ORCHARD PARK – Chan Gailey felt elation.
After eight losses, the first-year Buffalo Bills coach finally has a victory to celebrate.
“Nobody wants to go through any length of time not winning anything,’’ he said shortly after his heretofore winless Bills held on to beat the Detroit Lions, 14-12, at the rain-soaked Ralph. “So, when you win it’s big. Nobody wants to talk about the 800-pound monkey in the room, but it was obvious. Nobody likes that feeling. You want to win and get that over with, get that done and go on with your season.”
King Kong has been removed from One Bills Drive.
No more questions this season about the Bills’ chances of going 0-16.
Victory No. 1 didn’t come easily. But that shouldn’t surprise you. Nothing ever comes easily with this team.
As was the case in 3-point losses the previous three games, this one came down to the wire. The Lions, who broke their own NFL record for consecutive road losses by suffering their 25th straight defeat away from the Motor City, drove 88 yards and pulled to within two points on Shaun Hill’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson with 14 seconds remaining. The Lions then went for two, but the Bills defense wasn’t about to allow another victory slip away. Their coverage and pressure were superb on the play and Hill’s desperation pass sailed way over the head of tight end Brandon Pettigrew at the back of the end zone.
The victory, though, wasn’t officially secured until Bills safety George Wilson grabbed Dave Rayner’s onside kick at Buffalo’s 41. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went into a kneel-down and for the first time since they defeated the Indianapolis Colts 11 months and 11 days ago, the Bills were winners.
“We wanted so badly to get that first one, especially for Coach Gailey because he kept everybody together and optimistic despite all the losses and the close calls,’’ Wilson said. “It would have been easy for him to have gotten down on himself and us and for this thing to have fallen apart. But Coach never allowed us to get discouraged. He just kept encouraging us to keep working hard and eventually it would pay off and it finally did.”
The Bills can thank Fred Jackson, their MVP from a year ago, for showing them the way. It’s been a difficult season for the one-time Division III player. He’s been forced to overcome a broken wrist, the loss of his starting job and a reduced workload. But Jackson kept plugging away, and Sunday afternoon, in front of an announced crowd of 56,721, he returned to last year’s form, finishing with 133 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and 37 yards and another score on six receptions.
He bounced back from last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears when he managed just 36 yards from scrimmage and coughed up a fumble that led to a touchdown. He also shook off another fumble Sunday and came back into the game after dinging his knee in the second half.
“That’s what you have to do,’’ Jackson said, when asked about not going into a funk following the fumble. “There’s a lot of football left to be played at that point and time. I felt like I had to move on and make more plays for my team.”
With rookie C.J. Spiller probably sidelined next week with a hamstring injury incurred during a punt return Sunday, Jackson figures to have another heavy workload against the Bengals in Cincinnati. And that’s a good thing, because he should have been a featured back a lot earlier. He definitely shouldn’t have had to wait until the fifth game to make his first start.
Credit, too, the Bills defense. Yes, Hill passed for 323 yards – but a huge chunk of that came on that final drive – and the Lions had to pass 50 times because they couldn’t run it well against the league’s weakest run defense. Buffalo wound up allowing just 76 yards on 26 carries, a paltry 2.9 average. The Bills had entered the day yielding 178 yards per game, so that’s a dramatic improvement.
Buffalo – stop the presses – also came up with its second interception of the season, when defensive end Dwan Edwards caught Donte Whitner’s tip.
In the victorious Bills locker room, Gailey told his team: “Don’t settle for this one. We’ve got seven more to play. Enjoy it tonight but when we come back tomorrow we’ll watch film, correct the things that we did wrong and move on to Cincinnati.”
For the long-term, a bunch of wins in the second half might not be a good thing and could screw up the Bills draft position and cost them a shot at the franchise quarterback they still truly need (Stanford’s Andrew Luck.)
But no need to get into that just yet.
Let them savor this one.
They told that “800-pound monkey” to scram.
No more 0-16 questions this season.