Some time between the Bills announcing Matt Barkley as their starting quarterback and Dion Dawkins catching his first touchdown pass, it occurred to me that this is the strangest year in Buffalo’s long and disturbing football history.
Think about all that happened after the Bills ended their playoff drought, with Eric Wood’s awkward retirement announcement, Zay Jones getting arrested after fighting naked with his brother, Vontae Davis quitting at halftime and, of course, the Nathan Peterman Follies.
Let’s not forget the Bills offense, a sad sack collection that had persistent problems along the offensive line, an aging running back who looked like a shell of himself, inexperience and inefficiency at quarterback and a wide receiving corps that was the worst in the NFL.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, came a 41-10 victory over the Jets that was enough to redefine where the two teams stand going into the bye week. Both teams are 3-7 leading into the final six games. In an upside-down season, a win could be perceived as a setback to their long-term plans.
What unfolded in Met Life Stadium on Sunday was equally absurd under the circumstances. Matt Barkley wasn’t even the Bills’ fourth quarterback this season. He was their fifth choice after they traded AJ McCarron and signed Derek Anderson.
The Bills signed Barkley off the street because he supposedly had recent experience, but he was neither the most tenured nor the best available option. Sad but true, EJ Manuel had statistics that better supported his cause than Barkley did.
Barkley was in training camp this year with the Bears before getting the heave-ho and hadn’t appeared in a game since the 2016 season. He was with the Bills for less than two weeks, but it was enough to lead Buffalo to an easy win over an AFC East rival in this wild and wacky season.
His performance was shocking given the Bills’ pathetic offense, which had given up four defensive touchdowns while scoring only three in the past four games with Allen, Anderson and Peterman. It took their fifth QB – and a fifth of JD – to find a functional combination.
Matt Barkley? It was my reaction when they signed him.
Barkley had eight touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, and one win in six previous starts, in his career before completing 15 of 25 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Bills to a 31-3 halftime lead and their first win since an Oct. 7 victory over Tennessee.
LeSean McCoy had been struggling all season before gaining 113 yards on 26 carries and scoring his first two touchdowns. He ran like an angry man all afternoon. Buffalo hadn’t had a 100-yard receiver all season, either, until Robert Foster emerged from the obscurity of the practice squad and caught three passes for 105 yards.
The same Bills team that failed to generate 300 total yards in any of the first seven games had 451 yards against the hapless Jets.
What did the win mean? Not much, really.
The Bills pulled even with the Jets in the standings, which could damage their draft position in an offseason in which both teams are expected to compete head-to-head for players. The Jets appeared on the verge of implosion, which could cost Todd Bowles his job.
New York's defense was so bad Sunday that Barkley made the Bills' terrible offense look good.
Barkley’s performance was admirable yet nonsensical considering the Bills had been outscored, 141-9, in the first half of their seven losses and had thrown three touchdown passes all season. But he showed what the Bills might have been if they had adequate quarterback play.
Peterman opened the season as the starter, but his career soon could be coming to an end. Josh Allen is expected to be fully recovered from his sprained elbow after the bye week. Derek Anderson was signed to serve as his mentor. Barkley already showed he’s better.
Amid the confusion and chaos this season was the fact the Bills were going nowhere. Their inefficiency had reached mind-numbing proportions and was among the worst in NFL history when matched in relationship to the rest of the league.
Buffalo had scored just 10.6 points per game this season, less than half the NFL average. It had scored three touchdowns in the previous 6½ games, including a 1-yard touchdown run by Peterman in garbage time of a 41-9 loss to the Bears last week.
Along came Barkley from football’s abyss, where he also found a Buffalo team plodding through the season. He led the Bills the way he led USC, rediscovering the form that made him a terrific college player while the Bills rediscovered what once made them a great running team.
Barkley threw his first touchdown pass Sunday to none other than Dawkins, giving Buffalo a 24-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. Dawkins made a nice catch on a 7-yard score, giving the left tackle the same number as wideout Kelvin Benjamin. Barkley zipped his second TD to Jones, who had a career day with eight catches for 93 yards.
The Bills couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Barkley hit Foster on a 47-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, and McCoy scored his first touchdown on a 28-yard run off right tackle on the second play. Never mind that Barkley hadn’t played in two years or that Foster had two catches for 30 yards or that McCoy had 24 yards rushing on 24 carries in his three previous games and had not scored since last season.
Buffalo outgained the Jets, 186-1, and had a 14-0 lead in the first quarter after Jones fumbled near the goal line. Rather than the Jets returning the loose ball 99 yards for a touchdown, Jason Croom pounced on the ball for a touchdown.
In a weird year loaded with twists, Sunday’s game turned in the Bills’ direction. Indeed, it was strange.