Bill Parcells, the two-time Super Bowl-champion coach, liked to say, “You are what your record says you are.”
Well, right now the Buffalo Bills are 4-1 and tied for first in the AFC East.
And that’s what they are.
A good football team, not a mirage.
A playoff contender, not a pretender.
And it’s about time we all start acknowledging that.
And for those who still want to claim that the Bills are lucky and could easily be 1-4, I offer another sage quote, this one from Branch Rickey, the innovative general manager best known for signing Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier: “Luck is the residue of design.”
Coach Chan Gailey and his players have worked hard and smart to make this good luck happen.
And, in the process, have proven skeptics like me dead wrong.
I predicted a 7-9 record and thought I was being optimistic. Well, the bar has risen. Ten wins and a playoff berth are not out of the question as long as they are able to avoid injuries to key players.
There’s so much to like about this team and this story. To see all these guys who were overlooked and underappreciated for so long contribute to this revival has been truly heart-warming.
There isn’t a better story in the NFL than Fred Jackson, the unwanted running back from tiny Coe College (Marv Levy’s alma mater). He led the charge once more in the Bills’ 31-24 victory against the Michael Vick-led Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at the sunny, soldout Ralph. Twenty-six carries produced 111 yards and a touchdown. Six receptions produced an additional 85 yards. The scintillating, all-purpose performance prompted serenades of “Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!” from the appreciative throng of nearly 70,000 – a hardy bunch who have remained loyal and hopeful despite so many false starts by this franchise during the past decade.
With all due respect to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s been marvelous this season, the true MVP of this team – and perhaps the league – has been Fred Jackson, who’s on pace to rush for more than 1,500 yards and catch more than 60 passes. We talk a lot about this being a quarterback-driven league – and it is. But running backs are still important cogs, especially versatile, gritty ones like Jackson.
Another guy who’s been under the radar for so long has been safety George Wilson. Like Freddie, he was undrafted and unloved and picked up off the scrapheap by the Bills. Yesterday, he was a man possessed, setting the tone immediately for a defense that intercepted Vick four times.
Wilson finished with 11 tackles, an interception, three pass deflections and one quarterback pressure. Not bad for someone who supposedly was going to be exploited by the Eagles speedy, game-breaking receivers.
The Bills defense is more generous, yardage-wise, than last year’s bottom-ranked unit. But this year’s “D” also is more opportunistic, as evidenced by its 12 interceptions – one more than it managed in 16 games last season.
Interestingly, despite all their success, they haven’t gotten overly giddy. They remain a grounded bunch, still motivated by the memory of last season when they stumbled to an 0-8 start on the way to a 4-12 record.
And that’s a good thing because they have a tough schedule remaining, with just two games at the Ralph over the next seven weeks.
But it’s foolhardy to look at that schedule, beginning with Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants, and think that the Bills can’t manage it.
Heck, who, before the season started, expected this team to beat both New England and Philly.
As Parcells says, “You are what your record says you are.”
And what the Bills are right now is a first-place team that’s won 80 percent of its games.
You can read and watch more of my commentary about the Bills at Channel 8's website, www.rochesterhomepage.net. Or listen to me on the Bob Matthews Show on WHAM AM-1180 Monday nights from 7-8 or on The Bills Brothers Show on WHTK AM 1280 & FM 107.3 on Thursday afternoons from 3-4.