Your call, Bills fans. You decide how it feels to see the Bills blow out a bad opponent on a rainy day at The Ralph, to finally witness the sort of dominant performance we expected of this team from the start.
If you want to find hope in a 34-18 win over the Jaguars, be my guest. Knock yourselves out. This is the NFL, where parity makes all things possible. They won. They're one-third of the way along the heroic run to 7-7, and renewed comparisons with last year's Giants.
Sorry, but I can't get worked up over 5-7, not after 12 years of this. I'm just not in a very charitable mood, maybe because I haven't had my annual viewing of “It's a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey is still in the water.
Any reasonably skeptical Bills fan has to be feeling the same way. In some ways, a game like Sunday's makes it even worse. Where has it been all year? How could the team that danced all over the Jags be struggling to stay in playoff contention in the sinkhole of mediocrity known as the AFC?
That's how it should feel – maddening. The worst thing about the victory is knowing that the Bills might have squandered a wondrous opportunity to end their playoff drought.
Imagine if the defense had been prepared for the opener against the Jets. Really? They gave up 48 points to a team with Mark Sanchez at quarterback? And what if they had been able to finish against the Titans, or if Ryan Fitzpatrick hadn't thrown that interception late against the Patriots?
OK, I'm not showing proper deference to a stirring victory over Mike Mularkey and the Jaguars. The Jags had been competitive on the road this season, losing three times in overtime and winning in Indy. They were coming off a win and figured to put up a fight in Mularkey's return to Buffalo.
Maybe it was seeing Mularkey on the opposite sideline, but Chan Gailey decided to get smart for a change. He coached to his talent. The Bills – brace yourselves – ran the ball 46 times and threw only 17 times.
They ran the ball 46 times for 232 yards, a 5.0 average. They've been averaging 5 yards a carry for the last two seasons, which led us simpletons to believe they're a running team. See what happens, Chan, if you commit to the run! All together, fans:
What took you so long?
“All I can do is go out and make plays when my number is called,” said Fred Jackson, who had 25 carries for 109 yards, his first 100-yard day in more than a year. “You know things aren't always going to go the way we wanted them to. It's an up-and-down game. So hopefully, we can just keep making plays like we did today and take all the other things out of it.”
C.J. Spiller had 14 rushes for 77 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown dash around left end. He now has 907 yards on the season. His average dropped a notch to 6.6 per carry. At that pace, he would finish with the highest average per rush of any 1,000-yard NFL rusher since 1934.
That would lead the casual observer to believe the Bills are strongest at running back. Jackson agreed. He said the team's best players are in the running back room. The question all year has been, why doesn't their head coach/offensive coordinator give them room to prove it?
Jackson said Sunday was the blueprint for the season. Remember the blueprint? A strong running game. A dominant, playmaking defense anchored by Mario Williams and a penetrating front four. Fitzpatrick taking care of the football and making the solid throws. Good special teams.
It was all there against the Jags. But we've seen them play to form over the years against bad and mediocre opposition. The Bills were 5-6 or 4-7 in 10 of the last 11 seasons. They beat teams, generally bad teams. When the good teams show up, the blueprint disappears into a black hole.
The defense has put together a decent string of games. That doesn't excuse what happened early in the season. Mario Williams' sore wrist doesn't explain how poorly they played while the Bills were digging a big hole for themselves.
“There's no magical thing,” said safety Jairus Byrd, who had another diving interception. “It's just little things, like people being out of gaps, assignment errors, small things that have big consequences.
“Honestly, we've been in this position before,” Byrd said. “We don't like it. Ever since I've been here, we've been in this predicament. But a win's a win. I'm not going to sit here and talk about the past and what should have been. I'm excited about this win, and we've just got to keep building.”
The players should be excited. They're still alive in the playoff chase. An 8-8 record might be good enough in the AFC. They played with passion and purpose against Jacksonville. They haven't given up on the season, which is admirable. But it's time they won a game that really mattered.
By the start of the second quarter, the Jaguars were on their fourth running back. Chad Henne is an upgrade at quarterback over the injured Blaine Gabbert, which says more about Gabbert than Henne.
Defensively, the Jags were without their starting cornerbacks. They got absolutely no pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, who still threw a bad interception and missed badly on some other passes. There were several plays in the red zone where Gailey had Spiller on the bench. They had to waste a couple of timeouts.
That might seem like splitting hairs after a 16-point win, but you don't judge a team against bad opponents. Sunday's game reminded me of last year's win in Toronto over the Redskins, a dominant effort against a bad team in a downward spiral. The Bills then went right in the tank.
We'll find out more next week against the Rams, who beat the 49ers in overtime Sunday. One week after that, they'll face Marshawn Lynch and a rising Seattle team in Toronto.
Take solace and hope from this game if you choose. Hold it, embrace it, wrap it up for Christmas and give it to your loved ones. I remain skeptical. The Steelers and Bengals both won on the road Sunday. Good teams win when it matters. Bad teams find a way to lose.
Beat the Rams and Seahawks before you expect anyone to believe you're even average.