All right, we’ve talked Sunday’s goal-line interception to death. Whatever your take on Jeff Tuel’s ill-fated pass, it’s time to put it behind us. Let’s all agree to honor the coaches’ 24-hour rule and move on to the Steelers.
I’m here in an unaccustomed role today, as Dr. Feelgood. People consider me relentlessly negative, but I’m always willing to see the bright side of our local sports teams. For example, it’s a great sign that the Sabres haven’t allowed anyone to step on their logo lately.
But I’m here today to provide an uplifting tonic for Bills fans. Sure, they’re 3-6. They managed to lose to the Chiefs despite outgaining them, 470-210, the greatest yardage advantage in a loss in team history.
There are a lot of reasons to be encouraged. Don’t forget, this is a transitional year, the start of a new era. The Bills aren’t supposed to be a contender. The idea is to show progress and inspire faith in a new regime led by Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone.
Still down about the loss to the Chiefs? Here are 10 reasons to feel good about the Bills as we head into their final eight weeks and seven games:
1. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel will be back soon, perhaps as early as Sunday in Pittsburgh. Manuel told reporters Monday he had been cleared to return from his knee injury. He said the decision is up to Doug Marrone and the coaches. Manuel has been throwing, and he was moving around well on the field before Sunday’s game.
2. The schedule gets much easier now. Seven of the Bills’ first nine opponents are currently first or second in their division. Their most recent four opponents have a combined record of 25-9. Four of their next five games are against teams in the bottom quarter of the NFL:
Sunday, they play at Pittsburgh, which allowed a franchise-record 55 points to the Patriots on Sunday. Then they host the Jets. After the bye week, they get a 2-6 Atlanta team in Toronto. Then they have back-to-back away games against the league’s two winless squads, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. They could be 7-7 when they host Miami, which is reeling from the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito hazing debacle, on Dec. 22.
3. The run defense is much improved. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams have plugged the middle, and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Manny Lawson have been huge additions. They’re ranked 26th overall, but that stat is misleading.
Only two NFL teams have faced more rushes than the Bills, who are on the field a lot because the offense plays so fast.
They’re giving up only 3.9 yards a carry, more than a yard better than a year ago (5.0) and their lowest since 2004. They haven’t allowed a run longer than 34 yards and have given up only two rushing touchdowns. Last season, they gave up a league-leading 23 TDs on the ground.
4. Cordy Glenn has been very good at left tackle. Glenn was one of the main reasons the Chiefs didn’t record a sack for the first time all year. If he keeps getting better and is above average at his position, it’ll be a drafting bull’s-eye for the Bills’ personnel guys, who didn’t buy the prevailing wisdom that Glenn was better-suited to play the right side.
5. That looked like the old C.J. Spiller against the Chiefs. Maybe they should have rested his high ankle sprain sooner. Spiller had his best game of the year, amassing season highs in rushing (116) and receiving (39) yards. He had just 36 yards receiving all year coming in.
Spiller popped runs of 61 and 29 yards, and he took a screen pass 27 yards. I imagine he was motivated by the presence of MVP candidate Jamaal Charles on the other sideline. Charles is on pace for 2,000 scrimmage yards. On Sunday, Spiller flashed the talent that had people projecting him as a 2,000-yard back coming into the season.
6. The Bills are 11th in the NFL in total offense. They haven’t finished that high since Drew Bledsoe’s first year here in 2002. Nate Hackett has his rough moments, but that’s remarkable production for an offense that’s had an ongoing crisis at quarterback, injured running backs and a bunch of green wide receivers. Overall, Hackett has done a commendable job in his first year as an NFL coordinator.
7. Nickell Robey. How can you not admire a 5-foot-7, 165-pound undrafted free agent corner who plays with the confidence and fire of a man half a foot taller? Robey set the tone in the Miami game with his early pick six. Sunday, he obliterated the Chiefs’ Dexter McCluster on a pass play deep in the Bills’ end, forcing K.C. to settle for a field goal. McCluster is 5-8, 170, so I imagine Robey’s eyes got wider when he saw a chance to pick on someone his own size.
8. Marquise Goodwin. I must have a thing for little guys. Goodwin, who stands 5-9, caught a 59-yard TD from Tuel on Sunday. It was his second long TD grab in five games. When Tuel aired out the pass against the Chiefs, most of us figured it was overthrown. Then Goodwin turned on his Olympic class speed.
Goodwin is fast and tough, a good blocker for his size. He could become the outside threat the Bills have needed since Lee Evans left — if he can stay healthy. He injured his hamstring late in the K.C. game.
9. Hey, remember 2004? The Bills were 3-6 and counted out of the playoff race. They ran off six straight wins and could have made the playoffs if they had won the finale here. Hey, I’m Dr. Feelgood, remember?
10. This coaching staff looks like the real thing. Marrone is a leader with the honest tough-guy persona that Buffalo fans love. Hackett and Mike Pettine have made a difference. I’ll go out on a limb and predict they’ll get back to the playoffs before the Sabres.