Clutch plays fuel no-name Bills in getting off to 4-2 start
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — If safety Micah Hyde and the rest of the Buffalo defensive backs want to proudly refer to themselves as misfits, Sean McDermott’s on board.
It’s a label that might well apply to the first-year coach’s entire team, given how a mostly no-name roster has defied the skeptics by getting off to a better than expected 4-2 start.
“I think the key part is they don’t really put much stock in what is said about them outside of this building,” McDermott said Monday, a day after the Bills scored 10 points in the final 2:28 to beat Tampa Bay 30-27 .
McDermott said his players refused to buy into the tank-talk narrative during an offseason roster purge that led to Buffalo opening the season with 29 newcomers.
“We’re building a team. We’re not tanking. I think guys embrace that underdog mentality,” he said. “There’s guys that have been told they’re not good enough by other teams. I know this: I’ll take them on my team any day of the week.”
The Bills, who host Oakland (3-4) on Sunday, don’t resemble the pushovers of the past.
Rather than wilt at the first sign of trouble, Buffalo has relied on clutch plays from all three phases in each of its four victories, something that was particularly evident against the Bucs.
Tyrod Taylor had 268 yards passing, his second most in a victory, by relying on a patchwork group of receivers, including Deonte Thompson, who led Buffalo with 107 yards receiving five days after signing with Buffalo. Taylor won a game for just the third time when trailing in the fourth quarter.
Rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White bounced back after allowing Tampa Bay to pull ahead 27-20 on Mike Evans’ 12-yard touchdown catch with 3:14 left. On the first play of the Bucs’ next possession, and with the game tied at 27, White forced a fumble by punching the ball out of receiver Adam Humphries’ hands.
The forced fumble led to Stephen Hauschka winning the game with a 30-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.
McDermott acknowledged having his doubts when Buffalo fell behind.
“There were moments when you’re saying, ‘Hey, this one could be slipping away,’” he said. “The great part about it was these guys stayed after it and they remained mentally tough.”
An opportunistic defense and efficient offense has Buffalo leading the NFL with a plus-10 turnover differential (13 takeaways versus three giveaways). As for Hauschka, the offseason free-agent addition has hit 14 of 16 field-goal attempts, including all five from beyond 50 yards.
The Bills have won twice when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter this season, something they managed just three times the previous two seasons. And they’re 2-2 in games decided by seven points or less after going 5-9 in their previous two years under former coach Rex Ryan.
McDermott noted Buffalo might have difficulty sustaining such a blueprint for victory that features little room for error. What encourages him is the resolve the players have shown.
“We went through adversity all the way back from when we first got here,” McDermott said. “And they continued to persevere.”
The Bills have deficiencies.
A roster thin of experienced depth could be challenged further with starting safety Jordan Poyer (right knee) and starting cornerback E.J. Gaines (hamstring) getting hurt Sunday. McDermott said both are considered day to day. Buffalo added depth by claiming cornerback Tony McRae off waivers.
The pass defense has suddenly sprung leaks in allowing a combined 712 yards the past two games.
Then there’s an inconsistent offense that went four straight games without topping 300 yards before managing 434 against the Bucs.
A 4-2 mark is hardly a barometer for success during the team’s 17-year playoff drought. Since 2000, the Bills have finished no better than 7-9 the three previous times they’ve had a winning record through six games.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes is impressed by how the Bills have come together under McDermott.
“We’re going to be resilient. We’re going to fight for four quarters,” Hughes said. “I think that’s what everybody has instilled in them. And it’s showing up.”
More AP NFL: http://pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL