LeSean McCoy was back to being the real McCoy. Nickell Robey-Coleman showed that you can go home again. Lorenzo Alexander continued his rush from journeyman to star. And Jeff Fisher once again proved that he’s a mediocre head coach.
It all added up to a 30-19 Bills victory on the road against a Los Angeles Rams team that may not be as good as its 3-2 record says it is.
Buffalo now has won three straight for the first time since 2011. And with a home game next week against the 1-4 San Francisco 49ers and a road game against the soon-to-be 1-5 Miami Dolphins on the horizon, the Bills have a good chance to win five in a row for the first time since Mike Mularkey’s squad reeled off six consecutive W’s before laying an egg in the 2004 finale with a playoff berth on the line.
Who would have thought such a streak might be possible just three weeks ago after that dismal 0-2 start?
But the Bills have turned things around dramatically since then.
The revived ground attack has played a significant role in the about face. After averaging just 75.5 rushing yards in opening losses to Baltimore and the Jets, the Bills are churning out a robust 178 yards per game in consecutive victories vs. Arizona, New England and the Rams. Some of the credit belongs to Anthony Lynn, who replaced Greg Roman as offensive coordinator in Week 3. Some of it belongs to improved play of the offensive line.
And much of it belongs to a healthy McCoy playing like he did three years ago when he led the NFL in rushing. He definitely set the tone against a depleted Rams defense that was missing three of four line starters. Shady rushed for 150 yards on only 18 carries. Through five games he’s among the league’s leading rushers with 447 yards and is on pace to run for 1,430 yards.
On a day when Tyrod Taylor threw two touchdown passes, but finished with just 124 passing yards, McCoy carried the load. Look for the offense to continue to run through him while Taylor attempts to show he can make the necessary throws to be the long-term solution.
The Bills renaissance also can be attributable to a defensive unit that’s vastly improved. We figured last season was an anomaly because say what you want about Rex Ryan, but his defenses during his time as a coordinator and head coach have usually been among the NFL’s top 10.
Two weeks after taking the ball away five times against Arizona and a week after shutting out a Tom Brady-less New England team, the Bills did just enough to return from the West Coast with a victory. They pretty much bottled up Todd Gurley, limiting the Rams sensational running back to 72 yards on 23 carries. Though quarterback Case Keenum did throw for 271 yards, he didn’t have any touchdown passes and was picked off twice by Robey-Coleman, who had starred at the Los Angeles Coliseum while playing for Southern Cal.
With 3:54 remaining in the third quarter and the game knotted at 16, Robey-Coleman stepped in front of Rams rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper and picked the ball off. There was nothing but green grass ahead of him as he sprinted 41 yards for the touchdown. Robey-Coleman made his second interception when Keenum tossed a desperation pass on fourth down near the end of the game. Not bad for an undrafted free agent who signed with the Bills in 2013 and has proven to be a nice complimentary defensive back.
Robey-Coleman wasn’t the only second-line player to pay dividends Sunday. Alexander, who bounced around with several teams before signing with Buffalo in the off-season, wound up sacking Keenum three times. That gives him a sack in five consecutive games and an NFL-leading seven for the season. With two more sacks, Alexander will equal the number he had combined in his first nine seasons.
Interestingly, the Bills had hoped first-round draft pick Shaq Lawson would be the guy they could pair with Jerry Hughes off the edges. Ryan couldn’t be happier that a guy they brought in to bolster the special teams and provide some line depth is having a career year.
It also helped that Fisher attempted to spring a fake punt on the Bills from his own 25-yard-line with just under three minutes to go and the Rams trailing by four points. Everybody in the Coliseum knew it was coming, including Ronald Darby, who snuffed out the play. Buffalo took over and a few snaps later Taylor’s TD toss to Marquise Goodwin iced the victory.
So, just like that, things are looking up for the Bills. Should they continue to take care of business and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, they’ll be 5-2 heading into their Week Eight home game against a Patriots team with Brady back in the lineup. Imagine the hype heading into that game if Buffalo holds up its end of the deal?
NOTES: Rookie defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, the Bills third-round pick, had his best game to date. He pressured Keenum on several occasions, batting away a pass and also recording his first NFL sack. … Dan Carpenter’s extra-point problems continued as he had one blocked. He’s missed two this season, eight since the NFL initiated the longer distance for PATs last season. I can’t help but think that one of these misses is going to come back to haunt them. … The Bills decided to play it safe with Marcell Dareus, who pulled his hamstring in his first week back from his four-game suspension. He was inactive. … The Rams were without out three injured starters on their defensive line – William Hayes, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn.
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 32 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 11 times, including the past two years when he has finished first in column writing.