Bills open with a flourish
I predicted on a radio show earlier in the week that I thought the Bills would win their opener in Kansas City. But I thought it would be one of those cases where they would go into Arrowhead - traditionally a House of Horrors for them - and steal a close win.
Never in a million years did I expect the Bills to go Kansas City and pound the Chiefs into submission, but that's indeed what they did. Final score - and this is not a misprint - Buffalo 41, Kansas City 7. That's the first time Buffalo has hung up 40 points on opening day in 19 years. And it marks the worst season-opening loss in the 52-year history of the Chiefs franchise.
As the late, great baseball announcer Jack Buck said after Kirk Gibson's dramatic game-ending homer in the 1988 World Series: "I don't believe what I just saw."
Now, I'm not about to tell you it's OK to start making plans for a playoff game in January because it's only 1/16th of the season and the Chiefs appear to be a team in trouble. Still, the whipping administered by a club that dropped its first eight games on its way to a 4-12 record last season against a team that won 10 games and the AFC West does make me Bill-lieve that Buffalo might be more improved than I originally thought. And maybe my optimistic prediction of 7-9 was actually conservative.
But instead of getting giddily ahead of ourselves, let's just savor this opening act a bit because from the Bills perspective it was a thing of beauty across the board.
The two biggest questions heading into this game and season were the Bills run defense and offensive line.
Those questions were answered resoundingly - for today at least.
Last year, the Chiefs, led by Jamaal Charles, sliced and diced the Bills for 274 rushing yards in a 13-10 overtime victory. Today, Charles and Co. were limited to 108 yards, and coughed up the ball once, leading to a score. Quarterback Matt Cassel couldn't take up the slack passing the ball as he managed just 119 yards.
The starters on the Bills O-Line yielded just one sack and gave Ryan Fitzpatrick time to complete 17-of-25 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns. The front wall of center Erik Wood, guards Andy Levitre and Kraig Urbik, and tackles Demetrius Bell and Erik Pears also opened up enough holes for the Bills to pound out 163 yards on 39 carries.
Fred Jackson removed any doubt about whether he deserves to be the starting running back by breaking numerous tackles on his way to 112 yards on 20 totes. There are few better at accumulating yards after contact.
The receiving corps looked sharp, too. Stevie Johnson picked up where he left off last year with four catches for 66 yards, including a nifty, go-up-and-get-it touchdown reception. David Nelson and Donald Jones, two wideouts being counted upon to make up for the departure of the declining-but-still-dangerous Lee Evans, also had solid outings.
But the real surprise was the play of Scott Chandler. The journeyman tight end proved to be a popular Fitz target in the red zone, using his 6-foot-7, 263-pound frame to catch two touchdowns. It seems like forever since the Bills have had a good tight end. If Chandler continues to be a viable option, Buffalo's offense could be putting up a lot of points this fall.
"He's a big guy,'' said Fitzpatrick, who was turnover-free. "He creates mismatches because of his size. We did a good job of exploiting mismatches today."
That they did.
They also did a superb job taking advantage of the great field position their special teams and defense afforded them. Five of the Bills 14 drive starts were in Kansas City territory.
Fitz capitalized on the gifts, converting four-of-five red zone opportunities, including the one that occurred after Corey McIntryre forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that was recovered by Bills rookie Kelvin Sheppard on the Kansas City 26. Five snaps later, Fitz found Chandler for a four-yard touchdown.
The end result would be a laugher, the likes of which the bearded QB from Harvard had never experienced before in his seven seasons as a pro.
"It was fun,'' he said. "I was telling the guys this is the first time in my NFL career that I've ever come out of the game for a good reason."
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, will be published by Triumph Books in late October and will be available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott at .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Chan Gailey did a superb job getting his team ready for this game and had a solid day as a play-caller, particularly in the red zone. Grade: A
OFFENSE: The Bills controlled the ball for just over 37 minutes, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for four scores, Fred Jackson became only the eighth back in franchise history to break the century mark in rushing yards on opening day, Scott Chandler was a factor at tight end and the starting line yielded just one sack. Grade: A
DEFENSE: Rookie first-round pick Marcell Dareus made only four tackles but tied up blockers, enabling the linebackers to keep the NFL's most potent running attack in check. The "D" also shut down the Chiefs passing game, limiting Matt Cassell to just 119 yards, and took the ball away twice. Grade: A
SPECIAL TEAMS: They set the tone on the opening kickoff, forcing the fumble that got the ball rolling for the Bills. Brian Moorman averaged 51 yards per punt, Rian Lindell drilled two field goals and Roscoe Parrish set up a third-quarter touchdown to put the game out of reach with a 28-yard punt return in the third quarter. Grade: A
OVERALL: This was the best all-around performance by the Bills in Gailey's 17 games at the helm. Buffalo could very well be 2-0 after facing the Oakland Raiders at the Ralph next week. Grade: A