2-0 in Buffalo: The Bills electrify Ralph Wilson Stadium
blog by The Canisius Griffin • September 27, 2011 @ 8:00am
It wasn’t too long ago that Buffalo Bills fans were sitting in the cold of winter, watching as their beloved team let games literally slip through their hands, grumbling about their chances of landing a quarterback in the NFL Draft. It was easy to doubt last year’s squad, especially after seeing them lose three games by three points to three teams that would wind up in the playoffs. Proverbial no-name Ryan Fitzpatrick took charge of the offense when Trent Edwards had his fall from grace, and along with a dismal offensive line and a below average defense, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the Bills start off 0-8. Head coach Chan Gailey brought his team to a 4-12 record to finish the year.
The fan base felt neglected. With rumors swirling about a team moving to Los Angeles or Toronto, it became clear that his team needed to make moves in the front office – that would be up to Buddy Nix, the general manager. As loved as owner Ralph Wilson was (and is) in this city, it’s doubtful the 92-year-old still has any say in roster moves and day-to-day operations.
The franchise drafted Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in April’s draft, a pick generally regarded as smart and safe. With the addition of controversial linebacker Shawne Merriman late last season and the breakout season defensive by tackle Kyle Williams, things were starting to come together. They signed veteran linebacker Nick Barnett and it seemed like the defense may be able to generate a pass rush and stay effective stopping the run.
Donned in fresh new uniforms, the 2011 Bills kicked off the season in Kansas City and proceeded to roll over the Chiefs in a convincing, 41-7 victory. Gailey had vastly outsmarted Todd Haley, the very man who showed Gailey the door after a brief stint as offensive coordinator with the Chiefs in 2008. Harvard graduate Fitzpatrick shined in his season opener, proving that he has what it takes to lead an NFL offense. The running tandem of Fred Jackson and speedster C.J. Spiller was effective all day and the defense played with a chip on its shoulder. The next test would be at Orchard Park, in the home opener against Oakland.
Fast forward to halftime last Sunday with the Bills down, 21-3, to the Raiders. Despite the large deficit, there still seemed to be an air of quiet confidence. After all, the Bills are a second half team, and there was just something about Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday that made me feel a comeback was in the works. As Chris Berman likes to tell us, no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.
Jackson started the offensive eruption with a 43-yard scamper into the end zone with over 13 minutes left in the third quarter, followed by a touchdown strike to newfound star Stevie Johnson at the end of the third, making it 21-17 heading into the fourth quarter. Fred Jackson pounded in a one-yard touchdown early in the fourth and suddenly the Bills were winning and the Ralph was rocking in full force. The frantic scoring wasn’t over yet, with Jason Campbell finding Darren McFadden for a touchdown with nine minutes to go. Fitzpatrick and company took the field again, this time miraculously finding tight end Scott Chandler in the back of the end zone to regain the lead. The Raiders struck back with a 50-yard bomb to Denarius Moore, who somehow came up with the ball in the end zone between two Bills defenders.
Fitzpatrick then led a memorable 14-play drive down the field with three minutes to go, taking advantage of a pass interference call that brought the Bills to midfield. On fourth down with three yards to the first down marker, Fitzy hit Donald Jones on a slant to keep their hopes alive. David Nelson caught a pass for nine yards, bringing the offense to the Oakland six-yard line. Then on fourth and 1, with 16 seconds remaining, Fitzpatrick found Nelson wide open again – this time on a post pattern in the end zone that sent Ralph Wilson Stadium into a ruckus. Nelson leaped into the stands and soaked in the miraculous comeback.
Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy intercepted Campbell’s Hail Mary pass and the win was sealed. The sight was enough to send chills up your back – it had been that long since the Bills pulled out a close one.
I can honestly say that I haven’t seen such an emotional slugfest in years. The back and forth second half made for one of the most exciting and memorable games in recent memory, but there is no looking back now. At 2-0, the Bills have their biggest test yet on Sunday with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots coming to town. While many have already looked at this game as Buffalo’s first loss, I think this team and this coaching staff will be ready for the Pats. I don’t normally make predictions, but I’ll take a chance and say Buffalo comes out on top, 30-27 in another thriller. As a loyal fan, I think this team can truly hang with the elite teams of the NFL. It looks like we’ll find out Sunday at 1pm.
Sports Writer // Canisius Griffin