PITONIAK: Rex’s Bills keep hope alive in upset of Arizona

NFL Buffalo

                One game does not a season make. Not even an upset victory as big as this one Sunday afternoon. But the Bills’ 33-18 beatdown of an Arizona Cardinals team many experts picked to win Super Bowl 51 was a great way to save a season in danger of being over after just three games. And a great way to momentarily silence the Monday Morning Quarterbacks, yours truly included.

 
                I’m still not sold on Rex Ryan, but on this day I have to give him his due. He totally out-coached counterpart Bruce Arians while guiding a team without three of its best players – Sammy Watkins, Cordy Glenn and Ronald Darby, each of whom watched the game in street clothes because of injury.
 
                Employing an exotic, attacking defense that at times featured seven defensive backs, the Bills harassed and flummoxed quarterback Carson Palmer into four sacks and four interceptions. A bad hike by Arizona long snapper Kameron Canaday on a chip-shot field goal attempt resulted in a back-breaking, 53-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Buffalo safety Aaron Williams late in the third quarter.
 
                And Buffalo’s offense, in its first game with new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn calling the plays, re-established the ground game as LeSean McCoy rushed for 110 yards – just seven fewer yards than he had in the first two games combined – and Tyrod Taylor added 76 more on just nine carries.
 
                It all added up to the most impressive Bills victory since they knocked off the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers, 21-13, on Dec. 14, 2014.
 
                “Love this, love this energy, love this mood,’’ Williams said. “It is a great way to bounce back from a disappointing week.”
 
                And no one loved it more than the embattled Ryan, who was feeling the heat about his future after opening the season with sloppy losses to the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
 
                “I don’t know if anybody needed a win worse than we did,’’ Ryan said after his team improved to 1-2. “Just feel fortunate to get one. Just a huge effort, obviously, against a really good opponent.”
 
                This was the Rex Ryan defense we witnessed throughout much of his coaching career with the Ravens and Jets. With the front line, especially Kyle Williams, applying relentless pressure, Palmer looked uncomfortable from the start. Neither he nor his Cardinals teammates had turned the ball over in their first two games. In this game they were guilty of five giveaways, with all four of Palmer’s picks coming in the fourth quarter with Arizona attempting a furious, but futile comeback. The 36-year-old quarterback completed just 26-of-50 for 287 yards and no touchdown passes. His quarterback rating was 36.0, nearly 77 points below his rating for his first two games.
 
                Stephon Gilmore had two interceptions, while Corey Graham and Corey White, who was filling in for Darby, had one each. Gilmore also successfully defended four other passes tossed his way. It was a nice rebound for him and the Bills secondary, which had been torched for 374 yards 10 days earlier by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
 
                “You are not going to always start as good as you want to start,’’ he said. “It is how you bounce back.”
 
                Gilmore bounced back in Pro Bowl fashion, as the Bills secondary broke up 10 passes, including several on Palmer deep throws. The Cardinals wound up punting on six of their first seven possessions, and never got into a rhythm against the chaos Ryan’s defense created.
 
    Many eyes were on the Bills offense and what kind of game Lynn would call after replacing Greg Roman, who had been fired following the Jets loss two Thursdays ago. It didn’t help that Lynn was without Watkins, the play-making, injury-prone receiver who was sidelined with a foot injury. The new offensive coordinator was intent on establishing the run game, and he succeeded, in large part because of the offensive line, which opened gaping holes against a very good Arizona front seven. The Bills finished with 208 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, 57 more rushing yards than they recorded in the first two games combined.
 
Taylor was a big part of the ground attack. His 49-yard sprint in the first half that set up a 19-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter was the longest run ever by a Bills quarterback. Ryan said it would be foolish not to utilize the running skills of Taylor, the fastest quarterback in the league, and McCoy agrees.
 
“One of the best things he can do, is he can run the ball,’’ McCoy said. “I mean, he’s like a running back at quarterback, so why would you not have him using his legs? That’s something that we’re big on. … That’s what makes him a special player.”
 
I agree that his legs need to be a part of the Bills offense. But Buffalo is going to need more from him as a passer than he showed Sunday when he completed 14-of-25 for 119 yards. He didn’t throw any scoring passes, was picked off once and finished with a paltry 51.9 quarterback rating. The Bills aren’t going to make the playoffs using the formula every week that they used Sunday.
 
That said, give Ryan and his team some well-earned kudos. The Bills blocked out the outside noise and kept their season alive. Next week will be another pivotal game as they face a Patriots team in Foxboro that might be starting wide receiver Julian Edelman at quarterback. After New England, Buffalo will travel to Los Angeles to play the Rams, return home for a game with the San Francisco 49ers and travel to Miami. The Bills will need to win three of their next four to keep hope alive because after the Dolphins game, they will face the Patriots – with Tom Brady – at New Era Field, followed by road games in Seattle and Cincinnati.
 
“It was a big win, for sure,’’ McCoy said of Sunday’s upset. “Beginning 0-3, that’s tough. We’ve got a big game coming up with a big opponent, so this win, we’ll enjoy it for the rest of this day and then we’ll move on tomorrow.”
 
