I've just realized that I never posted anything about the Buffalo Bills' defeat of the Miami Dolphins last Sunday (final score 16-6).
That game, coupled with the Bills' surprisingly tough play in a loss at New England on opening day, seems to have fueled a lot of optimism over the Bills in these parts, with some people on the radio talk shows saying things like, "Hey, if the defense keeps playing like this, and the offense keeps playing OK without making any huge bonehead mistakes, and if the division is really as bad as it looks, and if the Bills sacrifice a live chicken to Jo'Bu every full moon, maybe they can make the playoffs this year!"
Well, not so fast. They got a surprising road win, which is huge -- it's also JP Losman's first road win, which is nice to see, even if he did throw for only 83 yards on a handful of pass attempts. Hey, whatever works. And for the guys at FootballOutsiders.com who are making fun of the Bills for taking the same general approach to offense that last year's Chicago Bears took, I'd only point out that based on last year, I didn't read a single good thing about Rex Grossman heading into this year -- and that guy, with some experience and some winning under his belt went out last week and threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. So, if Losman follows the same path, you know, I'm fine with it.
Of course, the Bills won't follow the Chicago blueprint to the playoffs, because their defense isn't nearly as good as the Bears' was last year. I still think a 6-10 record is realistic for this team. But if eight or nine of those losses look like the loss to the StuPats, and if the wins look like the Miami game, I'll be pretty optimistic for 2007. Especially if the Bills can finally address the offensive line, once and for all, next offseason. (Yeah, we're rid of Bennie Anderson and Mike Williams, which are both good developments -- but the current line is still only good enough to kind-of hold its own at the line of scrimmage, and from what I've seen thus far, Melvin Fowler is just Trey Teague in a different body.)
Like many Bills fans, I did chuckle at the sight of Mike Mularkey in the Dolphins' coaching booth, staring cluelessly at his clipboard as he tried to send in a play that would work, and I suddenly realized what his problem is: Mularkey focuses on one play at a time, to absolute exclusion of everything else. The guy has no offensive or coaching philosophy whatsoever; he has no general approach to anything. He literally picks one play at a time, completely regardless of situation or what his team's strengths or weaknesses are. For Mike Mularkey, it's as if every single play in a football game is a discrete unit in itself, and he makes his calls on that basis alone. That's why he refuses to take advantages of obvious mismatches, such as pounding the ball against a team with an undersized offensive line, and that's why he abandons the run in situations that scream out for it. The thought never even occurs to the guy to react to what the opposing defense is giving him.
And I think that's the biggest difference I can see with this year's Bills over last year's, made all the clearer by being able to see Mularkey in action for the other team. This coaching staff has an approach, and they're sticking with it. Will it work out by producing a playoff-caliber team in either 2007 or 2008? Who knows -- but I'm feeling optimistic. For me, the 2006 season is all about how I'm going to feel heading into 2007.
(And I think Takeo Spikes should relax. Yes, he's on a rebuilding team. But if you have a coaching staff and a front office who are on the same page and who know what they're doing, which based on early returns may well be the case in Buffalo, rebuilding in today's NFL only takes a season or two. So bring on the Jets!)