ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Linebacker Reggie Torbor has a humorous theory to explain how the once-winless are suddenly on a roll.
After spending the first half of the season perfecting ways to lose, Torbor figured on Monday that it was only a matter of time for the Bills to learn how to win a couple. Something has certainly changed for a team that rallied from a 21-point, second-quarter deficit to pull out a convincing 49-31 win at Cincinnati on Sunday.
“At some point, man, it’s enough. We’re not going to find a new way to lose a game,” Torbor said with a smile, before going down the list of how the Bills bumbled through losing their first eight games of the season, including twice in overtime.
“The best way to learn is from mistakes,” he said. “And we made a lot of mistakes, so we’ve learned a lot, you know.”
The Bills weren’t perfect, especially in the first half, when they fell behind 28-7. They did prove to be the more resilient team in outscoring the by a whopping 35-0 over the final 30 minutes to win their second straight game.
It marked the third time in team history the Bills have won when trailing by 21 or more points. And they became the league’s first team to win a game by 18 or more when trailing by 17 or more at halftime.
And it happened in a season in which the Bills were once regarded as the NFL’s worst, which is no longer the case.
Buffalo has moved out of last place in the standings — a win ahead of Carolina — as it prepares to for a far more daunting challenge Sunday, when the (7-3) visit Orchard Park.
“We’re still a 2-8 football team, so we have a lot of work to do,” Torbor said. “But it’s good. Progress is starting to be made. It’s one thing to work, work, work. But now it’s to the point where we’re starting to see the fruits of those labors.”
The Bills are turning a corner thanks to improved play on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick shook off two interceptions in the first half — one returned for a touchdown — by going 10 of 13 for 139 yards passing and three touchdowns in the second half. His favorite target was Stevie Johnson, who scored three times to continue what’s been a breakout season for the 2007 seventh-round draft pick.
Johnson now has nine touchdowns receiving — three short of breaking the franchise single-season record and entered Monday tied for second among NFL receivers this year.
Running back Fred Jackson capped the second-half surge by scoring his second touchdown with a 30-yard run.
“Getting down helps nothing,” Fitzpatrick said, of how he stayed calm. “It doesn’t help you out. It doesn’t help your teammates out. I don’t know. I’m kind of that way all the time.”
The Bills defense did its part by forcing three turnovers and shutting out the Bengals in the second half. Cornerback Drayton Florence returned Cedric Benson’s fumble 27 yards for a touchdown. Then Buffalo’s secondary secured two interceptions to double the team’s season total to four.
Overall, the Bills continued to show the signs of how they’ve become a better team since entering their bye at 0-5.
After being outscored 161-87 through their first five games, they’ve outscored their opponents 126-115. They’re more efficient in converting third downs, going 42 of 81 in their past five after going 15 of 55 to open the season. And Fitzpatrick has two 300-yard passing games in his past five starts, this after the Bills endured a 59-game drought without one.
The progress is evident on defense, too. After managing four takeaways in its first five games, Buffalo’s managed eight in its past five. And they’re allowing 145 yards rushing over the past five, nearly 40 yards fewer than the first five.
“We’ve gotten over a couple of humps,” coach Chan Gailey said. “Whether we are where we want to be right now, I can promise you we’re not because our record says we’re not. Do I think we’re getting better? I think we’re getting better.”