I can't quite wrap my head around today's game against the Raiders. Because the Bills are the Raiders. In recent years, the Bills have been the team who gives the favorite a run for their money all game long, capitalizing on the "better" team's sloppy play and threatening to upset, only to come up shorthanded in the final minutes. It's part of what lends such an "I must be taking crazy pills" air to Bills fandom--you know the team is kind of scrappy and surprising and good, but fucked if they aren't 6-10 again and no one outside of Buffalo seems to know the names of even the marquee players. Inasmuch as football games are kind of inexplicable, irreducible to the quantifiable strengths of the players on the field, or even to how well they've played, the magical, unnameable force that seems to help some teams win wants nothing to do with the Buffalo Bills. It's an article of faith for Bills fans. I am sort of silly and superstitious about football, in part because I am that way about things I love, but in part because when I was a little girl, the Bills were second-best four years in a row. You can't tell me that what goes into being a winning football team isn't a little uncanny.
Today's game was actively unpleasant to watch a lot of the time. Any time the Bills seemed to get it together for a second, we'd fumble or get intercepted or Johnnie Lee Higgins would beat the fuck out of the Bills secondary to the tune of an 84 yard touchdown. After that last play, my heart broke a little. I thought, my team is not the team that successfully scores twice with only 6 minutes left. I had already been constructing a narrative for the game in my head, which was that Bills fans like me were being punished for the hubris of thinking 2-0 meant anything at all, for thinking that the Raiders would be an easy mark, and Lane Kiffin's players were rallying behind him because they love him and they know Al Davis is a crazy. When Higgins's TD re-widened the gap between the Raiders and the Bills, I thought it was over. The Bills had looked shook all afternoon--how were they going to get their morale back after that disheartening play? I had already teared up at halftime when Bruce Smith's number was unveiled in Ralph Wilson Stadium; clearly tears were where the game was destined to end.
And yet. In the back of my mind, the part that is still a crazy 13-year-old who thought, hey, why can't the Bills come back in the second half of Superbowl XXVII (that's the one we lost to the Cowboys by 35 points, btw), I reasoned. We'd come back from poor play last week to beat the Jags. The defense could certainly hold the Raiders from scoring further points. All that needed to happen was for the offense to step up like I'd seen it do earlier this season. And then it did. I thought, if they just score a TD before the 4-minute mark, we're still in it. And Trent Edwards threw his most accurate series of passes of the afternoon and hit Parrish in the end zone with 4:02 left in the fourth quarter. (In passing, thanks, Dan Fouts, for the brilliant suggestion that the Bills should have made do with a field goal on that drive. WTF?) I thought, it might be too much to hope for but the Raiders don't seem to trust Russell to throw and the Bills are certainly capable of holding the Raiders run game to a 3-and-out. And then we did. The next thing I chose to freak out about is that Dick Jauron hasn't always been noted for clock management at the end of a game--what if the Bills scored on their next drive, but scored too quickly? But no, right before the field goal attempt, Jauron let the clock run down. And of course the Bills haven't always had luck with field goals, lol Norwood, but that went like a dream, too. It was more than a little unsettling. If the perpetual skid team you've loved all your life actually gets it together, are they still your team?
I don't mean to overstate things. The NFL season is long; who even knows anything about the AFC anymore; the Bills' schedule so far may prove to have been kind of a cinch compared to the mighty Miami Dolphins, who we face in week 14. But also, the last time the Bills went 3-0, they ended up in the Super Bowl. Let's not speak about what happened after that.