Week 1, baby! In a Sunday full of surprises and thrilling finishes, the Bills manage to secure the upset of the week (no offense, Dolphins fans) with an overtime win on the road in Soldier Field.
It started out ugly in Chicago, with the Bills getting the initial kick off and promptly going three and out. The following Chicago drive lasted all of 4 plays, highlighted by a 44 yard pass from Cutler to Alshon Jeffrey and capped by a 12 yard TD pass to Martellus Bennett. I’m sure that many Bills fans were settling in for another long game and subsequently long season of failure. EJ Manuel and Co. had different ideas and they immediately answered back with a 9 play, 71 yard TD drive. EJ Manuel looked sharp in the first quarter, twice finding Robert Woods for first down catches and easily out running the Chicago defense on a QB sweep left for the first Bills TD of the game. The Bills would capitalize on a pair of Chicago turnovers in the 2nd quarter to build a 10 point lead at halftime.
Unfortunately, outside of that 1st quarter TD drive, the Bills offense looked fairly pedestrian against a mediocre Bears defense. The Bills ran the ball relentlessly, piling up an impressive number of rushing yards, but weren’t able to put together another scoring drive until the Jay Cutler’s horrendous INT to Kyle Williams in the 4th quarter. That turnover only led to another field goal, giving the Bills a 20-17 lead with 4 minutes left in the game. The defense couldn’t stop Matt Forte, who put up a combined 169 yards from scrimmage, and the deadly duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey did serious damage until Jeffrey left the game with a hamstring injury. However, when it counted in overtime, they rose to the occasion, stuffing the Bears on the first possession in extra time and giving the offense a chance to score in sudden death. A few quick plays set up this play of the week from Fred Jackson, proving that age isn’t everything at the RB position. Two plays later, Dan Carpenter boots it through from 27 yards out and that’s all she wrote.
It was an impressive win from a young team with an unproven QB, all the more so that it was on the road against a supposedly much better team. EJ Manuel looked pretty sharp with a 72.7% completion percentage, even though he needed a little help from his receivers to make a few athletic catches. He also threw one INT, another bad decision from the young man, but an all around solid performance. I liked the Bills’ game plan going in, too, run the ball, run the ball some more, and then if it’s 3rd and long, maybe throw a pass. There were 3 RBs active on game day (notably, no Bryce Brown) and all 3 had 50+ yards rushing. Manuel spread the ball around with his 22 attempts as well, with Robert Woods leading the pack at a mere 6 targets.
All in all, I’d give the team a B+ grade for pulling off a tough win in a close game on the road. I’d like to have seen better performance in certain aspects on both sides of the ball, but there’s little room for complaint in the result. Too often the Bills have left close games slip away, especially outside of Buffalo, so I’ll take what I can get and look forward to the divisional match-up against Miami next week.
Game Ball: Surprise! Fred Jackson didn’t do much in regulation, but, as he so often does, delivered in the clutch with his monster 38 yard run that set up the game winning field goal. All Hail Iron Fred!