Week 1 stunner: EJ Manuel, Bills pull off unexpected upset against Bears
Perhaps predictions of Doug Marrone's demise in Buffalo -- and with it, concerns about EJ Manuel's future -- were a tad premature.
In a Week 1 chock full of thrilling, surprising results, few games checked off both adjectives like Buffalo's 23-20 overtime win in Chicago. Mere days ago, a report from CBS' Jason La Canfora highlighted "Tension between Bills coach Doug Marrone and the team's front office," then ESPN's Adam Schefter added Sunday that the Bills would not hesitate in the slightest to pull Manuel for recent signee Kyle Orton.
Manuel did make one awful mistake: an interception near midfield with his team clinging to a 17-10 lead. But he mostly held his own in a tough environment, finishing with 173 yards and a touchdown on 16-for-22 passing.
As much as the second-year quarterback needed a signature win like this one, the moment arguably was bigger for Marrone in light of last year's disappointing 6-10 finish and the rumored turbulence this preseason. Hardly anyone tabbed Buffalo capable of the Week 1 upset, particularly against a Chicago team that revamped its defense in the offseason.
The Bills, though, played to their strengths en route to the upset. Namely, they relied on a ground game that ranked No. 2 in football last season against a Bears defense that ranked dead last against the run. Even though Chicago revamped its depth chart up front during the offseason, those 2013 numbers played out Sunday -- Buffalo rushed for 193 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
It was the Bills' rushing attack that drove the nail into the Chicago coffin, too. After Buffalo forced a Chicago punt to open overtime, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 57 yards on the ensuing drive, with Jackson's 38-yard scamper to the Bears' 1 setting up the game-winning field goal.
While Week 1 success does not guarantee anything for the remainder of the year (Houston was 2-0 to open last year, if you'll recall), the Bills certainly altered their expectations for the short-term. Suddenly, next week's home-opener against a Miami team that manhandled New England Sunday stands as a critical early-season contest in the AFC East. Should Buffalo follow up its win over Chicago by stifling Miami, there will be a legitimate sense of the tide turning for this long downtrodden franchise.
The prospect of a rapid rise was the plan all along, as evidenced by the aggressive move up in the draft for Sammy Watkins. There was reason to be skeptical, though, what with star linebacker Kiko Alonso suffering a season-ending injury, the offense showing limited spark in the preseason and those recent reports of consternation in the locker room.
All of that ought to quiet down, at least for the next seven days. Buffalo may not be ready to challenge for a Super Bowl yet, but it gave off the impression in Week 1 that it's further along than it previously seemed.