Well, this is weird.
Buffalo’s 43-23 mockery of the New York Jets on Sunday puts the Bills in the best position they have occupied midway through a season since 2002 — with a 5-3 record and on a winning streak.
OK. It’s a two-game winning streak. And the Jets are clearly not very good at playing football.
But it certainly beats the alternative. Outscoring an opponent that turns the ball over six times and imagines that it possesses the power of invisibility may not have a lot of predictive value, but it does set the 2014 Bills apart from the 14 also-rans that came before.
All of which causes a great deal of confusion here at the We Want Marangi offices. This is the point in the season where discussion of the local football team usually starts to involve firing the coach and/or general manager, benching the quarterback or figuring out which college players might be available when Buffalo makes its first pick in the following spring’s draft.
Some fans seem similarly bewildered, judging from such forums for rational, contemplative discussion as radio talk shows and Twitter, where Buffalo’s highest single-game point total in four years and Kyle Orton’s second four-touchdown passing performance ever provide the intellectual foundation for arguing that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should be fired immediately.
One caller to WGR 550 on Monday afternoon went a step farther, making the case that the Bills should fire head coach Doug Marrone, apparently to ensure that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz — who managed to compile a 29-52 overall record in Detroit despite having Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh at his disposal — is not snatched up for the top job somewhere else.
Again, these are strange times, so it’s understandable if everyone is a little off-kilter at the moment.
So let’s just make fun of the Jets for a while.
It seems worth asking, given his previous trouble keeping his schedule straight: Geno Smith did know there was a game Sunday, right?
The next quarterback selected after E.J. Manuel in the 2013 NFL Draft looked like someone whom the Jets kidnapped and forced into a uniform and onto the field. On his first throw of the day, Smith misfired on a quick slant to Eric Decker. It may have been his best play of the day.
Two of Smith’s three interceptions were badly overthrown. On the other, he either somehow did not see Preston Brown between him and his presumed target, tight end Jeff Cumberland, or convinced himself that the Buffalo linebacker would fall down, or perhaps mysteriously disappear, before the ball arrived.
Smith’s 10-minute cameo, during which he completed two of his eight passes to his teammates and three to the Bills, produced a 0.0 quarterback rating, guaranteeing him at least a share of an NFL standard that can never be taken away from him.
It says quite a bit about the Jets that Smith’s meltdown was not the most embarrassing thing to happen to them on Sunday. That would be the kickoff immediately following Dan Carpenter’s second field goal, which put Buffalo ahead 27-17 with 6:29 gone in the third quarter.
It would be easy to rip the Jets for trying a gimmick that relied completely on T.J. Graham making himself invisible, but let’s be fair — he did pull it off quite regularly during his time in Buffalo.
The humiliation did not end Sunday. John Izdik, New York’s general manager, went on and on about something or other for 19 minutes during a Monday press conference, delivering a State of the Jets Address that inspired Dom Cosentino of nj.com to put together a list of shorter speeches, including the first inaugural addresses delivered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, as well as the Gettysburg Address.
Before he took questions at his midseason State of the Jets press conference on Monday, general manager John Idzik spoke. And spoke and spoke and spoke. For all anyone knows, he still might be talking to somebody, somewhere.
Izdik’s ramblings inspired a far less conciliatory monologue from noted radio ranter Mike Francesca, who appears ready to bite someone at several points during his seven-minute tirade.
OK. That felt more familiar. So back to the Bills.
What does actively participating in the Jets’ self-immolation really mean for Buffalo?
Quite a bit, starting with the standings.
The Bills have gotten to 5-3 on three previous occasions during their post-playoff era, but were already backsliding by the time they reached that modest achievement in 2008 and ’11.
Trent Edwards and the ’08 Bills reached 5-3 with a 26-17 home loss to the Jets, their second of four in a row and eight of their last 10. Getting ripped 27-11 at home, also by the Jets, launched Ryan Fitzpatrick and friends on a seven-game skid that wiped out any good that had been accomplished during a hot start to the ’11 season.
You have to go back to Drew Bledsoe’s first season in Buffalo, when the Bills topped Detroit 24-17 to win their third straight and pull within a half-game of New England for the division lead, to find a campaign that offered this much cause for optimism at the halfway point.
Of course, the good feelings of 2002 ended the following week in New England, where the Brady-Belichick Patriots delivered the first of what would become annual reality checks for the Bills, who ultimately reversed their first-half record to finish 8-8.
These Bills face their first serious test of the season’s second half when they return from this weekend’s bye to host Kansas City. The Chiefs have won four of five, including a 41-14 walloping of the Patriots and a 23-20 win at San Diego to get to 4-3.
After that, Buffalo travels to Miami (also presently 4-3) for a Thursday nighter before hosting the Jets (1-7) and Browns (4-3) to close out November.
December is even tougher, with road games at Denver (6-1) and New England (6-2) bookending visits from Green Bay (4-3) and Oakland (0-7).
Pasting the Jets so thoroughly sends Buffalo into that run of six decent-or-better foes in eight weeks with a boost in a few key areas:
— Orton’s performance — 23.8 yards per completion, four touchdowns (he should really be credited with 4.95 touchdown throws, as he was in no way responsible for the timing of Sammy Watkins’ pre-goal-line celebration) and a 142.8 quarterback rating — eliminates any doubt that Doug Marrone made the right move by swapping him for Manuel a month ago. At least for the moment.
His turnovers against Detroit and Minnesota made the late dramatics necessary, and they pretty well squelched any chance the Bills had to take control against New England.
In New Jersey, though, Orton made the required throws and, just as significantly, made it through the afternoon without throwing or fumbling the ball away.
Getting sacked 17 times in four starts is a problem, one attributable to both offensive line woes and Orton’s complete lack of mobility.
— Orton’s feet are not going to suddenly get quicker, but his protection almost has to get better. Offensive lines, no matter how untalented, usually get better given both continuity and time. Kraig Urbik’s return to the starting front and the extra week off should help there, if there is something to Marrone’s background in that area.
Any improvement up front would help the short-handed ground game. I’m not sure what anyone was expecting from a pair of career backups in their first game replacing the injured C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, but hammering away at the Jets showed the coaching staff’s confidence in both the Boobie Dixon/Bryce Brown combo and their blocking.
Given how well the defense has played all season, save the second half against New England and third downs against San Diego, a persistent, if not terribly productive, running attack may be all Buffalo needs.
— Six turnovers and four sacks would have been a good month’s work for some of the Jauron/Gailey defenses, Putting a floundering opponent away after letting the battered Lions and pitiful Vikings hang around is another step forward,which should help when Buffalo starts facing actual NFL offenses again.
Looking at the rest of the schedule, it is no stretch to imagine the Bills finding a way to lose all of them, or continuing to improve and winning every one (OK, beating the Broncos and Patriots on the road might be a little bit of a stretch).
A 3-1 November is a realistic hope and would send Buffalo into the season’s final month with more than a mathematical chance at finally ending a postseason drought approaching a decade-and-a-half.
Now that would really be weird.