As the final seconds ticked away on the Bills 41-7 season opening win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the realist in me couldn't help but turn back the clock for some perspective.
I can remember sitting in the press box at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2003 for the opener against the Patriots. It was the Gregg Williams third season as head coach, Drew Bledsoe's second year as starting quarterback, and the Bills had just signed Patriot castaway Lawyer Milloy. Buffalo ran away with the game 31-0.
That's the last time they beat New England.
I don't mean to pour cold water on the Bills blowout of the Chiefs. Chan Gailey, his staff, and the players deserve all credit. It was just interesting to hear Gailey lend some perspective immediately after the game.
"All those people that thought we were as bad as we were, we're not. There's going to be a lot of people that are going to put us up on a little bit of a pedestal... and we're not there yet. You have to understand that. I told the team that. I do think we're improved over last year. I thought we would play well. I believe in our men."
He might as well have said that its only one game, but they know what they're doing.
The reality is that GM Buddy Nix and Gailey inherited a mess when they took the controls at the start of last season. When a football department comes into that situation, they inherit not only players from the previous regime, but also by extension the philosophy that led to their selection. That's part of the politics of the game where GM's and coaches favor players they've selected, because you need a certain kind to implement your scheme.
Nix and Gailey are in year two of that process. They took heavy criticism for trading Lee Evans. I understood some of the reasoning but was on the record as saying I thought they should have gotten more than a fourth round pick. They were on the record as admitting the talent they were going with was unproven.
Sunday we started to see some of that proof.
Top target Steve Johnson had five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. David Nelson, an undrafted free agent from Florida last year had five receptions for 66 yards. Donald Jones caught a touchdown pass.
For what it's worth, Evans didn't have a catch in the Ravens 35-7 win over the Steelers.
Again, only one game.
Oh by the way, we actually saw the Bills make effective use of a tight end. The Bills picked up Scott Chandler from Dallas in the middle of last season. Nix had drafted Chandler in the fourth round back in 2007 in San Diego. He drove all the way from Iowa to take part in the informal workouts led by Ryan Fitzpatrick this summer during the lockout.
He caught two touchdowns Sunday.
Speaking of turning back the clock, a Bills tight end hasn't done that since Pete Metzelaars back in 1992.
The offensive line that was unsettled during the course of the preseason gave up just one sack, and helped to pave the way for 112 rushing yards from Fred Jackson.
The upgraded Bills defense showed great progress. A year ago, the Chiefs racked up 274 rushing yards in a 13-10 overtime win. Kansas City had the top rushing attack in the league, and the Bills were worst at defending the run. Sunday the Chiefs ran for 108 total.
Nix and Gailey used seven of nine picks this past spring on defense and saw and immediate return on that investment.
The Bills now head home for what I think is a very winnable game against the Oakland Raiders. After that, the Patriots come to town. They've beaten the Bills 15-straight times since that 31-0 season opening win I mentioned earlier. Let's see where things stand after that first match-up with the Patriots. I think that game will tell a great deal about the direction of the seaon.
Having said that, give them credit for Sunday. The Bills provided a lot of positive answers to a great number of questions that had lingered through the preseason. For those who wrote the franchise off as having no direction under Nix and Gailey, Sunday's result begins to suggest otherwise.