By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
Anybody who follows the NFL is familiar with all the cliche's about how to win: 1- Score more points than the other guy! Ok, that was just being smart, but the other phrases are just about as obvious.
Win the turnover battle, or at least don't lose it. Run and stop the run. Be solid on special teams. There are others too, but these phrases are probably what we hear coaches and players repeat - ad nauseam - both before and after every game.
The Bills finally picked up their first win of the season by following the winning formula, which is so easy to talk about and so difficult to actually do.
The Bills didn't win the turnover battle against the Lions, but they didn't lose it either, as the Bills came up with an interception but also lost a fumble. Even is ok.
Run and stop the run. The Bills were winless based on this aspect of the game more than any other, as I see it, before they whipped the Lions. The Bills wisely opened the game - this is Chan Gailey stuff and the reason he is a reason for optimism and not pessimism at this point - by having Ryan Fitzpatrick stretch the field. The Bills didn't "hit" anything until a 43-yard completion to Lee Evans in the second quarter, but that wasn't really the point.
Gailey knew the Lions have a strong front seven and they are tough to run on, so the idea was to stretch them out by making them aware of the downfield pass - you know, the downfield pass that Trent Edwards never threw? - and it worked.
That, and the fact the Bills re-tooled offensive line, which had Mansfield Wrotto (who's he?) at right tackle, did a great job of giving Fred Jackson some creases, and probably most importantly, the great effort of Jackson helped the Bills rush for 151 yards on 33 carries. That is outstanding. Jackson had a huge day, even after suffering a brief pinched nerve behind a knee, as he scored a rushing td and rushed for 133 yards on 25 carries and added another 37 yards on 6 receptions including a 16 yard td catch.
On the other side, the Bills defense, which came into the game ranked dead LAST in the NFL against the run, giving up over 170 yards a game, limited the Lions to 76 yards on 26 attempts, for a 2.9 average. That's how you win football games.
After the game, Gailey said one reason for the Bills improved play on defense in recent games - especially against the run - was due to the fact defensive coordinator George Edwards is disguising his defenses more effectively, and using more blitzes, even though that puts more pressure on the defensive backs. Fortunately, at least so far, the db's are handling their added responsiblities well, and the approach is working.
Good thing, because the way the Bills "d" started the season with a stretch of 5 straight games of 34 points or more allowed, Edwards wouldn't have been working for the Bills much longer.
Yes, Lions backup qb Shaun Hill (Matthew Stafford was hurt again and out) did throw for 323 yards in the game, but the stat is misleading since it led to only one Detroit touchdown. On the other hand, Fitzpatrick had a very average day with 146 yards on 12-24 attempts. But along with a touchdown pass, Fitzpatrick also didn't throw any interceptions and was sacked only once.
The Bills special teams at least held their own. Unfortunately, Leodis McKelvin had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown nullified by a ticky-tack holding call on Jon Corto, or the Bills would have had a decided advantage on special teams. This is where the Bills actually have depth above and beyond that of most NFL teams; even with the loss of #1 pick C.J. Spiller early with a hamstring injury, and even with Roscoe Parrish out, the Bills have an explosive returner in McKelvin still available.
To uninterested NFL observers, and there are plenty of them when it comes to the outcome of the Bills-Lions game, this was a very big win for the Bills organization. Yes, if they start winning now it might blow their shot at that #1 pick - likely the franchise qb they really need - but the younger players need to have some success to achieve future success.
At least, for one game, the Bills finally did find out what success feels like.