Bills fans should take one positive from Buffalo's 13-10 opening-day home loss to Jacksonville. It was nothing like last year's 31-0 Week 1 thrashing of the Patriots, which set up weighty expectations that Buffalo ultimately crumbled under. This time, there shouldn't be any surprises.
I like Mike Mularkey's temperament. He's even-keeled, and doesn't allow emotion to rule him, unlike Gregg Williams, who seemed extraordinarily determined to fit into that NFL head-coaching mold that Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells created. Mularkey is refreshingly authentic.
The line protected Drew Bledsoe, despite its preseason disorder. People have ripped the offense for its short passing attack --- which contributed to the good protection --- but the unfortunate alternative is watching teams collect at least 50 sacks vs. Bledsoe this year. He's so immobile, he can't buy enough time to throw bombs, and defenses know it. Buffalo has no choice.
I thought Bledsoe might have completed the pass to fullback Daimon Shelton for an early fourth-quarter touchdown that probably would have iced the win, but he took a sack instead. Rian Lindell converted the field goal and Buffalo was up 10-6, leaving the Jaguars with hope.
I loved the nifty third-and-10 play that ended the third quarter --- Bledsoe in the shotgun with Travis Henry to his left and Willis McGahee to his right. Bledsoe faked a throw to Henry and turned around and hit McGahee on a screen that went 12 yards for a first down. Mularkey and offensive coordinator Tom Clements crafted that one beautifully.
But the third-quarter backward pass to Eric Moulds wasn't smart. Buffalo just moved the ball from its 18 to the Jaguars' 43. It had momentum and a 7-3 lead. Unfortunately, Moulds never had the chance to receive the pass and Jacksonville pounced on the fumble. It was reminiscent of the Kevin Gilbride offensive-coordinating era, when trick plays broke down at the most inopportune moments. That gave the Jags hope, too.
Other things that gave Jacksonville hope:
• Lindell. Great leg, but inaccurate. It's time to cut him. Too bad Buffalo didn't keep Shayne Graham from 2001, who's become a consistent kicker for Cincinnati. Graham isn't strong-legged, but he has a 15-for-20 (75 percent) career mark on field goals between 40 and 49 yards, compared to Lindell's 20-for-35 (57 percent). Lindell's 42-yard miss stunk.
• Penalties at terrible times. The referee called guard Chris Villarrial for holding on its last possession to nullify McGahee's third-down conversion inside the Jacksonville 25. Buffalo eventually had to punt, instead of scoring a touchdown or field goal to extend its 10-6 lead. Moments later, the ref flagged linebacker defensive leader London Fletcher for needlessly kicking the ball once it had been set, following Byron Leftwich's 45-yard fourth-down desperation completion to Jimmy Smith with one minute, six seconds to go. It was just a five-yard penalty, but it gave Jacksonville a first-and-five at the Buffalo 16 and momentarily stopped the clock, allowing the offense to regroup without taking a timeout.
• Moulds' fourth-quarter fumble at the Jacksonville 7, which the Jags recovered. I've seen Moulds fumble more than a couple of times in his career after a catch deep in the opponent's territory. That's too bad.
Overall, though, I saw things that should give Bills fans hope. They were 50 percent on third-down conversions. The Jags sacked Bledsoe only once. Henry and McGahee combined for 106 yards rushing. And the defense forced two turnovers and held Jacksonville to 83 yards rushing. Of course, they only played Jacksonville.
Around the NFL, some former Bills had great days. Cornerback Antoine Winfield forced two fumbles and recorded a team-high nine tackles in his first game in Minnesota. Winfield's not much of an interceptor, but there's little doubt about his tackling. In the fourth quarter vs. Dallas, Minnesota up 28-17, he hit running back Richie Anderson and forced a fumble that he recovered at the Minnesota 19. Winfield weighs just 180 pounds, Anderson 215 pounds. That's a battle a cornerback should never win. The Vikings beat the Cowboys 35-17.
Linebacker Sam Cowart led the Jets with 14 tackles and forced a fumble that Donnie Abraham recovered and returned for a touchdown, giving the Jets a 21-10 third-quarter lead vs. Cincinnati. The Jets won, 31-24. It looks like Cowart is back to his old self, as he was before he ruptured his Achilles as a Bill in 2001.
Speaking of Achilles injuries, Ken Irvin ruptured his in pre-game warm-ups before Minnesota's game. His career might be over. Right end Bryce Fisher recorded a sack in St. Louis' win over Arizona. When they played for Buffalo, I found Winfield, Cowart, Irvin, and Fisher among the most enjoyable players to talk to.
How about new Giants quarterback Kurt Warner? He's 0-9 in his last nine starts --- including Sunday's 31-17 loss to Philadelphia --- dating back to the Rams' Super Bowl XXXVI loss to New England. During that stretch, he's thrown five touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, and he's been sacked 33 times. Has anyone risen and fallen faster? Somehow it's weird that Warner came out of nowhere --- well, next to nowhere in Northern Iowa --- turned into Dan Marino for a few seasons, and then turned into Ryan Leaf. He might as well be Joe Boyd in Damn Yankees.
In an Associated Press recap of the Steelers-Raiders game, the writer referenced that running back Duce Staley took over Jerome Bettis' starting spot, despite Bettis being the NFL's No. 6 rusher of all time. Bettis scored three touchdowns in goal-line situations during Week 1, but Staley ran for 91 yards. Still, the writer evidently feels Bettis should be starting because he's sixth-best. Never mind that Bettis is 32 and has more mileage on him than a US road map. Tony Dorsett's fifth-best all-time --- even better than Bettis --- why don't the Steelers just sign him?
In Cleveland, before the Browns' game vs. the Ravens, quarterback Jeff Garcia shook hands with players from the Browns' 1964 NFL Championship team and said, "Bring us your power," apparently his version of "Wonder Twin powers, activate!" No wonder the Browns won 20-3.
And in Houston, in a stadium named after Reliant Energy, there was a power outage toward the end of the game. The stadium obviously could have used the extra power that Garcia gleaned from the old Browns' energy forces.