Paul Jannace: Bills' win over wounded Chargers still impressive

Paul Jannace

A friend of mine once declared, “the AFC?East belongs to the Patriots until the day Tom Brady retires ... or gets hurt.”

Now is the time for the Buffalo Bills to take advantage of New England’s bad break, especially after Sunday afternoon’s victory over San Diego. Sure, the Chargers are missing Shawne Merriman, their best defensive player. And the team’s top offensive threat, LaDainian Tomlinson, is hobbled with a toe injury. And their record is 3-4. But make no mistake, they are still one of the league’s best.

“We need to use what we learn from these games to our advantage,” said Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. “This is definitely a statement game for us.”

But how good are the Bills?

At 5-1, they are slowly gaining respect around the country, but there are still areas to poke some holes into the good start.

Their three home wins are against West Coast teams traveling across the country for an early start, which has been an issue for the left coasters recently. They needed a furious comeback and final-second field goal to beat the lowly Raiders.

On the road, they beat a Jacksonville team with an offensive line in shambles and a reeling St. Louis team. Also, the Bills’ only loss came on the road — in blowout fashion — in Arizona, but they played most of the game without Edwards, who was knocked out on the third play of the game with a concussion.

The running game is only 23rd in the league (100.2 yards per game) and neither Marshawn Lynch nor Fred Jackson have reached 100 yards on their own in a game this season. The offensive line has done a decent job in pass protection, save for that one play in Glendale, but the run blocking has left plenty to be desired.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is Edwards, who had his finest game as a pro on Sunday, is showing no ill effects from his concussion. The second-year signal-caller completed 83 percent of his passes and is in the top five in the NFL in passer rating, yards per attempt, and only Kurt Warner has a better completion percentage (69.7).

Edwards has thrown only two interceptions, and the difference in the confidence of the team with him compared to without him was made clear with the poor performance against the Cardinals.

“In the past, you didn’t know exactly what you were going to get from the offense,”?said Bills safety Donte Whitner. “You didn’t know if you were going to get points, so you felt like you have to be almost perfect on defense.

“Once you try to play perfect, you make mistakes,”?said Whitner. “I thought that if we might have had him in Arizona, we might be sitting and talking about a 6-0 football team, instead of 5-1.”

The schedule also favors the Bills on two fronts.

First, they finally get to play some AFC East teams, three over the next three weeks in fact, and can put some space between them and the rest of the division. After that stretch, the Bills have a Monday night home game against Cleveland, then travel to Kansas City before San Francisco visits Orchard Park in Week 13.

After Sunday’s victory, many Bills took satisfaction in proving wrong those who dared to pick against them, but that seed of doubt is wearing off and with a couple of more wins, they won’t be able to use that as a rallying cry.

“Everybody probably thought this team was going to come in here and beat us pretty soundly,”?Bills head coach Dick Jauron said of the Chargers. “We are a young team and we haven’t done it year after year and they have.”

Daily Reporter; Wellsville, N.Y.