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Bills Save Their Best for Last

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn LynchThrough the coaching tenures of Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey, as well as through their first two seasons under Dick Jauron, playing their best often did not always guarantee a win for the Buffalo Bills.

On Sunday, their worst was good enough.

Against Oakland, the Bills committed more turnovers and were found guilty of more penalties than their opponents, gave up two huge plays to a barely known wide receiver who is not related to a local Congressman with the same surname and generally behaved like a team determined to disprove all the nice things said and written about them during the season’s first two weeks.

And still, they won.

Contrast that with last year’s Monday night game against Dallas, when Buffalo returned two interceptions and a kickoff for touchdowns, led by 11 points in the fourth quarter, and still lost.

Or the 2006 season opener, when a general malaise in the second half cost the Bills a 10-point lead and a readily achievable upset of New England, on the road, no less, in Jauron’s debut with Buffalo.

Or the 2005 visit to Miami, when J.P. Losman and Lee Evans hooked up for three touchdowns in the first quarter, then, like their teammates, spent the rest of the afternoon napping on their laurels as the Dolphins stumbled all the way back for a 24-23 win.

We could go on. And on. But then we’d eventually have to revisit the Flutie Bowl, when a special-teams breakdown cost the 2001 Bills a game they had seemingly won behind Rob Johnson. Then there was that playoff game in Tennessee, when, well, you know. And dredging all that up again wouldn’t do anyone any good.

Yes, Sunday’s 24-23 score ended in Buffalo’s favor in large part because the opponent was Oakland, a franchise that would be truly pathetic had it not been the game’s most obnoxious for the past four decades. With the worst record in football over the past five seasons and a doddering owner who has thoroughly undermined his coach, yet seems unable to fire him, the Raiders were supposed to serve as patsies for one of the biggest surprises of the young National Football League season.

That they did. It just took longer than expected.

Even for a team notorious for stupid behavior, the decision by Johnnie Lee Higgins—whose 69-yard return of the opening kickoff set up Oakland’s first score and stunned the home crowd into submission for much of the day—to taunt Bills safety Donte Whitner on the way into the end zone at the end of his 84-yard fourth-quarter journey was a singular demonstration of how bad teams find ways to lose.

Whitner responded by tackling Higgins deep in the end zone, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty but inciting his teammates and the fans who had not already headed for the parking lot.

From that moment, with 6:23 remaining, the Bills commenced wiping out the nine-point deficit Higgins’ touchdown had created, piling up 115 yards while the Raiders managed to move 6 feet backwards.

Fortunately for Higgins, pro football teams fly home after road games, allowing players to sleep in their own beds and not in the same building. Otherwise, something like this might well have happened.

While Al Davis’ poorly concealed scorn for his coach made Lane Kiffin a sympathetic figure coming in to the day, the youngest-looking coach in sports history showed that his creepy boss might just be on to something.

Apparently hoping the Bills would forget to try a game-winning field goal before the clock expired, Kiffin didn’t bother to use either of his two remaining timeouts during Buffalo’s final drive, eschewing any chance at giving his offense one last chance to win it. Then again, Oakland’s offensive coaches spent the entire second half trying to run out the clock, allowing JaMarcus Russell to throw only three passes after half time, even though he completed the first two, with one going to Higgins for what should have been the clinching points.

The Bills did not win only because the Raiders stink, however.

They won because Marshawn Lynch shows the same determination while carrying the ball as when avoiding discussing his driving habits with the authorities.

And because their defense stuffed Oakland’s running game at the most critical moments.

And because their offensive line recovered from a miserable opening three quarters to give Trent Edwards all the time he needed to lead an offense that managed but seven points in the first 52 minutes to 17 in the last eight.

Buffalo won’t be able to coast for 87 percent of the day and expect to win many of the next 13 games. But for the first time since Bruce Smith and the dozens of long-ago teammates on hand to honor him during a halftime ceremony roamed the turf in Orchard Park, these Bills understand that winning doesn’t necessarily mean being the better team all the time.

Dave Staba has covered the Bills since 1990. He welcomes e-mail at A full report on Sunday’s game will appear in the September 25 issue of Artvoice.

  • jeff


    I’ve been reading you for several years and as usaual enjoy your writing. (I miss the wing reports, being a displaced Buffalonian) For the first season in a long time your writing reflects a growing confidence in this Bills group. They just may be on to something special. It’s a long road however. Dare I dream of post season?


  • Brad


    I have to agree with you on the premise that the Raiders are just that bad as a team, but I have to disagree with the Lane Kiffin Coaching comments. Kiffin did a good job coaching the game he had a challenge which reversed a pass interference call and he did not use the last two timeouts because Buffalo was moving the ball well and did not want to give them better field position for the final kick, there was too little time on the clock for the Raiders to mount a substantial drive.

    I love the column

  • Max


  • Max

    I’m glad that someone who has been covering the Bills for longer than I have been alive (born in ’91) feels the same way I do about this team. Even where I’m living, deep in Giants and (even more despicable) New Jersey Jets territory, my friends are giving the Bills a lot more respect. Also, excellent Full Metal Jacket reference, I really felt that was the turning point of the game as well.


  • Calvin

    I really felt a huge turning point was when Gibril Wilson was ejected from the game following Marshawn’s 2nd TD – from that point on it looked like the Bills could attack the secondary at will, and this in turn motivated the offensive line to play much better because until that point the line stunk!
    Talking about the O-line, our $100 million line does a pretty good job of pass protection, but a really shoddy job of run blocking. This is the AFC East, if you can’t run the ball with authority you’re going nowhere. Maybe Jauron & Schonert need to look at some Broncos zone blocking schemes and come up with something better – 75% of the yards that Marshawn and Freddie have are because of personal effort, not because of great blocking.