ORCHARD PARK — OK, so I’ll be the wet-blanket guy.
Before we get all wrapped up in the Bills’ best half-season start in 26 years, a dose of reality is in order.
Sunday’s 24-9 victory over Washington at New Era Field made Buffalo 6-2, two games behind unbeaten New England heading to last night’s matchup at Baltimore, but the No. 1 Wild Card team in the AFC, a game ahead of Indianapolis (5-3), in second, and two on top of the next closest.
Basic math says if the Bills go 4-4 over the second half of the season, a 10-6 record would in all likelihood be good enough for a postseason berth and 11 or 12 wins could well earn them a home game.
That’s the way Buffalo fans are thinking as they look at a second-half schedule that includes home games with Denver (3-6) and the Jets (1-7) and road meetings with Cleveland (2-6), Miami (1-7) and Pittsburgh (4-4).
BUT, REPEAT after me … the Bills haven’t beaten a team with a winning record.
Of course, at this point, they’ve played only one … New England here. And, indeed, on that September afternoon, the Patriots were eminently beatable, quarterback Tom Brady enduring one of his worst games in years. That made the 16-10 defeat all the more galling.
However, the reality remains that the opposition Buffalo has beaten at the halfway pole is a collective 9-41. That’s a .220 winning percentage if you check the arithmetic.
Now, it bears repeating – again and again – that the Bills aren’t responsible for their schedule, it’s predetermined by the NFL and the league decides who they play when.
This season has been an aberration … a down year for the conference and a confluence of weak opponents congested at the beginning of Buffalo’s schedule.
And, in fairness, other than in the eyes of delusional fans, most every member of the Bills Mafia would have looked at the schedule before the season and concluded that a 6-2 start was the absolute best possible outcome.
In short, Buffalo has won every game that could have reasonably been expected.
Trouble is, even against their weak slate, the Bills trailed in the fourth quarter in three of those wins (Jets, Bengals, Dolphins), were tied in the final period of another (Titans) and, yesterday, it was a one-score game with less than 2½ minutes to play.
THEN, TOO, there are some cautionary statistics.
In last week’s 31-13 loss to the Eagles, Buffalo surrendered a staggering 218 rushing yards. Yesterday, a Washington team that was averaging a mere 85 rushing yards a game, 25th in the league, stampeded the Bills for 109 yards on the ground … IN THE FIRST HALF!
Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s sixth all-time leading rusher, at age 34, rumbled over the Bills for 101 yards on 10 carries before intermission. That on a day when the passing threat was diminished by 18-mile-an-hour winds and Washington being forced to start rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins with veteran Case Keenum out with a concussion.
In the second half, Buffalo gave up only 18 yards on the ground, but only after six straight quarters of struggling versus the run.
Bills coach Sean McDermott admitted, “In the first half, Adrian had some runs … we weren’t gap strong and didn’t (align against it) right. But the second half was more of what we expect.”
Buffalo also had some unexpected issues on offense, particularly in short yardage situations. Nine times the Bills needed a yard for a first down and converted a mere five times, including one laughable sequence when they were 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line and failed on three straight runs before quarterback Josh Allen was barely able to score on a sneak.
Of that struggle, McDermott said, “At the end of the day it’s (the line’s) job to drive the guy off the ball. We’ve got to look at that and make sure we improve in that area.”
Allen also contributed his ninth and 10th fumbles of the season, though Buffalo recovered both in a game that had no turnovers.
So where are the Bills at the season’s midway point, besides 6-2?
“We’re a work in progress,” McDermott said. “What can we do to improve? What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? Let’s make sure we build on our strengths and improve on our weaknesses.
“Are we putting players in position (to succeed)? Are we taking care of the football? We’re 6-2 with a lot of games to play and we’ve got to continue to improve, embrace that mindset and remain humble and hungry.”
The second half starts Sunday at Cleveland.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)