Former Philadelphia Phillies manager Gene Mauch had an interesting take on losing streaks: He said, "Losing streaks are funny. If you lose at the beginning, you got off to a bad start. If you lose in the middle of the season, you're in a slump. If you lose at the end, you're choking." But if you lose all the time to one team then it is not a streak, it's being dominated.
Two huge losing streaks ended on a wild Sunday afternoon. In Buffalo, the Bills finally beat the Patriots after dropping 15 consecutive games to New England. And the Lions won in Minnesota after a 13-year drought.
» The Bills once again came from behind, overcoming a 21-0 deficit and dominating the second half by forcing Tom Brady into three interceptions over the final six possessions. These 2011 Bills have no quit in them regardless of the score or how many yards the opponent is able to gain. Early, the Patriots moved the ball at will. But after Bills defensive back Bryan Scott intercepted a tipped ball just as the Patriots were getting ready to add to their lead at the end of the first half, the tide turned in the game. Instead of going into the locker room down 24-3 or 28-3, the Bills trailed 21-10 and were confident they could turn the game around.
Give coach Chan Gaily credit. He has devised a system that highlights the strengths of the team and protects its weaknesses. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is almost un-sackable as he gets rid of the ball quickly in this spread attack and never allows his offensive line to become exposed. The Bills have one of the best yards-after-contact runners in Fred Jackson and a bunch of receivers, spearheaded by Stevie Johnson, who all run excellent routes, rarely have drops and are always in rhythm with Fitzpatrick. By spreading teams out, the Bills create easy throws for Fitzpatrick. He is never forced to hold onto the ball for an extended period, thus eliminating the potential of negative plays. The Bills know their offensive line is not a powerful group, so they never ask them to flex their muscles.
Clearly, Brady was off. Even though he threw for 387 yards, some of his throws were not as accurate as they normally are, and the Bills took full advantage of his miscues. They played with great passion and when the game was on the line, Buffalo made the plays that in the past 14 games New England normally made.
As nose tackle Kyle Williams said after the game: "You can't say enough about the guys on our football team. Grinding it out. Fighting. Never quitting. You know we talked about it all week. You know we're not scared and we're going to play as hard as we can for 60 minutes and see where the chips fall."
The Bills are for real, and they won't go quietly. They will compete no matter the score and clearly no lead is too much for them to overcome.
» As Lions coach Jim Schwartz was heading to the Mall of America Metrodome on Sunday morning, his iPod was filled with some musicians from Minnesota. Schwartz was trying to reverse the demons of the Lions' losing streak in Minneapolis. It didn't start off great, with the Vikings jumping out to a 20-0 lead. But true to form, for the third straight game, the Vikings blew a double-digit halftime lead.
The Lions, with no running game and marginal pass protection, only gained 50 yards in the first half. But like the Bills, they never quit. They scored on four of their six second-half possessions and gained over 300 yards of offense. Winning on the road is also easier when you have an offense that can silence the crowd.
The Lions dominated the third quarter, not allowing the Vikings a first down until the start of the fourth. With the ball on the Lions' 17, and holding a three-point lead, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier turned down a sure three points and elected to go for it on fourth-and-1. Instead of giving the ball to Adrian Peterson, the Vikings tried to trick the Lions and gave fullback Toby Gerhart the ball, for no gain. This gave the Lions the opportunity to tie the game and eventually take the lead.
Donovan McNabb led the Vikings' comeback to send the game into overtime, but once again Minnesota could not close out the game. In three losses, the Vikings have only 15 second-half first downs and six points. But give credit to Detroit: In the same fashion as the Bills, the Lions displayed an unyielding commitment to find ways to win Sunday. It's the main reason they are 3-0 for the first time in 31 years.
Things I Loved
» I loved that the Raiders bounced back from their second-half collapse to the Bills, dominating the line of scrimmage to hand the Jets their first loss. Darren McFadden was sensational as the Raiders out-rushed the Jets 234-100. What makes this win more impressive is that the Raiders were able to control the game without converting a third down (0-for-8).
» I loved watching the Saints and the Texans move the ball up and down the field, combining for more than 900 yards of offense. Both defenses struggled mightily, but the difference was the Saints' ability to play better than the Texans in the red zone on both sides of the ball. Each team had 12 possessions, and each team was in the red zone five times, but the Saints converted all five into touchdowns and the Texans just one.
» I loved that the Giants were another team that broke a losing streak, ending a six-game skid to the Eagles. Eli Manning was nearly flawless and he made big plays against the Eagles. The Giants only had the ball for 23-plus minutes, but they made huge plays in the passing game for touchdowns. The Eagles turned the ball over too often, and their defense missed way too many tackles. Plus, they allowed another wheel route for a Brandon Jacobs touchdown -- are they ever going to stop that play? The Giants, like the Bills and Lions, were resilient and determined to end a streak.
