Bizarro NFL has Bills, Lions leading way at 3-0
So here was a familiar scene: No sooner had the game-winning, overtime field goal sailed through the uprights, the coach of the Detroit Lions threw his headset down and screamed an unprintable phrase into the air that was heard on television.
Only, Jim Schwartz wasn’t angry or frustrated or befuddled at all. He was pumping his fist. His players were swarming kicker Jason Hanson(notes). The scoreboard read Detroit 26, Minnesota 23, the capping of a 20-point second-half comeback for the long-moribund franchise.
[ Related: Vikings blow third straight double-digit lead ]
That coaches’ curse was … celebratory?
So here was another familiar scene: the Buffalo Bills had managed a dramatic, lead-seizing touchdown with 1:43 left in the game against New England only to have the replay officials overturn it and take the points off the board. Typical Bills, who had lost 15 consecutive games to the Patriots. Only, that wasn’t disappointment on the face of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes). “We were fortunate he didn’t get in,” he’d say after. Indeed, the call gave Buffalo the ball at the 1-yard line, with the opportunity to smartly run the clock, keep Tom Brady(notes) and company on the sideline and kick their own game winning field goal as time expired for a 34-31 win.
[ Related: Overturned TD clinches win for Bills ]
“I was so pleased they made that ruling,” said coach Chan Gailey with a smile.
Welcome to the Bizarro World start to the NFL season, where old scenarios are producing new results and unexpected emotions in the most unlikely of places.
Detroit, which averaged just 3.9 victories a season over the last decade, is 3-0.
Buffalo, which has just one winning season this century, is 3-0.
You can say it’s still early in the season and it’s all meaningless, but then you get this from each locker room:
[ Related: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills making name for themselves ]
Two proud Rust Belt cities are football mad right now, which has left their coaches to plead from calm and perspective after season after season of hapless, helpless and hopeless emotions.
“The next step for us [is] how do you handle prosperity?” Gailey said.
Prosperity? There hasn’t even been parity around these franchises in years, yet if you scan the standings heading into Week 4, you’ll notice that Buffalo and Detroit are at least tied for the lead in divisions featuring the Patriots, the New York Jets, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears – the latter three all reached the conference championship games last season.
Buffalo and Detroit are the most pronounced revitalizations, but they are hardly alone. Recent losers are suddenly winning all over the place. The Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans are all 2-1. The Washington Redskins could still go 3-0 Monday when they face the Dallas Cowboys
The beauty of the NFL has always been the idea that on any given Sunday any team can win, which leads to the idea that in any given season, any club can put together a contending run. Only Detroit and Buffalo have worked hard to prove otherwise. Anytime anything goes well, two or three things go poorly. Top picks are busts. Star players are injured. Calls and comebacks seem to always break the wrong way.
These were bad, poorly run franchises that haven’t made the postseason since 1999. So despite the fact both teams entered Sunday an optimistic 2-0, once Minnesota took a 20-0 lead on Detroit and New England leapt out to a 21-0 advantage on Buffalo, old, sinking feelings set in with fans.
Except not with the actual players.
And here’s the funny thing: Where memories of doom and feelings of dread could cause these teams to lose confidence, veer from the plan and be overcome with doubt, they actually did the opposite. All that losing has left the holdovers on the Bills and Lions with an almost care-free attitude. When you’ve lost every game in a season, as Detroit did in 2008, then a 20-point deficit isn’t really anything to fear at all.
“It’s not hope anymore,” Raiola told the Detroit News. “We believe. Nobody freaked out at halftime. Nobody yelled. There is enough talent in this room, enough grownups, nobody has to yell. The belief that we have is unreal.
“We’ve been through hell and back. We’ve been 0-16. Can you get worse than that? No. When we go three-and-out, it’s like, ‘All right, let’s get back up and chop that tree down.’ By the end of the game, we had chopped at it enough that it fell.”
It was no different in Buffalo.
“It’s time for those past Buffalo Bill memories to fade away,” cornerback Drayton Florence(notes) said. “This is a new era, a new day. Everybody outside this room is calling this an upset. But, in this locker room, this is what we expect.”
The Opposite World of the 2011 season, however, isn’t just a testament to strong will and perseverance. These teams are winning because of talent.
Detroit is loaded, with quarterback Matthew Stafford(notes) (378 yards, two touchdowns vs. the Vikings), wide receiver Calvin Johnson(notes) (7 catches, 101 yards, two touchdowns) and a brutish defense headlined by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes).
The Bills boast, among others, Fitzpatrick (369 yards, two touchdowns vs. the Patriots), running back Fred Jackson(notes) (161 yards rushing and receiving and a TD) and an opportunistic coverage unit that produced four Tom Brady picks.
“We played a good football team,” Brady said.
Wait, the Bills are a good football team?
Wait, you tip your cap to the Lions?
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