Sunday, October 16, 2016

Living In Distant Past Fueling Bills Revival

It's been a while.

Last week, the Buffalo Bills' 30-19 win over the Los Angeles Rams (thanks, Rams, for moving homemarked the first time they've managed the modest achievement of three straight victories since 2011. Since then, they've labored under three head coaches and four starting quarterbacks.

Today, with the San Francisco 49ers in town, they have a chance to make it four in a row for the first time since 2008, which they accomplished shortly before the world economy collapsed as George W. Bush finished his second term.

Neither of those streaks went anywhere. The '11 Bills, helmed by Chan Gailey, collapsed shortly after Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a contract extension, with the lovable-but-inevitably-inept quarterback demonstrating the form that forced five franchises to give up on him during his first 10 NFL seasons and presently has him leading the league in interceptions for what will be very soon be the sixth. They wound up 6-10, one of five times they've done so during the ongoing 16-season string of not making the playoffs.

The high hopes generated by the 4-0 opening in '08 disappeared along with Trent Edwards' consciousness and confidence moments into the season's fifth game, courtesy of unblocked Arizona blitzer Adrian Wilson. Those Bills staggered to their third straight 7-9 finish under Dick Jauron.

Of course, this is a different Buffalo coach, with Tyrod Taylor not having yet shown definitively that he is or isn't a viable starting quarterback for the long-term, and Rex Ryan still offering at least a glimmer that the high point of his coaching career might not have taken place six years ago.

If nothing else, Rex has his team playing in his preferred style, executing game plans transported in a time machine from the early 1970s. Big-play defense and a LeSean McCoy-heavy offense with enough of Taylor's passing to keep opponents from swarming the line has been enough. To revive what was looking like a lost season five days in over the last three weeks, at least, and probably this one.

The Bills and 49ers are certainly playing like their ancestors from 1972 (pictured above), coming into the day with the NFL's least- and second-least productive passing offenses, respectively. Each averages a shade more than half the passing yards per game being put up by league-leading Atlanta.

They're not the only ones. Whether it's a product of evolving defenses, crappy quarterbacking (most the superstars of the past few years spent most or all of the season's first third suspended, retired, injured or getting their brains beat in) or coaching that hasn't adjusted to either, plenty of games have been unwatchable throughout the league during the first five weeks.

Unless your team is winning.

Beating the 49ers won't prove a whole lot, beyond reinforcing the idea that Ryan's defense can smother offenses led by a quarterback who is either completely immobile (like Arizona's Carson Palmer), painfully inexperienced (Jacoby Brissett of New England) or wholly unqualified (the Rams' Case Keenum).

San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, who gets his first start of the season due more to Blaine Gabbert's Blaine Gabbertness than anything the former Super Bowl starter has accomplished on the field since that Super Bowl start, doesn't fall into the first two categories. But he may still wind up in the third, given his regression since his electrifying tear through the playoffs following the 2013 season.

Buffalo's pass rush, led by the league's most unlikely breakout of 2016, Lorenzo Alexander, has finally started looking like the dominating wave promised by Ryan when he arrived in Buffalo 21 months ago.

Aided by a crowd whose hostility level may approach the ongoing slog toward Election Day, given Kaepernick's polarizing expression of his political views, Rex's throwbacks had better be able to bludgeon another feeble offense at home, and do the same next week against the backsliding Dolphins in South Florida.

After that, one of the NFL's few teams living in the 21st Century comes to town. And they'll have that Brady guy this time.

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