After an 0-2 start that precipitated a head-scratching move to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the reeling Bills took down one of the NFL's best teams Sunday without star receiver Sammy Watkins, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn or one of their best, young defensive players, cornerback Ronald Darby.
Makes sense, right? Probably not.
This Bills team is hard to figure out, and at the very least, that's good for Rex Ryan's short-term job security. On Sunday, the Bills' coach proved his team is capable of big things, which should give ownership enough uncertainty about what they have to keep him around and find out.
Management won't have to wait long for their next opportunity to see Ryan coach against the class of the league. The Bills head to New England next Sunday to face the Patriots in the final game of Tom Brady's four-game suspension.
Gillette Stadium has been a house of horrors for Buffalo. Since the stadium opened in 2002, the Bills have won there only once. That came in the 2014 season finale, when Jimmy Garoppolo replaced Brady for the second half as the Patriots sleepwalked their way through the afternoon and into the playoffs. Over his 16 years as Patriots coach, Bill Belichick is 28-4 against the Bills.
That history might scare most coaches, but it plays exactly into what Ryan wants: a chance to channel his inner Muhammad Ali and show the rest of the league what he's made of.
Why? Whether it's Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett or Belichick at quarterback next weekend, the Bills stand a shot in their first full game against a Brady-less Patriots team since 2008. They proved as much Sunday, when Buffalo's defense sacked Carson Palmer five times, intercepted him four times and held him to a 36.0 quarterback rating, the fourth-worst mark of his career.
It was exactly what the Bills needed after their defense was "embarrassed," as Ryan said Sunday, in their Sept. 15 loss to the New York Jets. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards that night and was not intercepted, a memory that had to be maddening for the Bills as they watched Fitzpatrick toss six interceptions Sunday in the Jets' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The inconsistency from the Bills' defense is not a problem unique to them -- it's the week-to-week reality across the NFL -- but in the case of Ryan, he now has tangible hope to sell to his fans and bosses after defeating the Cardinals in resounding fashion.
"We know what everybody thought of our football team," Ryan said, "and we knew that we were a better football team than that."
Imagine if the Bills could capitalize on Garoppolo returning from a shoulder injury, or Brissett playing despite a thumb injury. A win in Foxborough would bring Buffalo to 2-2, and at that point, Ryan could easily argue that defeating two of the NFL's better teams, the Patriots and Cardinals, means a heck of a lot more for his team than losing to the Ravens and Jets to start the season.