The week the Buffalo Bills spent practicing in Arizona certainly seemed to serve the team well.
Following Buffalo's embarrassing 45-3 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco, the Bills flew to a resort in Phoenix to avoid having to travel cross-country on back-to-back weekends, something the franchise hadn't been asked to do since its days in the AFL in the 1960s.
Buffalo emerged with a 19-16 overtime triumph over the Cardinals on Sunday.
While practicing at Arizona State, and spending the evenings enjoying the warm weather and getting together in groups for dinner, the Bills felt their nine-day road trip was a cathartic team bonding experience that came at the perfect time.
"We put a lot of work in this week," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, meaning in practice and in terms of getting to know each other, much as they do in training camp.
Fitzpatrick grew up in the Phoenix area and his offseason home is still there, as well as his parents' home, so he was the team's de facto host. He was able to spend time with his family and also had teammates over for dinner.
"This was a very satisfying win for us," he said. "Not only to get us back on track, but with the way everything's been going throughout the week and the way we have come together as a team, it was a fitting ending to the game."
Safety Jairus Byrd, who made two interceptions, one of which set up the game-winning field goal in overtime, said, "We were away from all the distractions, it was just us in there. It was a chance for us to soul search and correct what we needed to correct without the distractions of being home. It was a getaway and great for us mentally to regroup."
And the Bills' defense certainly needed to regroup after being flogged the previous two weeks by New England and San Francisco to the tune of 97 points and 1,201 yards allowed. The Cardinals, clearly not an offensive juggernaut, managed just 332 yards and scored only one touchdown.
"Being here the whole week and being around each other every day with no distractions, just putting that 'us against the world' mentality, we needed it big time," said defensive end Mario Williams, who had his best game since signing a contract worth $100 million. He had two sacks and numerous other pressures. "The biggest thing for us is it's all about what have you done for me lately?"
The Bills made so many mistakes on defense in their previous two games, you needed a calculator to keep track, but they were much better fundamentally against the Cardinals, and they made plays at opportune times. With Buffalo trailing 3-0 early, defensive end Chris Kelsay broke through to sack Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb for a safety. Byrd's first interception stopped an Arizona drive in Buffalo territory when the Bills were protecting a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter. And then Byrd's pick in overtime led directly to the game-ending field goal.
"We played horrendous for two halves of football, and we don't want to be identified from those two halves," said Kelsay, referring to the second-half meltdowns against the New England Patriots and 49ers. "We knew we had an opportunity to come out here and gain some respect back. We've got a long way to go, but if we keep playing the way we did, there's good things in store for this team."
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