Rex Ryan was talking that talk when he arrived in Buffalo and snatched the mic from Doug Marrone. It was a popular spiel that he perfected during his roller coaster ride in New York with the Jets. The Buffalo media and fans ate it up like grandma’s lasagna. Some crazy prognosticators were even picking Buffalo to finally dethrone the Pats and win the AFC East. At the very least, they were thought to be serious playoff contenders and that’s a big deal for a franchise with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought.
Buffalo’s last playoff appearance was 15 years ago and last season was a step in the right direction, as the Bills put together a winning record (9-7) for the first time in a decade.The Bills are a respectable 3-2 and entering a pivotal game against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. They haven’t played that great, but a win here and Buffalo will prove they can beat the NFL's elite squads on any given Sunday. A loss drops them back to .500 and they'd be losing more ground to the undefeated Pats and the 3-1 Jets who play a reeling Washington Redskins squad and the undefeated Pats.
The Bills are a long way from the 90s when the AFC East ran through Western upstate New York. However, Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly, who navigated an NFL scoring machine which led Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls (1991-1994), isn’t ready to hit the panic button just yet. He spoke to The Shadow League recently at The Nick Buoniconti Fund's 30th Annual Legends Dinner and had this to say:
Jim Kelly: It’s early in the season, so we’ll see. At the beginning it was a little different because of all the expectations for them and all of the hype. They haven’t played very well, especially defensively. Not in the running game either. Seems like discipline is lacking among players. It’s almost like a free for all; every body just run, run and do your own thing. All of the penalties and stupid mistakes they are making is just costing them games. It cost them the Giants game for sure with so many flags and everything else, but the key is what are you going to do about it. I remember back to when we were struggling. That’s when you have to pull together as a team.
Kelly says back in the day Marv Levy would inspire his team as much as he could, but it was up to the players at the end of the day.
Kelly: You can’t always have your head coach have to kick you in the ass. Sometimes kick yourself in the ass. Just look in the mirror and say, “Ok am I going to be that guy who is hindering us from going to the next level?” More than anything this is a team that needs to do that. They have to realize that they have an unbelievable football team if they continue to play not really smart football, they’re going to find themselves in January...golfing. I hope that doesn’t happen.
This weekend, first-year DC Dennis Thurman's defense, which was so vital to Buffalo’s success last season (Fourth- ranked D and NFL-high 54 sacks), has to step up against a potent Bengals offense (421.4 yards per game) that is ranked No. 2 in the league behind the Patriots efficient machine.
Offensively, wide receiver Sammy Watkins is right, they have to target him at least 10 times a game. Watkins told The Buffalo News that he wanted at least 10 targets per game and that his agent contacted the Bills about how they were "making me look bad and you're making yourself look bad" after drafting him fourth overall in 2014.
It’s hard to get targeted when you’re not on the field. Watkins has been sidelined since suffering a calf injury in the first quarter of the Bills' Sept. 27 win over the Miami Dolphins. Watkins has been injury prone since the Bills traded the No. 9 overall pick in 2014 and their 2015 first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns to move up five spots to select him.
It's the sixth time the former Clemson stud has been injured. In the two games before Watkins' injury, quarterback Tyrod Taylor targeted him 10 times, tied with Percy Harvin and Charles Clay as the most on the team. Watkins is not having it though. He wants the action a Top 10 pick deserves.
"For a guy you go up in the draft to take as your No. 1 receiver, you would love those 15 targets that Julio [Jones] gets, those 20 targets that Odell [Beckham Jr.] gets," Watkins beefed to the newspaper. "Of course I'd have 100 yards every game and a TD, if I'm getting 20 targets."
Ex-starter and first-round draft pick EJ Manuel is probably getting the start this week against Cincinnati (Taylor is questionable with a knee injury). He surely could use Watkins’ skills out there against Marvin Lewis’ D on Sunday. Manuel will undoubtedly try to capture the moment and win his job back, but when I spoke to Shotgun Kelly, it was obivous who Kelly thinks should be signal-calling for Buffalo.
Kelly: Tyrod is exactly what we need. He’s got the mobility. He’s got the arm strength. Trust me, he’s got everything we need. Now we have to get everybody around him playing better and he has to play even better. Again, the defense has to play better.
Regardless of which Bills QB is doing the pigskin-slinging, a win against a squad that many are calling the best in the NFL would be a great start, a signature win for Ryan and a foot out of the mud of mediocrity that they have been stuck in for years now.
If this team just adopted Kelly’s fighting spirit, instead of their coach’s forced bravado, they’d probably be sitting higher than third in the division. After surviving two bouts with cancer, the Bills master of the Run-N-Shoot recently had an MRI and he’s cancer free.
Kelly: But I still have my daily problems like everyone else with the illness. The more I travel the world, the more I realize I don’t have it that bad. Yeah two bouts with cancer...blah blah blah. The thing is, I go around the country speaking and I meet people with the same cancer I have...face is disfigured. Can’t talk, and so many other things. I’m able to stand here and talk to you today so I’m a very blessed man.
I’m sure he’ll be sharing those blessings with his beloved Bills on Sunday.