even December, when they wilt every year. Rickey Williams, though, did have one of the most amazing plays I've ever seen, when somehow he managed to keep his knee from hitting the ground with only one hand and his toes to brace against when a Pats defender made the initial hit. You almost hate to see a team lose when they have a player with enough drive and strength to pull that play off. Almost. But it's the Dolphins, so I'm glad to see them lose.
:: But I'm not glad to see the Pats win, because now we'll start hearing all sorts of blather about how wonderful Belichick and Tom Brady are. Gack.
:: I only saw a single highlight from the Vikings' win over the Broncos yesterday. Vikings fans will know what highlight that was. That lateral had no business working. I'm glad it did, but I really hope they're not planning that kind of thing as a matter of course.
:: Now that we're approaching the half-way point in the season, and the races for the playoffs are starting to take some shape, it seems that my Super Bowl prediction for this year is in some trouble. Tampa Bay's awesome defense has looked pretty ordinary, and they're only 3-3 right now, not even leading their division and well-behind in the all-important home-field advantage race. My AFC Champion pick, the Tennessee Titans, are in better shape -- they're 5-2, just a half-game out of first place in the AFC South, behind Indianapolis. And not a single one of my picks to win divisions this year is in first place right now. Ouch.
October's almost out -- the World Series is on, and soon it will be November, when the NFL season starts to really pick up steam. The trees here are now well-past their peak, and we're just about in the time when snow becomes a realistic possibility in the Buffalo weather forecast. Bring it on!