By Ed Kilgore
The NFL is a bit like MLB, in that with good pitching and defense you always have a chance to win on the road. Same thing with good defense in football, and it all starts up front. It's the Bills front four that basically snapped the Bills' 8-game road losing streak in a 24-14 win at Cleveland. It's also the main reason the Bills were able to regain the momentum after the disheartening loss of C.J. Spiller when the Bills were in total control at 14-0 early.
There's credit due all around, even though between the inept replacement officials and the Bills' own bone-headed penalties they didn't make it easy on themselves. About all one can say about the penalties is they were just as bad for both teams.
But the officials didn't decide this game, the Bills d-line, and to a lesser extent the offensive line and tough-mindedness of qb Ryan Fitzpatrick did that in the end.
To me, the biggest play of the game came early in the 4th quarter with the Browns in great field position near mid-field, trailing by only 3 and clearly enjoying the momentum. On 3rd and 12 at the Bills 49, Bills defensive end Mark Anderson sacked Browns qb Brandon Weeden and forced the Browns to punt. Although Anderson's off-season signing didn't get the attention the signing of Mario Williams did, his play has been nothing short of terrific in 3 games. This play clearly changed the momentum of the game back, in part because Fitz and the Bills offense regrouped, and a special shout out goes to young rb Tashard Choice with 91 yards on 20 carries off the bench for Spiller.
While the d-line was huge, the play of the Bills young offensive line was almost as big a factor, giving Choice room to run and allowing just one sack (his 1st of the season) of Fitzpatrick. The Bills then mixed the run and pass, driving 68 yards for a breathing room td from Fitz to Stevie Johnson (9 yards), eating up nearly 5 and a half minutes of clock in the process. After that, the Bills front four gave Weeden no time to do much of anything and forced two interceptions as well.
Every one of the Bills front four was in on a sack, with Super Mario credited with one and a half for his first sacks of the season, Anderson and Kyle Williams had one apiece and Marcell Dareus split a sack with Mario. Perhaps more than that, the Bills controlled the line of scrimmage, allowing just 33 yards rushing for the entire game. Browns super rookie back Trent Richardson had only 27 yards on a dozen carries, although he did find the end zone on a good second effort 6-yard run. That put more pressure on Weeden, the "veteran" rookie, and he eventually made mistakes the Browns couldn't overcome.
No mistake about it, the loss of Spiller for any length of time is a killer, but Fred Jackson might be back next week against the Patriots at the Ralph. If the Bills are to have a chance to win that one and stay at least tied for the top in the AFC East, the front four on defense will have to come up big once again.
Unlike this time a year ago, even with some key offensive injuries, the Bills at least have a fighting chance to win a game without having the offense play a perfect game. Perfect reminds me, that Fitz is not that. He misfires, he lets a ball slip (I still don't see how that's a fumble when his arm is coming forward) near the red zone, but in the end, he wins. His 3 td's and no picks give him a league-leading 8 td passes after 3 games.
Fitz probably won't WIN games for the Bills, but if the o-line and d-line keep winning battles up front, he just needs to keep from LOSING them. Big difference.