From his perch high above Elmwood Avenue, Dave Staba writes:
Over the past decade, as the Buffalo Bills endured a parade of quarterbacks and coaches, you could always be sure of this much:
In the most critical of moments against quality opponents, something would go horribly wrong.
In the closing moments, the defense would passively allow the enemy quarterback to work his way methodically downfield, unable to get within swatting distance of him or his receivers until the other guys were celebrating in Buffalo’s end zone.
The Bills’ own attempts at late-game dramatics would end with an interception, sack or fumble. Or, just to shake things up, a sack and a fumble.
And, on those rare occasions when the offense and defense each performed their late-game duties with competence, you could look forward to a special-teams fiasco either mundanely procedural (watching the other team, lacking timeouts, manage to get off a decisive field goal as time expires) or historically surreal (watching the opponent execute a cross-field throw of questionable legality to produce a touchdown as time expires. In a freaking playoff game).
With ultimate failure so inevitable—Buffalo has failed to qualify for the postseason each season since 1999, and both of the franchise’s playoff games since the 1996 campaign have ended in the most demoralizing of defeats—the faithful have become understandably gun-shy. Late Sunday afternoon, the angst was palpable in the banquet room on the third floor of Cole’s, where the Season Ticket coverage team took in the Bills’ visit to Jacksonville.
It was an upper Elmwood Avenue tradition known as Brofest, an annual gathering put together by Mark, our generous-to-a-fault host, as well as the creator of the Council of Trent T-shirts honoring the latest Bills quarterback and bestowed upon the majority of attendees.
Aside from improving Buffalo’s record to 2-0 for the first time in five years, Sunday’s 20-16 win in Jacksonville offered pretty compelling evidence that these might be some very different Bills.
Not that they didn’t create some rather anxious moments.
“Don’t blow it. Don’t blow it,” said one reveler stationed at the bar, imploring Buffalo’s defense to avoid the fate of so many of its predecessors, moments after Edwards gave the Bills a one-point lead with a sweet touchdown toss to elongated rookie receiver James Hardy. “Please don’t blow it.”
Despite the 90-plus temperature on the field, the Bills pressured Jaguars quarterback David Garrard into a pair of incompletions. That set up third-and-long, where Buffalo historically falls back into the sagging coverage favored by gutless defensive coordinators in such situations.
Instead, Perry Fewell ordered up a blitz that swarmed Garrard before defensive tackle Kyle Williams—part of a four-man rotation at the position that helped Buffalo’s front line control Jacksonville’s battered corps of blockers—hauled him down.
Roscoe Parrish’s 27-yard punt return and a short completion by Edwards put the Bills at Jacksonville’s 19-yard line before a third-down sack again elicited premonitions of disaster.
If Rian Lindell missed his 45-yard field goal attempt, the Jaguars would get the ball a completion or two away from a game-winning kick of their own.
He nailed it, however, and the Jaguars botched their attempt at a final-play throw-around. Not only did Matt Jones’ errant fling wind up in the possession of Buffalo’s Jabari Greer, the play was ruled an illegal forward lateral, an appropriate end to a day on which the Bills seemed to shuck off their dismal recent history.
Dave Staba has covered the Bills since 1990. He welcomes e-mail at email@example.com. A full report on Sunday’s game, and the scene at Brofest, will appear in the September 18 issue of Artvoice.