There’s something happening here.
What it is … well, for anyone who is a long-time follower of the Buffalo football franchise, who remembers its greatest days and has watched its long, dreary walk through the wilderness over the past decade plus, perhaps an unexpected poetic moment sums it up best.
As the Bills snapped the ball for what would be the final play, a Rian Lindell field goal that capped an unlikely and remarkable 34-31 win over the New England Patriots, a familiar voice piped up from the back of the press box at Ralph Wilson Stadium, its tone high and clear.
“And the kick is up.”
It was Van Miller, the retired and now-frail former voice of the team, calling the play out loud just for the joy of it, just because he felt like it, because this was like those games en route to four Super Bowls, those games when O.J. Simpson was smashing records: it felt like it meant something.
And it did, even though we are only three weeks into this NFL season. When things begin to happen that are not supposed to happen, and do so with regularity, what might have been a fluke starts to look like a pattern.
The Bills were not supposed to be good this year. They had blown a succession of first-round draft picks. They traded away their best wide receiver, Lee Evans. They began the season with a roster loaded with late-round picks and undrafted free agents and other people’s discards.
And then they won their first two games, including a stirring comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders last week.
“When you’re playing a team like [the Patriots] you really can’t go down 21-0.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick said that, as did several of his teammates. But they did, falling behind by three touchdowns in the second quarter, on the verge of being blown out before roaring back – all of that leaving Bill Belichick pretty close to speechless at his postgame news conference.
(In fact, the Bills are the first team in modern NFL history to overcome an 18-point or greater deficit in consecutive games.) “We obviously didn’t play well enough to win,” Belichick said. “We’re obviously disappointed in that. I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be easy.”
Well, some people did, because the Patriots in 2011 are not supposed to be outgunned. They are hardly impregnable on defence, but Tom Brady began this season as though on a mission, leading what seemed an unstoppable offence, and landing New England atop most of the smart guys’ power rankings following consecutive convincing wins.
And yet the Bills offence under Ryan Fitzpatrick matched them step for step – and then beat them with a 70-yard scoring drive in the final 3:25 that was bold and seamless and pretty much perfect.
“You just keep playing,” coach Chan Gailey said when asked what he told his players at halftime, still trailing 21-10. “There are ups and downs in the game of football. I told them, ‘Just keep playing, gentlemen.’ You’ve got to give them their due in the character department.”
Four interceptions? “That doesn’t happen against New England,” Gailey said. What he meant was that it doesn’t happen against Brady, who entered this season having gone more than 300 attempts without a pick.
But it did: once in the Buffalo endzone, snuffing out a sure scoring opportunity, and once when a tipped ball landed in the hands of Drayton Florence, who ran it in to put Buffalo up 31-24 in the fourth quarter.
The Bills are not supposed to beat the Patriots, period. Before Sunday, they had lost to them the past 15 times they played during the regular season. They are not supposed to contend with the Pats and New York Jets in the AFC East.
They are certainly not supposed to be in the playoff hunt. A team run by a frugal nonagenarian in a small, depressed market, with idiosyncratic hiring practices on the football side and a Harvard man at quarterback isn’t supposed to be on the verge of a return to glory.
On step at a time here.
The streak is dead. There’s a long way to go. But what’s not to like?