At 0-4, many figured the Buffalo Bills were already thinking ahead to next season.
They figured wrong.
The Bills, who have won three straight and six of eight, will look to continue their unexpected trek toward a playoff spot when they host the lowly Cleveland Browns.
With last week’s 42-32 win over Miami, Buffalo moved into a group of five teams that have a realistic shot at securing the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Denver and Baltimore are 7-5, and Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Buffalo are 6-6.
Coach Mike Mularkey doesn’t want to focus on the playoff math, saying the team must first worry about itself.
“I’m maybe not smart enough to go through it,” Mularkey said of the playoff scenarios. “But it’s really irregardless of what happens out there. It’s us taking care of our business that matters.”
For a team that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since going 11-5 in 1999, the Bills are playing with a newfound resilience under their first-year coach.
The offense is suddenly clicking, having produced 12 touchdowns the last three games after generating just three in its first nine. Running back Willis McGahee has been a big factor, rushing for more than 800 yards and seven touchdowns since replacing Travis Henry as the starter seven games ago.
Meanwhile, quarterback Drew Bledsoe suddenly looks like the Bledsoe of old, quieting the critics who were calling for his benching after he unraveled in a 29-6 loss to New England on Nov. 14.
Bledsoe, who is in his 12th season, is 59-of-91 for 737 yards, with eight touchdowns and four interceptions over the last three games. Against Miami, he had his first four-TD game since Week 4 of the 2002 season and finished with a 132.9 quarterback rating, the fifth-best of his 12-year career.
“I think a lot of that (criticism), he took personally,” Mularkey said of Bledsoe. “He’s a very prideful guy. His teammates are behind him, the coaching staff’s behind them. I just think he responded as his team has all year.”
Cleveland has lost six straight, including a 42-15 defeat to New England on Sunday.
The Browns will use the remainder of the season to evaluate their quarterbacks.
Robiskie said rookie Luke McCown played well in his first NFL start, especially in the face of a strong New England pass rush. McCown will start against on Sunday while Jeff Garcia, who has missed the past two weeks with a strained shoulder, and Kelly Holcomb (cracked ribs) sit out.
McCown made a few nice plays and rookie mistakes Sunday while passing for 277 yards and two TDs.
There’s also the matter of who will be Cleveland’s next coach. If players have their say, Robiskie, hired as the offensive coordinator, will be the leading candidate.
Since he took over, the air around the Browns has changed. The players says they are upbeat, loose and willing to do whatever they can to make sure Robiskie stays in place as their coach.
“There’s a totally different atmosphere,” tackle Ross Verba said. “It’s a feeling that I like. If I could have it like this, just this whole feeling, and play six more years, I’d love to be a part of that.”