10 takeaways from a stunner in Atlanta
ATLANTA, GA – The stadium experience inside $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium cannot be beaten.
You can no longer say the same for the team that calls the facility home.
For the second straight week the Buffalo Bills knocked off an undefeated opponent, as they downed the Falcons 23-17 in Week 4. Sports history books will forever show that the Bills were the first team to hand Atlanta a loss in their new building, and they pulled out another win using a suffocating defense to stifle one of the NFL’s most potent offenses.
Here are ten takeaways from the Bills big road win…
1) Not your usual Buffalo Bills
Up six. 44 seconds left. Atlanta had the ball at Buffalo’s 10, facing 4th-and-1. At this point, Bills fans are trained to expect that scenario to result in gut-wrenching defeat. This time it didn’t, even after the Falcons had driven 65 yards in just over a minute and looked poised to reach the end zone. Instead, the Bills defense – as they did throughout most of the day on Sunday – forced Falcons quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan to rush his throw to Taylor Gabriel, it fell incomplete and the Bills took over on downs. Two Tyrod Taylor kneel downs later, the Bills walked out of Atlanta’s new palace as 23-17 winners. On this day, Bills fans got a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side of the agony.
2) How about that?
Buffalo’s Week 4 win over the reigning NFC Champions is a statement in so many ways. But even more so because a Patriots loss, that followed seconds after the Bills finished off the Falcons, puts Buffalo in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. Things aren’t quite going as everyone predicted. In the locker room afterward, LeSean McCoy had a message to the media who picked against the Bills this week.
“Y’all picked us to lose so y’all coming to talk to the winners,” McCoy announced. Shady and the rest of his Bills teammates have reason to be confident after knocking off the Falcons.
Eric Wood conceded that it was one of the bigger wins of his nine-year Bills tenure.
“That’s a big win,” Wood said. “I don’t know comparison-wise where it ranks up there, but on the road that’s a really big win.”
3) Turnovers galore
The Bills are a perfect 3-0 this season when forcing a turnover. And they’ve come in bunches at times. Buffalo’s defense forced two interceptions against the Jets and they did the same against the Broncos last week. On Sunday they picked off Ryan twice and had their first fumble recovery of the season, which turned directly into a touchdown thanks to rookie Tre’Davious White’s awareness to play through the whistle. The defense nearly forced two other fumbles as well. On the day, Buffalo scored 13 points off of Atlanta turnovers. As they’re proving, good things happen when you take the ball away.
4) Ball security
While the Bills defense is running around forcing turnovers, their offense is protecting the ball with their life. After getting through the second quarter on Sunday without a takeaway this season, Buffalo set a new franchise record for consecutive quarters without a turnover (13). They tacked on two more quarters to it when it was all said and done. The previous record of 12 was set in 2015, Tyrod Taylor’s first year as the Bills starter.
5) Bend but don’t break mentality
As elite as the Bills defense has been through the first four weeks of the season, they do have some give to them. They yielded nearly 400 total yards to Atlanta, last week Denver amassed 272 total yards and in Week 1 the Jets put up 408. Still, while they bend they don’t break. Buffalo’s defense ranks second in the league in the red zone, giving up touchdowns on just 28.57-percent of their opponents trips inside the 20. Atlanta was able to push across the first passing touchdown against the Bills defense this season – a three-yard pass from Ryan-to-Justin Hardy in the fourth quarter, but they still held an Atlanta offense that was averaging nearly 30 points per game to just 17. Additionally, the Bills defense has allowed just four touchdowns in four games so far this season. If this is at all sustainable, the Bills will have a legitimate chance to win each week.
6) Big Day for Clay
Charles Clay continues to be Taylor’s favorite target this season. In Week 4 he hauled in five receptions for 112 yards, including a beautiful 44-yard grab in the second quarter – the longest of his Bills tenure – which ultimately led to the Bills first touchdown of the game. On the season, Clay has 18 receptions for a team-high 217 yards. Taylor has made a habit of throwing to the weapons whom he’s most familiar with. McCoy leads the team in receptions, with Clay right behind him. That duo was targeted 10 times against Atlanta and combined for eight catches, double the amount of receptions from Buffalo receivers.
7) Jones’ dropsies
Zay Jones continued what’s been a forgettable rookie campaign. Late in the second quarter, Buffalo had just scored a touchdown and forced a Falcons three-and-out. Momentum was on their side and a scoring drive would have given them a commanding lead. Starting at their own 15, an incomplete pass and a three-yard run from Taylor had them facing a third-and-seven. On that third down play, Jones got behind his man streaking down the right sideline and was wide open with a chance to move the sticks and then some. Taylor lofted the ball to him, perfectly placed, Jones looked to haul it in as he dove out for it, but as he came to the ground the ball popped out. Add it to the list of brutal drops for Jones this season. Last week, what could have been the first touchdown of his career deflected off his hands and wound up being a touchdown for fellow wideout Andre Holmes. Then there was his drop in Week 2 that likely cost the Bills a win over the Panthers. That may be the one play keeping Buffalo from being 4-0 right now.
8) White TD before Jones
Raise your hand if you had White scoring a touchdown before Jones? Anyone? Bueller? Well, it’s true. White’s fumble recovery and return for a touchdown on the Falcons’ first possession of the second half is the first touchdown of either player’s career. That’s how night and day the two rookie’s seasons have been so far. Through four games, White has 20 total tackles, eight pass deflections, one interception and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. Jones has four receptions for 57 yards.
Here's what Tre' White had to say about his huge fumble recovery TD. Remember kids, always play till the whistle. pic.twitter.com/ZzmvireX35
— Spencer T. German (@Spencito_) October 2, 2017
9) Steven Hauschka is money
For the second consecutive week, Stephen Hauschka, or Hausch-money as his teammates call him, nailed two long fourth-quarter field goals. The first came with 6:54 remaining in the game from 56 yards out, breaking a 17-17 tie. One possession later, after the Bills picked off Matt Ryan for the second time, Hauschka knocked one home from 55 yards out to put the Bills up 23-17. Add in a 24-yarder earlier in the game and Hauschka had a perfect three-for-three day. Last week, Hauschka made all four of his field goal attempts, including two from 50-plus yards. Since missing his first field goal in a Bills uniform back in Week 1, Hauschka is a perfect seven-for-seven. Hausch-money indeed.
10) Mercedes-Benz Stadium is spectacular
The Falcons’ new complex is every bit as incredible as it’s advertised. The place makes The Georgia Dome look like a munchkin from the Wizard of Oz. Inside it’s even more spectacular. It doesn’t look like there’s really a bad seat in the house and if there is, the “Halo-board,” as they’re calling it, makes up for it. To be honest, it’s almost worth watching the whole game on the video board screens. On the downside, the Chick-Fil-A is indeed closed on Sunday (I checked) so I’ll dock a few points for that. Otherwise, it’s an amazing facility. If you can ever find an affordable ticket, check it out for yourself.