The Bills played in Toronto today for the sixth time in four years, but this might have been the first game north of the border that the Bills can look back on fondly.
Not only did Buffalo rebound from a tough loss to the Giants by becoming the first team to shut out a Mike Shanahan-led offense, but the Bills were finally able to feel at home on foreign soil.
The Rogers Centre crowds were close to bipartisan in the previous installments of this series, but that wasn’t the case at all on Sunday. The crowd was almost unanimously behind the Bills, and the team rewarded those 51,579 fans with their first-ever regular-season victory in the city of Toronto.
It was hard to find a flaw. Ryan Fitzpatrick had just six incomplete passes, Fred Jackson rushed for 120 yards, the defense smothered John Beck, recording two picks, and Washington had a grand total of 26 rushing yards. A team that had just four sacks all season took Beck down nine times.
The final score: 23-0. And now the Bills are back in first place in the AFC East.
That, of course, leads to the question: Is the team’s recent run of surprising success the reason they’re receiving better support in Toronto? As superficial as that is, it’s definitely a factor. It also helps that they didn’t play the Dolphins, Jets or Bears, all of whom arguably have more fan support in Southern Ontario than the Redskins do.
That said, I think time has played an important role. The Bills claim their Ontario-based season ticket numbers have increased markedly in recent seasons, which leads me to believe that the fan base has grown in Toronto. There was a lot of animosity from football fans in both markets when this series began in 2008, mainly because savvy people seemed to be vexed by insanely high ticket prices and the stale, corporate feel surrounding the pact between the Bills and Rogers Communications.
But it now seems some of that tension has faded. It doesn’t hurt that tickets have become significantly cheaper (especially on the secondary market) and that the team is actually decent. Either way, Toronto finally appears to be embracing the Bills as a home team.