For Bills, it's not the journey, it's the destination in a 4-0 start
The Bills are among a handful of unbeatens remaining. Their offense will have to grow by leaps and bounds before the Bills have the look of dominant team.
That is the one fact that was obvious after Buffalo earned a 31-14 victory over the winless St. Louis Rams on Sunday. As much as there is to like about the Bills -- and they're about as refreshing a story as you can find in the NFL right now -- it was hard to watch their offense struggle so mightily against a Rams defense that is allowing 36.8 points and 411.8 yards per game. The Bills had no rhythm. They manufactured few big plays and just 277 yards overall. And in the end this contest was much closer than the score would ever indicate.
Not only did the Bills trail the Rams 14-6 at halftime, but this was the third consecutive week the Bills had looked unimpressive offensively. They couldn't move the ball effectively in a 20-16 win against the host Jacksonville Jaguars (285 total yards) and they needed a big rally to overcome a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a 24-23 home victory over the Oakland Raiders.Still, coach Dick Jauron's squad is 4-0, the franchise's best start since the 1992 season, which ended in a Super Bowl visit. Buffalo is one of a handful of unbeatens entering Week 5. "You do grow up through those wins," said Edwards, who threw for 197 yards with one touchdown and an interception. "But there are also certain plays in games where we haven't gotten the breaks. We might have a big play and then somebody gets a holding call. Once we get more breaks going our way, we'll be able to get into a rhythm. But it does get frustrating when you keep shooting yourself in the foot."
Edwards couldn't pinpoint one central reason for the Bills' slow starts. In some cases, youth might have something to do with it, especially since Edwards is only in his second year in the league. Their opponents also deserve some credit as well. The Bills have seen their fair share of confusing game plans and they've made some mistakes in trying to deal with them.
Sunday's game in the Edward Jones Dome was a perfect example. The Rams put decent pressure on Edwards with an assortment of blitz packages. Edwards was able to hit one big play in the first quarter when St. Louis came after him, but he didn't manage another one until the fourth quarter, when he connected with Evans on a 39-yard touchdown pass that gave Buffalo a 28-14 lead.Evans said the Rams had been daring the Bills to make big plays all game and that's eventually what happened.
The key to the Bills' success: They do know how to adjust on the fly."We know we have to start playing better when we come out," Evans said. "But we've also shown how good the communication is between the players and the coaches. The things you see on film during the week aren't always what you're going to see in the games. So you have to be ready to adjust."
The Bills also recognize that there's something to be said for the way they're grinding out wins. That wasn't something they did with any consistency last season -- when they finished 7-9 after having an outside shot at a playoff spot in December -- and they've definitely developed a trademark of doing whatever it takes to win. For example, the key play against the Rams turned out to be a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Jabari Greer early in the fourth quarter. That turnover gave the Bills a 20-14 lead and all the momentum they needed.
The question now is how long it will take for Buffalo's offense to become more consistent. The safe bet is that the Bills will find a rhythm eventually. Edwards has the confidence and the charisma of a natural leader. Running back Marshawn Lynch is on his way to being a big-time back and Evans is far more dangerous now that the Bills have a few more weapons to ease the pressure on him in the passing game.Also, Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is still finding his own rhythm after missing all of training camp with a contract holdout.
That's just too much talent in all the right places on offense for a team like Buffalo to continue slumping in the first half of games. And the reality is that the Bills can't always rely on coming back to pull out wins. Yes, that says a lot about their confidence and their resilience. But the elite teams in this league usually don't trail at halftime against bottom-dwellers like the Rams. As proof, just look at the losses St. Louis suffered against both the Philadelphia Eagles (38-3) and the New York Giants (41-13) earlier this month.
But again, the Bills have plenty of reasons to not be too overly critical of themselves. As Evans said, "I'll take a slow start any day if it leads to a win in the end."It's a logical sentiment that's hard to argue against when you're talking about a team that is one of the few undefeated squads left in the league right now. But the Bills also will become a more dominant team when slow starts aren't the characteristic that defines their offense. Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.