We learned on the opening coin toss that, thankfully, we no longer are living in the Dick Jauron Error.
Instead of following the illogical tendency of his predecessor and deferring until the second-half kickoff, new Bills head coach Perry Fewell opted to take the ball right away. Yes, I know, Buffalo squandered that first possession when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an interception, but I liked the aggressive approach Fewell took. It sent a message to his team that “we’re going to go for it right from the start.’’ He was playing to win instead of playing not to lose.
And I loved the emotion and energy Fewell showed along the sidelines and in the play-calling on both sides of the ball. How refreshing it was to see a coach really into the game. I’m not saying you need to be a raving maniac, but neither do you need to act like a walking corpse.
Now, I’m sure many of you are grumbling that the results were the same because the Bills proved to be their own worst enemies once more – committing foolish penalties that nullified a 9-yard touchdown run by Fred Jackson late in the first quarter and a 53-yard bomb from Fitzpatrick to Lee Evans in the second half. But at least this team competed to the very end of its 18-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bills didn’t fold up the tents in the fourth quarter the way they had in the previous two embarrassing losses in the final games of Jauron’s mediocre tenure.
“I thought our guys fought their hind ends off,’’ Fewell said in his post-game news conference.
He thought right.
We finally saw a quarterback not afraid to take chances and throw the ball downfield instead of always taking the easy way out, and dumping it off.
We finally saw Terrell Owens unleashed, with brilliant results – 9 catches for 197 yards and one touchdown on an astute and gutsy call that produced a 98-yard bomb from Fitzpatrick, the longest scoring play in Bills history.
We saw a defense, playing without tackle Marcus Stroud and several other starters, finally turn in a stout performance against the run, limiting the powerful and quick Maurice Jones-Drew to a hard-earned 66 yards on 25 carries. (His longest run was for just 10 yards.)
And we saw one of the Bills truly unsung and most dependable heroes – Rian Lindell – boot three more field goals, giving him 17 in 19 attempts, a dead-on accuracy rate a sliver below 90 percent.
By no means, am I saying Fewell’s coaching debut was flawless. He badly mismanaged the clock in the waning moments of the first half. Instead of taking two shots at the end zone that might have resulted in a touchdown, the Bills were lucky to put three points on the board before time expired. And they didn’t look particularly sharp during the final 50 seconds of the game when they still had an opportunity to move into position for the field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
But there were a lot of encouraging signs. You have to admit it was a whole lot more enjoyable watching a head coach who appeared to know what he was doing on game day.
It will be interesting to see if Fewell can keep his team playing at a decent level or if the performance vs. the Jags was merely the result of a natural high that comes when a new coach takes the sidelines for the first time.
The Bills injury bug-a-boo continues, with three more players – Eric Wood (broken leg), Marshawn Lynch (bruised shoulder) and Seth McKinney (bruised knee) forced out of the game. Wood’s was the most gruesome and costly to the Bills. He is one of the rookie offensive linemen they are counting on for many years to come. Buffalo already is paper-thin on the O-line. They’re going to need to raid other teams’ practice squads to find bodies just to finish the season.
We already alluded to the two big penalties, but the Bills also continue to be hampered by their inability to convert third downs and mount any kind of run game. Clearly, the inexperience and constant flux along the line and at quarterback has a great deal to do with that.
With 8:36 remaining and nursing a 15-10 lead, Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny – who, by the way, is playing some outstanding football in recent weeks – stripped Jags quarterback David Garrard of the ball, and defensive tackle Spencer Johnson recovered on the Buffalo 20. But two runs by Fred Jackson produced just five yards and Fitzpatrick was sacked, forcing the Bills to punt it away.
Jacksonville took over at its 32 with 6:28 to go and put together a time-consuming drive for the winning score.
The Bills finished the game converting just 3-of-11 third downs.
It wasn’t a world-beating performance by Fitzpatrick, but it was better than we would have seen out of the deposed Trent Edwards. Fitz completed 18-of-31 for 297 yards, one TD and two picks. He didn’t play well on that final drive, which ended in a pass off T.O.’s hands and into the mitts of Jaguars’ defensive back Anthony Smith. But the outcome would have been different and his stats even more impressive had that long TD pass to Evans not been negated. The thing I really liked is how he got Owens involved early in the game, and, how, he was able to talk to the emotionally fragile T.O., even when the diva wideout was stewing on the sidelines.