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 32 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 11 times, including the past two years when he has finished first in column writing. 
                ORCHARD PARK – One game does not a season make. Not even an upset victory as big as this one Sunday afternoon. But the Bills’ 33-18 beatdown of an Arizona Cardinals team many experts picked to win Super Bowl 51 was a great way to save a season in danger of being over after just three games. And a great way to momentarily silence the Monday Morning Quarterbacks, yours truly included.
 
                I’m still not sold on Rex Ryan, but on this day I have to give him his due. He totally out-coached counterpart Bruce Arians while guiding a team without three of its best players – Sammy Watkins, Cordy Glenn and Ronald Darby, each of whom watched the game in street clothes because of injury.
 
                Employing an exotic, attacking defense that at times featured seven defensive backs, the Bills harassed and flummoxed quarterback Carson Palmer into four sacks and four interceptions. A bad hike by Arizona long snapper Kameron Canaday on a chip-shot field goal attempt resulted in a back-breaking, 53-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Buffalo safety Aaron Williams late in the third quarter.
 
                And Buffalo’s offense, in its first game with new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn calling the plays, re-established the ground game as LeSean McCoy rushed for 110 yards – just seven fewer yards than he had in the first two games combined – and Tyrod Taylor added 76 more on just nine carries.
 
                It all added up to the most impressive Bills victory since they knocked off the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers, 21-13, on Dec. 14, 2014.
 
                “Love this, love this energy, love this mood,’’ Williams said. “It is a great way to bounce back from a disappointing week.”
 
                And no one loved it more than the embattled Ryan, who was feeling the heat about his future after opening the season with sloppy losses to the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
 
                “I don’t know if anybody needed a win worse than we did,’’ Ryan said after his team improved to 1-2. “Just feel fortunate to get one. Just a huge effort, obviously, against a really good opponent.”
 
                This was the Rex Ryan defense we witnessed throughout much of his coaching career with the Ravens and Jets. With the front line, especially Kyle Williams, applying relentless pressure, Palmer looked uncomfortable from the start. Neither he nor his Cardinals teammates had turned the ball over in their first two games. In this game they were guilty of five giveaways, with all four of Palmer’s picks coming in the fourth quarter with Arizona attempting a furious, but futile comeback. The 36-year-old quarterback completed just 26-of-50 for 287 yards and no touchdown passes. His quarterback rating was 36.0, nearly 77 points below his rating for his first two games.
 
                Stephon Gilmore had two interceptions, while Corey Graham and Corey White, who was filling in for Darby, had one each. Gilmore also successfully defended four other passes tossed his way. It was a nice rebound for him and the Bills secondary, which had been torched for 374 yards 10 days earlier by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
 
                “You are not going to always start as good as you want to start,’’ he said. “It is how you bounce back.”
 
                Gilmore bounced back in Pro Bowl fashion, as the Bills secondary broke up 10 passes, including several on Palmer deep throws. The Cardinals wound up punting on six of their first seven possessions, and never got into a rhythm against the chaos Ryan’s defense created.
 
    Many eyes were on the Bills offense and what kind of game Lynn would call after replacing Greg Roman, who had been fired following the Jets loss two Thursdays ago. It didn’t help that Lynn was without Watkins, the play-making, injury-prone receiver who was sidelined with a foot injury. The new offensive coordinator was intent on establishing the run game, and he succeeded, in large part because of the offensive line, which opened gaping holes against a very good Arizona front seven. The Bills finished with 208 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, 57 more rushing yards than they recorded in the first two games combined.
 
Taylor was a big part of the ground attack. His 49-yard sprint in the first half that set up a 19-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter was the longest run ever by a Bills quarterback. Ryan said it would be foolish not to utilize the running skills of Taylor, the fastest quarterback in the league, and McCoy agrees.
 
“One of the best things he can do, is he can run the ball,’’ McCoy said. “I mean, he’s like a running back at quarterback, so why would you not have him using his legs? That’s something that we’re big on. … That’s what makes him a special player.”
 
I agree that his legs need to be a part of the Bills offense. But Buffalo is going to need more from him as a passer than he showed Sunday when he completed 14-of-25 for 119 yards. He didn’t throw any scoring passes, was picked off once and finished with a paltry 51.9 quarterback rating. The Bills aren’t going to make the playoffs using the formula every week that they used Sunday.
 
That said, give Ryan and his team some well-earned kudos. The Bills blocked out the outside noise and kept their season alive. Next week will be another pivotal game as they face a Patriots team in Foxboro that might be starting wide receiver Julian Edelman at quarterback. After New England, Buffalo will travel to Los Angeles to play the Rams, return home for a game with the San Francisco 49ers and travel to Miami. The Bills will need to win three of their next four to keep hope alive because after the Dolphins game, they will face the Patriots – with Tom Brady – at New Era Field, followed by road games in Seattle and Cincinnati.
 
“It was a big win, for sure,’’ McCoy said of Sunday’s upset. “Beginning 0-3, that’s tough. We’ve got a big game coming up with a big opponent, so this win, we’ll enjoy it for the rest of this day and then we’ll move on tomorrow.”
 
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 32 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 11 times, including the past two years when he has finished first in column writing. 

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