Fans can be tough.
Several times on Monday I heard members of the Bills’ faithful (?) debating whether Sunday’s 23-0 domination of Washington was a product Buffalo’s defensive prowess or the Redskins’ offensive incompetence.
Some actually said the result was 75 percent because of the latter.
This is still the National Football League — the best players in the world — and its teams get only 16 chances to prove themselves each season.
Was Washington affected by injury and circumstance?
Starting quarterback Rex Grossman, who led the ‘Skins to three wins in the first four games, was benched after Game 5 for poor performance and replaced by John Beck. And, in his second start, Beck was eaten alive by the Bills’ defense, which spit out the bones en route to nine sacks and two interceptions.
Was the former BYU star hampered by personnel losses?
His best running back and top tight end, Tim Hightower and Chris Cooley, were on injured reserve and starting left tackle Trent Williams, who plays the most critical position on the offensive line for a passer, and Santana Moss, the Redskins’ top wideout, missed the game due to ankle and hand injuries, respectively.
STILL, in the franchise’s 52-year history, Buffalo has played 815 regular-season games and only once, in 1964, had the Bills collected more than the nine sacks they logged on Sunday.
In addition, a team that was surrendering an average of 421 yards a game bettered that by 243 yards against Washington, which netted a mere 26 yards on the ground. That from a team that had been giving up 135 rushing yards per start.
And, oh yeah, rookie first-round draft choice Marcell Dareus was moved from end to nose tackle to replace the injured Kyle Williams, Kelvin Sheppard, another rookie, got the start at an inside linebacker spot, and Spencer Johnson, a defensive end by trade, took Shawne Merriman’s place at outside linebacker.
IN NO WAY, does the performance in Toronto signal the end of Buffalo’s defensive concerns.
It might be a one-game aberration.
But while you never had the feeling, once the game started, that the Bills would lose, to dismiss their defensive performance because Washington was inept does it a disservice.
Fact is, at 3-4, the Redskins have more victories than 10 NFL teams and equal to three others. In other words, it’s a middle-of-the pack team.
Buffalo, meanwhile, at 5-2, has the second-best record in the AFC behind Pittsburgh (6-2), which has played one more game, and is tied with New England, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
But as veteran outside linebacker Chris Kelsay noted, “We feel like we should be 7-0 . The games that we lost we feel like we should have won (both were by three points). There’s nothing we can do about that.
“It feels good to be on this little run. I wish we had a couple of those games back but we don’t and what lies ahead is all that matters right now.”
AFTER SUNDAY’S game, strong safety George Wilson, inarguably the Bills’ best defender over the first seven games, mused, “If we don’t come out and beat ourselves with penalties, turnovers and giving up big plays, we’ve got a chance to win week-in and week-out.”
And he was quick to credit Chan Gailey for that mindset.
“Coach does a great job of challenging us, regardless. If we’re coming off a loss, he doesn’t allow us to sit and sulk, feel bad and have self-pity,” Wilson said. “At the same time, when we come off a victory, he doesn’t allow us to get too high. He keeps us grounded.
“We’ve taken on his demeanor where we take it one game at a time and each game is a different story.”
He added, “Coach always talks about not getting complacent, not getting satisfied, not just playing well, but getting better (each week).
“We know where we’re going. We know how we’re talking about getting there. We have to make sure we’re doing our part so that as we get later in the season, we’re not going to have to depend on another team winning or losing to get our ticket punched to the playoffs.”
When was the last time we worried about the Bills getting complacent, or seriously talked about the playoffs?
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)