On Sunday afternoon in Detroit, Kyle Orton made his first start as a member of the Buffalo Bills. Orton, playing for his fifth team in the ninth year of his career, signed with the Bills on August 30th as an “insurance” policy for quarterback EJ Manuel. Last Monday Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced he was cashing in on that insurance policy, naming Orton his starter for Sunday’s game in Detroit.
Sunday’s game in Detroit started off in an all-too familiar fashion for the Bills offense. The offensive line couldn’t block or open up holes for the running backs, the wide receiver and quarterback chemistry seemed inadequate, and the play calling was unimaginative and bland. Where were the changes we expected on offense with the quarterback change? Thankfully, we began to see them in the third and fourth quarter.
Beginning in the third quarter the Bills offense finally began to move the chains with some regularity. If you were expecting to see the Bills put up 30 points on Sunday than you were probably either a) over eager or b) delusional. The Detroit Lions had the number one rated defense in the NFL for a reason: they are that good. The Lions held the Packers to 7 points on September 21st. When you hold a high scoring offense like the Packers to only 7 points you are doing something right. What we wanted to see on Sunday was an improved offense led by a veteran quarterback who would make the important throws and make the right decision to help the Bills win the game. That’s exactly what Kyle Orton did on Sunday.
Orton started off a little rusty on Sunday. Part of that can be credited to the Lions defense and part of that can be credited to the fact that Orton was making only his second start in three years. The offensive line certainly didn’t help early either, missing blocks and letting the Lions defensive line through like they were made of swiss cheese. Orton and the receivers did not seem like they were operating on the same page early either, leading to an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Lions defensive back Rashean Mathis. On the interception Watkins ran one way and the ball went the other. An audible groan could be heard throughout western New York.
Then in the third quarter things began to click. The Bills began moving the chains. Sammy Watkins and Kyle Orton seemed to be in sync with each other. Chris Hogan and Marquise Goodwin even got in on the act. As did Chris Gragg who hauled in a 2 yard touchdown pass that after the two point conversion pulled the Bills even at 14 with the Lions. Then, with the game on the line, Kyle Orton saved his best for last.
With only twenty seconds left on the clock and the ball on their own 40 yard line the Bills decided to let their veteran quarterback try and put them in a position to win the game. Kyle Orton delivered. The pass was not perfect (thrown slightly behind Sammy Watkins) but it was thrown in a spot where only Sammy Watkins could catch it. It went for 20 yards and put the Bills on the cusp of field goal range for kicker Dan Carpenter. The Bills decided to run one more play to see if they could get a little closer for Dan Carpenter. When Kyle Orton did not see anything he liked down the field he simply threw the ball away, refusing to force anything or take a sack. It was a play that won’t show up in any box score, but it was arguably the most important play of the game. It was the play of a veteran quarterback knowing the game situation and knowing they had a kicker who could make the field goal and win the game from where they were on the field. 58 yards later the ball sailed through the uprights and Kyle Orton was a winner in his first start as a Buffalo Bill.
Things won’t always go perfectly for Kyle Orton and the Bills. That’s football. But as long as he is starting at quarterback for the Bills you can expect him to put them in a position to win the game 99% of the time. That’s one of the advantages of being a nine year veteran in a league that is starved for productive quarterbacks. Orton and the receivers will continue to develop chemistry and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Orton will begin to find the plays they like best. The Bills also won’t be facing the number one defense in the NFL each week. For a debut performance, the Bills and Kyle Orton will take it. They know (as the old cliche’ goes) that the best is yet to come.