CLEVELAND — It would be easy to dismiss the Bills’ 24-14 victory over the Browns on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland as a predictable triumph over a winless team.
Not only did Buffalo end its 8-game road losing streak, it also extended the Browns’ NFL-leading, regular-season losing skid to nine games.
But on a day when the Saints, a consensus playoff favorite in the NFC, lost at home in overtime to a Kansas City team the Bills manhandled a week earlier, and when San Francisco, the same conference’s designer pick for the Super Bowl, gets beaten at Minnesota, it’s a reminder there are no guarantees in the National Football League.
Buffalo, at 2-1, is now tied for first in the AFC East, and looking squarely at a home game Sunday against New England, followed by a visit to San Francisco, two games that seemed guaranteed losses which, after Sunday, don’t appear so impossible.
FOR BROWNS coach Pat Shurmur, Buffalo’s effort wasn’t a surprise.
“You can’t spot a good team — and I thought all along that (Buffalo) was a good team — 14 points early in the game, which we did,” he said.
“We talk about team wins ...but I think it’s important to talk about team losses as well, and that’s what happened today.”
The Bills, meanwhile, talked about a team win.
“We won on the road ... we got that monkey off our back,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw three touchdown passes. “That’s something negative talked about outside the lockerroom more than inside ... this is a new year and a new team.
“For us to have a really good team win today ... these are the most satisfying ones. It’s just another step, our second win of the year, but a step in the right direction.”
AND ON Sunday, Cleveland cornerback Dimitri Patterson and kick returner Josh Cribbs saw a decided difference between the Browns and Bills.
“The thing about the NFL is that you have to finish,” Patterson said. “If you look at any NFL game, there are so many highs and lows ... so many shifts in momentum.
“The team that can consistently finish for the last eight minutes are the good teams. At the end of the day, most NFL games are close going into eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.”
He emphasized, “Teams that are good year in and year out and are successful more often than not finish in the last eight minutes ... and that’s what we have to learn to do.”
In truth, the Bills are in much the same position, though on Sunday, Buffalo got its only two takeaways, a pair of interceptions in the final five minutes and ended up with reason to celebrate.
By contrast, Cleveland’s lockerroom, after the 0-3 start was quiet.
“It should feel pretty dead in here,” said Cribbs. “That lets you know how much these guys want to win.
“Individually, a lot of our guys are putting a lot on their shoulders —their own self — holding themselves accountable, taking this loss to heart ... and that’s a good thing.”
But Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson sounded like numerous Bills’ players in recent seasons, including during the 0-8 start a mere two years ago.
“It sucks to be 0-3,” he said, looking ahead to Thursday night’s game in Baltimore. “It’s tough to lose ... we put so much into it, it’s frustrating. To hear the fans (booing) at the end of the game, I don’t like it.
“Hearing those Buffalo fans chanting in our stadium, in our home, I don’t like it whatsoever.”
And the Bills know all too well how that feels.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)