Last week, the 2018 Buffalo Bills appeared more focused on two players in particular – Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds – than the other 51 players who suit up on a given Sunday. If they showed potential for future stardom and justified getting picked in the first round, the season would have been construed as a measure of success.
Even going 0-16 would have been no big deal, so long as Allen justified the seventh pick overall and confirmed hopes of becoming the first true franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly and Edmunds, selected 16th overall, showed signs of meeting projections as a star middle linebacker.
The Bills were forming their core with the two rookies, another in defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, and second-year starters such as left tackle Dion Dawkins, cornerback Tre’Davious White and linebacker Matt Milano trending in the right direction.
The primary goal remains the same, and it will not change over the final 13 games, but there’s little disputing that it shifted after the Bills came together in all phases took down the Minnesota Vikings in convincing fashion, a 27-6 victory Sunday on the road.
How about winning now?
Buffalo visits Green Bay this week as a double-digit underdog for the second straight Sunday. The Packers were favored by 10½ points after the Vikings were 17-points favorites on Sunday. The Bills have a opportunity to validate their win over the Vikings and effectively raise expectations.
Can they beat Packers? Short answer: Hell, yeah.
“I don’t know about expectations,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said earlier this week. “All we focus on is what is going on in this building and trying to develop this young football team. You saw some of that [Sunday]. I thought we took a step.”
McDermott showed last season that he could pat his head with one hand and rub his belly with the other. If you remember, the Bills were in the process – there’s that word again – of rebuilding the roster while simultaneously trying to end the playoff drought.
The two conflicting chores left people confused about their goal. It’s not exactly walking and chewing gum, which looked like a chore in itself through the first two games this season. Usually, it’s one or the other. The Bills tackled both.
In three hours Sunday, the Bills injected enough belief and restored enough order to make you think they could beat anybody on a given day. If they did that enough times, maybe the season wouldn’t shape into the disaster many had anticipated and instead become a pivotal period toward something greater.
The Bills might not have lost confidence after getting beaten soundly in their first two games, but their fan base had all but made peace with a long season. The first two games were unsightly by even their standards. Buffalo gave up 10 touchdowns in six quarters. Cornerback Vontae Davis quit the team at halftime in the loss to the Chargers.
McDermott took over the play-calling on defense in the second half against the Chargers, and suddenly the Bills became a tougher, more unified group. Their backbone stiffened. Was that because their coach delivered a message to his players? It could have been his players delivering a message to their coach.
No matter, after the Bills allowed 75 points in the first six quarters, they allowed only nine in the next six. Their young players showed up and proved they didn't need to be coddled. They were key contributors in the shocking upset over Minnesota, a positive sign to be sure.
Allen scored two touchdowns and ran for another. Edmunds had the best game of his young career. Milano was all over the field and finished with a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception. White played like a lockdown corner. Phillips and Dawkins played well along with the rest.
This isn’t to predict that they will tale over Lambeau Field on Sunday. Let’s not climb aboard the bandwagon for the Super Bowl and plan the parade just yet. Las Vegas oddmakers have never been off the mark like they were leading into the Buffalo-Minnesota game and asking for a repeat could be begging for too much.
But the Bills showed they were capable of beating a Green Bay team that lost to Washington, or any other team. Confidence can inspire a team, and sometimes that’s all it takes. Maybe they grew tired of all the groaning or perhaps they had enough after Davis headed for the parking lot.
Sure, they’re still thin at wide receiver. Questions remain about their offensive line. The Bills have their flaws, but so does every team in the NFL. Look at the standings., where all but six teams are between 1-2 and 2-1.
What defines an upset, anyway?
Aaron Rodgers has been hobbled by a knee injury, which could be a problem for the Packers if the Bills unleash a heavy pass rush like they did Sunday. Jerry Hughes was credited with 15 pressures – fifteen! – and chased Kirk Cousins around all afternoon.
Buffalo’s defense is now a respectable 11th in total yards allowed and ninth in points allowed after scraping the bottom. Allen has completed 55 percent of his passes for 515 yards in 10 quarters after watching Nathan Peterman complete 5 of 18 for 24 yards in the opener.
The Bills need to sustain the effort if they plan to stand a chance against the Pack. Let’s not forget that Hughes had two sacks in Week Two last season and added another in Week Four before vanishing for 10 games. He finished with four sacks all season.
While the Bills are capable of beating the Packers, fans should proceed with caution. They are equally capable of reverting back to the defense that was abused in the first two games this season.
At least the game Sunday is intriguing, which beats the daylights out of a long, winless season while Bills wait for Allen to show he can play quarterback and Edmunds to prove he’ll become a quality linebacker.
In fact, if they continue playing the way they did Sunday, the Bills could knock off two opponents who seemed destined to guide them to 0-4. What if they win again and improve to 2-2? They’ll continue developing their young guys while trying to win more.
They expect to do both.