Going into the season there was some trepidation on the part of Bills fans about their defense, but after two performances in which they've held two opponents to a total of 23 points there might be reason for optimism.
Buffalo's defenders had a goal line stand to force a turnover on downs, a key third down stop to force an Atlanta field goal attempt, and posted three interceptions including one that provided fantastic field position for what proved to be the Bills only touchdown.
The Bills began the night surrendering yardage in chunks, but kept the Falcons off the scoreboard early. On Atlanta's opening drive the Bills run defense surrendered rushes of 22, 6 and 12 yards to rookie reserve running back Jason Snelling. But once the Bills were defending their red zone they buckled down. Snelling averaged one yard on his final four carries including rushes on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal from the one.
"We started off kind of slow, but that's the name of the defense" said Donte Whitner. "You bend but don't break. We let them get down there, but they didn't get any points."
Paul Posluszny was a factor on both the third down and fourth down stops. The rookie middle linebacker filled his gap to stop Snelling on a run to the left getting an assist from Aaron Schobel who went high on the Atlanta back to stop him for no gain. Then on fourth-and-goal Posluszny assisted Donte Whitner who got to Snelling early to drop him for a two-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
"That's what I like to do," Whitner said. "We've got to play with passion. That's what we have to keep playing with on this football team, passion."
Also impressive defensively was Coy Wire filling in at the strong side linebacker position for Angelo Crowell. Wire single-handedly made sure Atlanta's first possession of the second quarter would be a short one.
On first down he stuffed Snelling off right tackle for no gain. The next play Wire drilled Snelling after a short completion over the middle to force a fumble which was snared out of the air by John McCargo at the Falcons' 37-yard line. It led to Buffalo's first points of the night and a 3-0 advantage on a 48-yard Rian Lindell field goal.
Even late in the first half Atlanta started a drive in Buffalo territory at the Bills 47 and again neared the red zone, with the help of two defensive penalties. But again Buffalo's defense stiffened.
John DiGiorgio held Ovie Mughelli to a two-yard gain on a reception out of the backfield. Roy Manning made a good tackle over the middle on a crossing route reception by Laurent Robinson surrendering just three yards. And then rookie Riley Swanson made a solid open field tackle on Roddy White stopping him short of the first down marker. Atlanta had to settle for a field goal.
But the play of the night was turned in by Anthony Hargrove who intercepted a Chris Redman pass intended for Arlen Harris at the Falcons 10-yard line, thanks in part to a pressure by Eric Powell. Two plays later Trent Edwards completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish.
Terrence McGee had the other interception late in the first quarter, which also gave Buffalo's offense good field position at the Atlanta 17. But an errant shotgun snap by center Duke Preston on 2nd-and-10 at the 17 led to a loss of 20 yards and took Buffalo just out of field goal range as Rian Lindell's 55-yard attempt was wide left.
"Clearly we're not giving up many points and that's a good thing," said Jauron. "We're getting turnovers and that is a huge thing for us, but we're not capitalizing on it. We're not scoring."
Offense has some struggles
Buffalo's first team offense was supposed to get just a quarter of action, but after managing just three points on their first four possessions, the offensive staff gave them two more. The results? Two three-and-outs and a net gain of two yards.
"We were sloppy," said Dick Jauron. "I take the fault for that one. I have to prepare them better. We have two more preparation games to go and we have a long way to go as you have seen."
Jauron pointed specifically to the offensive line as a unit he's hoping takes the lead when it comes to steady play. Offensive linemen were responsible for four of the team's 12 penalties and a botched shotgun snap that took Buffalo out of field goal range.
"We are counting on our offensive line to be more consistent," said Jauron. "We need them more together. We need Melvin (Fowler) back in there. We need to perform better."
But quarterback J.P. Losman was not concerned about being unable to put together a long drive.
"We're just working out some kinks to finish off some drives," said Losman. "We're real confident and we feel we'll put it together here pretty soon."
Losman finished 7-13 for 78 yards. His longest completion was a 36-yard hook up with Lee Evans.
He had an opportunity for a touchdown pass when Peerless Price broke free down the right sideline, but the blustery conditions forced the ball down into the turf short of Losman's intended target.
"It kind of took a left turn," said Losman of the throw. "The wind was a factor. I just have to get used to playing in the wind again. We don't get this kind of wind out at camp."
Marshawn Lynch had a couple of good looking runs as he got the start with the first team, but he was stopped a couple of times near the line of scrimmage due to some good penetration by Atlanta's run defense. His longest carry of the night went for nine yards
"We had a few runs here and there," said Lynch. "Then we had a few breakdowns. But that's normal in a game like this. We'll continue to work through it."
Lynch did enjoy his first appearance in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"It's a great atmosphere to play some football," he said. "It was fun. It was a rush."
Defensive end Ryan Denney left the game early in the first quarter as he was carted from the field with a broken foot. He is out indefinitely.