Immediate Reactions: Buffalo Bills 17, Minnesota Vikings 16

Sorry for the delay. Was sucked into the locker room before I could finish the winning column!

Sunday was supposed to be an easy day for fans of the Buffalo Bills, comparatively speaking. They had favorable matches all over the field and a visiting Vikings team that has had anything but a milquetoast, consistent season on and off the field.

The Bills have so much more talent than the Vikings. While it’s fair to argue that Minnesota has more offensive talent than Buffalo, the Bills offset it with a superior defense. On paper, they stop the run, protect the ball and walk out 10-point winners.

But first-half injuries to Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller severely limited the Bills attack and four — 4 — turnovers gifted Minnesota plenty of life. How would they respond down 3 with 3:40 to go in the third? With your two top runners gone, you need your quarterback and receivers to win it for you, not Big Tony Dixon again and again and again.

And finally, with desperation setting in and very little time to go, head coach Doug Marrone, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and/or whoever else makes the decisions as to whether they should be aggressive or throw short dump-offs without scanning the field, chose the former.

And guess what? It worked. And both Kyle Orton and Sammy Watkins got hero moments out of the deal. Kudos to both. The first for overcoming some rough moments and adversity to sling some dimes in the clutch, and the second for looking like the absolute stud we all saw at Clemson.

– Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus and the Buffalo sack attack just came to eat. The Bills pass rush was all over the Vikings line, and kept Teddy Bridgwater on his toes or back all afternoon. The former Louisville quarterback made some nice tosses, but is going to be feeling both players when he gets up in the morning, especially Hughes. The TCU defender just unloaded on Bridgewater for a huge early fourth quarter sack.

– Away from the winning drive, which was awesome and deserving of credit,  Orton made two unbelievable throws to Sammy Watkins, one the all-pro toss for a 26-yard touchdown and the other a similar-length strike to the rookie on a well-run route. He also threaded an absurd needle to Chris Gragg with 9 minutes to play in the fourth. Overall, if we’re making a read on Orton, it’s that he’s like many No. 2 quarterbacks in the league; capable of the sublime but also nearly-guaranteed to make two or more big mistakes per game.

The interception was a poor throw and choice — into traffic — while his pump fake fumble in the red zone was anything but what you want from your veteran quarterback. And the killer would’ve been the misses like those to Watkins with just over a minute to go that was thrown well behind his top weapon. Ultimately Orton might not kill your team on a week-to-week basis, but he still is yet to give great faith to the fans. Better than EJ right now? Yep. You got it. But he still hasn’t had more than a quarter’s (maybe a half’s?!?) worth of strong football in a given game. That’s rough stuff.

– And it’s not just Orton here — receiver fumbles!!! — it’s play calls and a horrific interior offensive line. Personnel choices are another rotten thing to discuss at some point (Hogan over Williams?). Either way it’s a loss in a situation that shouldn’t have been anywhere near a loss. Ugly stuff. Bad stuff. And no first round pick? Gross.

Williams’ block on Spiller’s 53-yard run down the left side was beautiful, and feels a bit of an indictment on head coach Doug Marrone. Both players can make plays, though Spiller has been lukewarm all season. You’d like to think they’d be given more chances to do so.

– Jackson being hurt was rough to watch for fans and players alike. He’s easily one of the two top dogs in the locker room, along with Kyle Williams, and it’s clear the sideline lost a bit of energy from watching their leader carted off in clear emotional anguish.

– Watkins was back to his super self. He’s just that sort of athlete you look at and marvel, as if to say, “They make people like this?” He’s like an alien.

– Preston Brown is getting a bit better in pass coverage, although I’ll save judgment for a game that isn’t against a rookie.

– Yes, I’m really saying this: How about a hand for Leodis McKelvin? The corner who’s dropped more easy picks than I care to remember pulled down one deflected pick to go with a leaping snag along the sidelines to set a career high.

– Both teams got screwed on defensive timeouts. Hard to imagine Jarius Wright got both feet in bounds on the long pass in the third quarter, while Fred Jackson was certainly the beneficiary of a good spot in the first quarter. Maybe Ed Hochuli just doesn’t like admitting his crew was wrong?

Three things I liked…

1. Watkins
2. McKelvin
3. Hughes

Three things that troubled me…

1. The interior offensive line
2. Stephon Gilmore’s awareness
3. Nearly every run up the middle (See point No. 1 and Nathaniel Hackett for details).

Game ball(s)…

Watkins, Hughes, Dareus

– There’s talent here. Plenty of it. Really.

They overcame the possible cries of “same old Bills”, and that’s no small feat. Baby steps for the little engine that might.

Next week…
To New Jersey! Let’s be honest: Doug Marrone could’ve had his job on the line with a loss today, let alone if he’s headed to the bye week 3-5. The Bills should be favored to pick up a W, but they barely snuck through against a poor Minnesota team and the Jets nearly toppled the Patriots on Thursday. Still, I’ll peg the Bills to get a road win, 19-17, and head into the bye at 5-3.


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