Things I Hated
» I hated watching the Rams do nothing all day against the Ravens. Most of the Rams' inabilities were related to the Ravens' superior talent level. The Rams won seven games last year, but understand that five were against teams picking in the top 10 of the draft. The Rams are 1-7 in their past eight games and 8-27 dating back to 2009. The Ravens dominated every phase of the game, which should help the Rams evaluate their talent level as it compares to a good AFC team. Sam Bradford will be great, but he badly needs some help.
» I hated watching Eagles quarterback Michael Vick get hit constantly and really hated that he had to carry the ball on the quarterback sneak. Doesn't he take enough of a beating? The Eagles' offensive line has not played well in either phase, run or pass blocking. With a first-and-goal from the 2, down 14-13 late in the third quarter, the Eagles tried to run it in three times but had to settle for a field goal. Five minutes later, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 43 and once again failed to convert on a run. Naturally, the Giants scored on the next possession to take a 22-16 lead and control of the game.
» I hated watching Jay Cutler get pounded again Sunday during the Bears' loss to the Packers. Cutler was sacked three more times, increasing his total to 14 on the season. Cutler has now been sacked 66 times since 2010 and 101 times since he joined the Bears in 2009. Both figures are the most in the NFL. Unless the Bears make a commitment to improve their line, Cutler will continue to get pounded. Since 2004, the Bears have drafted two offensive linemen in the first round, one in the fourth, one in the sixth and five in the seventh. They might want to use higher picks to solve the problem.
Things On My Mind
» All eight early games were fourth-quarter, come-from-behind wins. My remote was working overtime. It was a great day for watching all the games.
» The Ravens were slow on offense, until rookie Torrey Smith showed up Sunday and became an instant star. His first three receptions were touchdowns. Smith always has been fast, but extremely inconsistent catching the ball. Against the Rams, his hands were glue, and his speed helped open up the offense.
» Nice win for the Bucs, as they were able to hold on late to beat the Falcons. The Falcons are at their best when they can play with the lead, setting the tempo for the game. However, in every game this year, they have had to play from behind, which exposes some flaws in their offensive line. Matt Ryan took a beating, getting sacked four times and hit too often.
» The Eagles are struggling on both sides of the ball, especially on defense at linebacker and safety. Whether linebacker Casey Matthews is the Will or the Mike, he has struggled mightily. Just because his name is Matthews and he has long hair coming out the back of his helmet does not mean he is a great player. The Eagles need better talent in both areas, or they will not slow anyone down.
» Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was a basketball player in college, and now he looks like a future Pro Bowler. Graham is a great athlete and competitor. He is a nightmare matchup because of his size and speed.
» Speaking of tough matchups, is there any tougher than Packers TE Jermichael Finley? He is the Dwight Howard of the NFL -- he's hard to handle because of his size, speed and power. He can also finish when he gets near the end zone. Packers coach Mike McCarthy does a great job of creating the mismatches for Finley, but in reality every situation is a mismatch.
» Brian Urlacher's interception of Aaron Rodgers was sensational. His ability to get into the passing lanes is great, and his hands are exceptional. Fooling Rodgers is hard to do, but Urlacher has a knack for making plays in the passing game.
» Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has done a great job of managing Kevin Kolb, giving him one read to force him to get the ball out of his hands quicker. But Sunday in Seattle, Kolb was hesitant and unable to cut it loose. His interception on the final drive was really bad.
» Speaking of bad, even though the Seahawks won, their offense is really struggling. Seattle is 10-3 against the NFC West since 2007, so beating the Cardinals was not a surprise. Getting more wins will be.
» The 49ers are 2-1, but can they continue to be bad on offense and win? San Francisco is one of three teams without 300 yards of net offense in a game this season (Indianapolis and Kansas City are the others). Backup RB Kendall Hunter looks like he should get more playing time.
» I was impressed that the Chiefs competed and made the Chargers earn the win. Kansas City's offense, without Jamaal Charles, has no real playmakers. Getting first downs will be hard; getting points will be harder.
» The Dolphins are the new 20/20 team. They can move the ball from one 20-yard line to the other, but kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. Reggie Bush had 12 touches for 36 yards, hardly the kind of numbers that can carry an offense.
» Josh Cribbs looks like he is improving as a receiver. When he is down the field, he has become much like Larry Fitzgerald with his ability to always make the catch in a crowd. The Browns' offense struggled Sunday, but found a way to win.
» Losing Kenny Britt is really going to hurt the Titans because he was their playmaker. It helps that Nate Washington has played extremely well so far, though. What is most impressive about the Titans is they are 2-1 without any help from Chris Johnson.
» The torrential downpour in Carolina made it hard for either offense to get its footing and even harder for the Jaguars to hold onto the ball. They fumbled five times, but fortunately did not lose any of them. Blaine Gabbert's first career touchdown pass was a great play design for the end of the half.
» Cam Newton put the Panthers in the win column without having to throw for 400 yards. The most impressive thing about his performance was the way he protected the ball in the horrible weather, with no turnovers.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi