ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Just what is it about being the underdog that rests so comfortably on the shoulder pads of the Buffalo Bills?
Expect them to win and it isn’t nearly so much fun and, quite often, not so fruitful.
Expect them to fail against a favoured opponent, you best fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.
It was another one of those afternoons at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, when a sellout crowd of 69,803 had the best of it all in a 31-24 win over the not-so-dreamy Philadelphia Eagles.
A brilliant October afternoon ended with a third home win and kept the Bills with a share of the best record in the AFC.
Having now reached a reasonable sample size five weeks into this NFL season, the Bills are 4-1, but that’s just the statistical side of the story.
Paired with the massive comeback over the Patriots two weeks earlier, this latest win was enough to forgive (and almost forget) the goofy loss in Cincinnati a week ago.
At 1-4, the Eagles may be dramatically underachieving, but they were a pre-season Super Bowl favourite.
“I don’t mind flying under the radar a little bit,” said Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman, who remembers the weight of expectation from his years in San Diego. “I’ve been in the opposite situation before and it hasn’t turned out so well.”
Who knows where this one is going, but the Bills aren’t likely to be dismissed so easily, starting with next week’s road game against the New York Giants.
With 31 points on Sunday, Buffalo has scored 164, one fewer than the franchise best through five games, put up in 1964. Consider the fact that all three home wins (against Oakland, New England and Philly) have been wildly entertaining, and their story keeps on getting better.
Against the Eagles, the Bills probably turned in their smartest victory yet, containing Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Sure, they had a 21-7 lead at the half, boosted it to 28-7 in the third quarter and still needed an interception inside the two-minute warning to complete it.
But on defence, they came out to both confuse and to bruise Vick and it worked almost the way they drew it up.
“Mixing it up with our looks was a big part of the win,” Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams said. “We’d blitz and we’d blitz then we’d cover and cover and go back to the blitz again. You could tell he didn’t always know what to expect.”
So, on the afternoon that he surpassed former Eagle Randall Cunningham as the leading rusher among quarterbacks in NFL history, he also had a career-high four interceptions, two of those leading to Bills scores.
On offence, the Bills remembered that when running back Fred Jackson rumbles for 100 yards or more in a game, the team is 8-1 and used him accordingly. Jackson ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on a workhorse 26 carries, and had 85 more on six receptions.
The Bills front took advantage of a tackle-shy Eagles defence and built up a lead just big enough to last.
“I mean, who didn’t know that we were going to run the ball?” Bills receiver Stevie Johnson said. “They’ve been exposed in the run game the entire season so we’d be foolish not to come out there and try to run all over that group.”
Of course, keeping the ball on the ground provides the added benefit of chewing up clock and keeping Vick off the field.
It couldn’t tick off quick enough late in the game, but one final interception by linebacker Nick Barnett sealed it.
So now, year removed from an 0-5 start that grew to 0-8, football feels far less of a grind in these parts.
“To come here eight straight weeks and not see any rewards for your time and effort, that’s a hard thing to take,” Wilson said. “I remember that vividly. When nobody talked about us, everyone expected to win against us.”
The remaining opponents will be talking now. And if they are wise, expecting much less.
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Bills linebacker Arthur Moats had been impressed with the legend of Michael Vick both on game film and video games.
In real life, it was much more impressive.
“He looks fast on film, but you see him in person and it’s just crazy,” Moats said. “We were all about putting pressure on him but also containing him.”
Other than one 53-yard burst, the Bills did just that. And the pressure helped force four interceptions, a career-worst for the Eagles QB.
“You know, as a quarterback, an interception is an interception,” Vick said. “Regardless of how you look at it, the world is going to judge you as throwing an interception.
“I think at times in the games, you have to just make a conscious effort to protect the ball. It’s easier said than done.”
Especially against the Bills, who lead the NFL with 12 picks. It was the second four-INT day for the Bills already this season (the first came against Tom Brady and the Patriots).
And when Nick Barnett returned one 24 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, it marked just the second time in franchise history that the team has had picks returned for a score in three consecutive games.