A new stadium. The defending NFC champions. A difficult road game.
The Buffalo Bills were up to the task.
The Bills defense forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown in a 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.
A key play in the game came in the third quarter when Jerry Hughes sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and the ball came loose. Tre'Davious White scooped up the fumble and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.
Replays showed the ball came loose before Ryan's arm went forward. The officials upheld the call and the touchdown stood.
Micah Hyde had two interceptions in the win. Kicker Steven Hauschka booted two long field goals that proved to be the difference in the game.
The Bills improve to 3-1. The Falcons fall to 3-1.
Here is the Buffalo Bills Week 4 report card:
GRADING THE UNITS
Quarterbacks - B
Tyrod Taylor was efficient. He didn't make mistakes and made plenty of plays. His big throws to Clay were impressive. His touchdown pass to Matthews displayed patience and touch. He was sacked three times, but was able to escape others and get positive yardage.
Taylor isn't Tom Brady or even Matt Ryan. But he's capable of making plays in other ways. He's a big reason why the Bills are 3-1.
Running backs - B
LeSean McCoy didn't have a big day on the stat sheet. He was simply a workhorse. He had 20 carries for 76 yards and three for 32 yards. One of his biggest plays came on third and 17. The Bills called a screen pass and Taylor connected with McCoy. "Shady" took it from there and picked up 17 yards. The play gave the Bills a first down and kept the drive going.
Those are the plays McCoy can make. He isn't breaking off big runs like he did last year, but he is contributing in the passing game. The Bills are a better offensive team when he's on the field.
Receivers - C
Tight end Charles Clay was Taylor's top target against the Falcons. Clay caught five passes for 112 yards. His longest was a 44-yard reception. The Bills aren't getting a lot of their receiving corps. Clay appears to be the exception. He made some big catches against the Falcons. He had a 34-yard catch to set up the first of two long field goals by Steven Hauschka.
Jordan Matthews caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter. That was one of four catches recorded by wide receivers. Zay Jones had a bad drop on a long pass.
Offensive line - B-
The run blocking still needs some work and the Falcons sacked Tyrod Taylor three times. However, the offensive line made some great blocks on Taylor's long completions and helped McCoy break off some effective runs. Penalties hurt the Bills, though. Eric Wood was called for holding on a long McCoy run. The Bills need to minimize those mistakes.
Defensive line - B+
Jerry Hughes had a hand in (literally) the play of the game. He got around the edge and knocked the ball out of Ryan's hand before it could come forward. Once it did, the ball was pushed in Tre'Davious White's direction. White picked up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. That ultimately was the difference in the game. If the officials overturn that, who knows what happens? But Hughes made a great play and it forced a turnover.
Overall, the defensive line was solid. Tevin Coleman had a good day on the ground. The Bills pressured Ryan up front, but he gets rid of the ball quick. You're not going to get a lot of sacks against him often. Hughes' sack was the Bills' lone sack of the game.
Linebackers - B
Tevin Coleman had a good game out of the backfield and broke off some big runs. The Bills' linebackers could've been better at clogging holes, but they played well for the most part. Preston Brown led the team with 10 tackles (five solo) and Lorenzo Alexander had six tackles (six solo) and three quarterback hits. Ramon Humber was banged up, but he finished with six tackles (three solo) in the win.
Defensive backs - A
Another good game for the secondary. Tre'Davious White had a 52-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. He added four tackles (three solo) and a pass defensed. He was great in coverage against the Falcons. Matt Ryan challenged him throughout the game. White is a rookie, but he doesn't play like it.
Micah Hyde had an outstanding game. He was one of the Bills leading tacklers with seven tackles (six solo) and a tackle for a loss. He had two interceptions, both of which came on great plays. The second of the two picks came on a tipped pass. He snagged the pass just before it hit the turf. The play was reviewed, but the officials upheld the call on the field.
Jordan Poyer had another good outing for the Bills. Shareece Wright was good in relief for the injured E.J. Gaines, who left the game after forcing a fumble.
Kicking and punting - A+
What can you say about Steven Hauschka? For the second consecutive week, he made two field goals from 50 yards or more. His 56-yard field goal gave the Bills a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter. He followed that with a 55-yarder to put the Bills up 23-17. Both kicks were important, but the second field goal gave the Bills a cushion. That forced the Falcons to score a touchdown to at least tie the game.
Punter Colton Schmidt also had a strong game. He averaged 47.3 yards per punt and pinned the Falcons at their own 2-yard-line on one kick. His longest punt of the day traveled 60 yards.
Returns and coverage - C
The Bills didn't get much out of the return unit in this game. Taiwan Jones had two kickoff returns for 50 yards. But the team didn't have any punt returns against the Falcons.
The kickoff coverage unit had a major blunder late in the fourth quarter after one of Hauschka's field goals. Falcons kick returner Andre Roberts had a 61-yard return to give his team great field position. You can't allow big plays like that, especially late in games. The Bills will want to address their coverage unit going forward.
The Bills defense had a great game against this tough Falcons offense. Sean McDermott's experience going up against the Falcons as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator probably was an asset. The Falcons made some plays, which was expected. But the Bills were able to contain them for most of the game. And they forced turnovers, which was big.
OVERALL TEAM PERFORMANCE
Any road win is important in the NFL. But this one? Spectacular. The defense came up big. The offense made plays at the right time. The Bills showed the league and their fans that this team isn't tanking. They want to win, and they want to win now.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
OFFENSE: Charles Clay. Clay caught five passes for 112 yards. He had a 44-yard reception to set up the Bills' lone offensive touchdown and a 34-yard catch to set up one of Hauschka's long field goals. Outside of LeSean McCoy, he is Tyrod Taylor's top target.
DEFENSE: Tre'Davious White and Micah Hyde. Tre'Davious White had a lot of good plays against the Matt Ryan-led Falcons offense. His 52-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown was the biggest play of the game. Micah Hyde had seven tackles (six solo), a tackle for a loss and two interceptions. Hyde has provided stability in the secondary. He's a good veteran leader on this team.
Run blocking. If the Bills can get back to running the ball with more effectiveness, watch out. This team could be a legitimate contender in the AFC. The defense is playing well and Taylor can make throws. A competent rushing attack would be quite a weapon. But they need the offensive line to come around and be more consistent.
STAT OF THE GAME
4. The number of 50-yard field goals Steven Hauschka has made in the last two weeks. On Sunday, he kicked a 56- and 55-yard field goals against the Falcons. That proved to be the difference in the game.
STAT OF THE GAME II
3. The Bills forced three turnovers against the Falcons. If you're going to beat a top tier team like the Falcons, you need to force turnovers. That's what the Bills did on Sunday.
The Bills (3-1) will play at 1 p.m. Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. The game will be televised on CBS.