It was living proof that team identities aren't forced, they're naturally cultivated.
Nah, the Buffalo Bills didn't make any splashy offensive free agent signings to satisfy glaring needs at wide receiver and/or tight end.
Nah, Dick Jauron isn't exactly Bill Cowher – that's like comparing a basset hound to a pit bull.
And no, Trent Edwards isn't considered a top 20 quarterback quite yet.
But as a unit – a melting pot of all three aspects of the game – the Bills showed Sunday that they are a playoff team in their 34-10 smackdown of Seattle. Behind mistake-free quarterback play, a drive-sustaining rushing game, an active secondary and a smattering of game-breaking plays in-between, Buffalo has clearly taken the step from playoff pretender to contender Sunday.
Add Tom Brady's season-ending injury and an ugly game between New York and Miami into the equation, and suddenly the Bills are a legitimate challenger for the AFC East crown, too. While the Dolphins and Jets combined for 11 penalties with neither team eclipsing 300 total yards, Jauron's bunch operated like cool customers Sunday. Freshman mistakes from past years – run/run/pass rhythm in the booth and dull execution on the field – has been replaced with confidence. And production.
The Bills are longer a team in desperate search of identity. Against a defending division-champion, the Bills played their best football since 2004 when they were one Week 17 meltdown away from the playoffs.
Consider the perfect storm developing in Buffalo…
---The single, darkest "Yeah, but…" hovering over the Bills' heightened expectations has been eliminated. Patriots' starting quarterback Tom Brady, who demoralized Buffalo last year for 684 yards and nine touchdowns in two blowouts, is out of the picture. Unless this is all a vast Bill Belichick Conspiracy and Brady touches down in New York on a private jet Sunday, the Bills will reap the biggest benefits. The Patriots remain the division favorite, but now that hoopla surrounding the Bills carries a little more legitimacy. They can contend within their own division, a notion considered blasphemy two days ago.
---Jason Peters has effectively ended his holdout after 43 days. Sure tensions linger (what team wouldn't be mad at a player for coasting through training camp without breaking a sweat), but make no mistake about it: Peters completes the Bills' offense. With him shielding Edwards' blindside, the Bills passing can elevate from two stars to four.
---Marshawn Lynch's hit-and-run-and-try-to-hide-under-the-rug fiasco from the offseason seems light-years old now. Buffalo's rushing attack pounded away at Seattle Sunday. The team's longest run was only 21 yards, but the ground game wore out the Seahawks in John Smoltz fashion – finishing the win. Lynch and backup Fred Jackson combined for 107 yards and a touchdown, whereas Seattle's big-ink signing of Julius Jones mustered only 45 yards on 13 carries.
---Trent Edwards won't screw it up. Seems simple and short-sighted. But the Bills – now an all-around leak-free team – need a quarterback to simply push the right buttons under center. Edwards is the assembly line man for the job. Against an attacking Seahawks defense that ranked fourth in sacks and interceptions last year, Edwards calmly chipped away. He completed 19-of-30 passes, relying on his security blanket (tight end Robert Royal had six receptions) and his big-play threat (Lee Evans averaged 25 yards per catch). Considering the Losman-to-Evans home run was the last string of hope Losman apologists point to, this last factor is key. The Bills offense needs to stretch the field, and Turk Schonert mixed up the play-calling just enough to do that Sunday.
---(Very) Special teams. Roscoe Parrish's 63-yard punt return touchdown will be replayed throughout the entire season as the blueprint for Buffalo's success. Now that the offense and defense have been solidified, big plays on special teams will be a constant go-for-the-jugular finisher to games for the Bills. If the Bills can somehow find a way to get Leodis McKelvin on the field, a few opposing special teams coordinators could be seeing pink slips after Sundays at The Ralph.
Up next, a hungry Jacksonville team that lost its opener to Tennessee. If the Bills can continue to efficiently play to its strengths on the road against another playoff team – which embarrassed them 36-14 last year – the hype will grow even more.