By now you’ve surely read all about the Bills crushing defeat at the hands of the New York Jets. Crushing not in points, but in spirit – this team just can’t seem to win.
For a short period of time the Bills looked to have some life, but when they scored their second touchdown with six minutes left in the ballgame I turned to a friend of mine and said, “Too early – we scored too early. This is going to be bad”. Sure enough, the Bills “elite” defense folded and allowed an 11 play 60-yard drive for the winning field goal with little resistance.
The story is the same, and quite frankly I’m tired of writing about it – the incapable offense, the poor pass blocking by the offensive line, the poor run blocking by the offensive line, the immobile quarterback, the penalties and mental mistakes, the blitzes that don’t generate pressure, the victimization of our secondary. Time to look at the bigger picture and figure out why I, like many other Bills fans, am so miserable.
With the recent losing streak of the Buffalo Bills still going strong I am forced to take comfort in the small things in life (small things mean anything else than the life and death business of Bills victories).
I take comfort in playing fantasy football – it allows me to actually enjoy football on a Sunday afternoon without being completely tied to a Buffalo team who wouldn’t know how to win if they had memorized Winning for Dummies verbatim.
I take comfort in having made the right call and playing the Jets defense on my fantasy team (I know – I’m that guy from the Best Buy commercial, but it’s hard to pass on a team that’s guaranteed to score for multiple sacks and keeping opposition scoring down to a minimum).
I take comfort in calling the Bills a bad team and calling for the departure of Tom Donahoe well ahead of the trend (people told me I was crazy for saying such things but the last of the Pollyannas jumped off tall buildings after the Jets loss and the Donahoe bandwagon is emptying faster than the Bills secondary on a critical third and long play).
Unfortunately, the comfort I get does not make me feel much better. I’m depressed. I’m listless. My hair is falling out. I fly into a rage when a Patriot fan/co-worker approaches me on a Monday morning with, “Did the Bills win this weekend?” At this point I believe these maladies are directly related to the Bills, but if I get joint pain, hyper salivation or abdominal distention I’m going to have myself checked for Dengue fever or exposure to sarin gas – you can never be too safe these days.
In the end, it’s not about my health – it’s about the Bills and the health of the team. Right now I feel bad and the Bills are bad – those are just the facts. So why is this? My theory has to do with Kool-Aid; the delightful children’s drink infamously used to deliver cyanide to innocent victims of the 1978 Jonestown massacre (I know what you’re thinking – this writer’s way off track and getting pretty creepy – bear with me – I think this will eventually make sense).
In the aftermath of the early 1990’s Super Bowl teams the Todd Colins/Rob Johnson/Alex Van Pelt era began and Bills fans learned what it was like to follow a team that was not consistently at the top and dominating the competition. Truth be told, these were some lean times, but the fans realized that this was to be expected in the cyclical nature of the salary-capped NFL. After a few years, failing to make the playoffs got old and Bills fans yearned to see the team return to the top. Along came Donahoe, front office genius.
As the face of the Bills organization, Donahoe might as well have dressed up like a giant dancing soft drink pitcher and crashed through a wall with a big “Oh Yeah!” Immediately he started serving Kool-Aid to all before him – yes sir, this team was going to be great again.
For the past four seasons Bills fans have approached the new season with great optimism. The Bills hyped up the optimism by serving Kool-Aid and we drank it. We called the national media insane for picking us to go any less than 10-6 each year – hadn’t they seen the great moves we made in the off season? How could they fail to see that we finally had all the pieces in place? How could they fail to see that it was to be our year?
In 2001 Wade Phillips and his coaching staff were fired. Tom Mondrak was brought in to help scout talent – a major coup considering he was billed as a guy who was being sought for his own GM position somewhere in the league. A young defensive coordinator from Tennessee was hired as head coach – this guy had great interviews – he was going to be someone special. The fans settled down with a nice glass of Kool-Aid and awaited greatness, but the drink quickly soured and the team went 3-13.
In 2004 Drew Bledsoe was brought in – finally a solid quarterback to lead the team to greatness. We used a top-5 draft pick to select gargantuan tackle Mike Williams to protect the new signal caller. The coach had one a year under his belt and brought in an exciting new offensive coordinator by the name of Kevin Gilbride – he was going to get the offense clicking again. Life was great. We drank the Kool-Aid and it tasted great. In fact, the Bills started off strong and it looked like we were on the way back to prominence.
Somewhere along the way the Kool-Aid started to taste funny – a sort of bitter almond aftertaste. The Bills faltered in the 2002 season and finished 8-8, but it was a vast improvement over the 3-13 of the previous year.
Fortunately, the Kool-Aid man stepped up again with a fresh cup of liquid goodness in 2003 when he regained a first round pick for the departed Peerless Price and selected a hot-shot running back in Willis McGahee (who cared if he had suffered one of the worst knee injuries a person can have?). The offense of 2002 showed we had the talent necessary to win – at long last the Bills would also enjoy a solid defense. Donahoe drafted Chris Kelsay in the second round although many thought he was first round talent. Linebacker Takeo Spikes left a woeful Bengals team to be a contender in Buffalo. Sam Adams was brought in to help block up the middle the way the Bills had done when big Ted Washington was still with the team. Just before the season started the Bills signed one of the greatest names in safeties – Lawyer Milloy. The team marked the occasion by drubbing the Patriots 31-0 in Orchard Park in week 1. Life was great. We drank the Kool-Aid and it tasted great. In week 3 the wheels came off the cart and once again the drink in our cup started to taste funny.
In 2004 we got a fresh new cup of Kool-Aid and as always, thirsty Bills fans drank up. Some even proclaimed that this was the best-tasting Kool-Aid yet – drafting a speedy receiver in Lee Evans and drafting the quarterback of the future in J.P. Losman. Gregg Williams and Kevin Gilbride were shown the door. Mike Mularkey was hired to fix the offense – this guy was going to be light years better than the previous guy. Five weeks into the season we have that bad taste in our mouths again.
It’s time we Bills fans realized the likely cause of the sickness we are feeling is coming from the Kool-Aid we are drinking.
What Bills fans can’t seem to see through their Kool-Aid induced haze is that this team isn’t a playoff team loaded with Pro Bowl players. The national media and football analysts have said for years that we would be lucky to finish in the middle of the pack and that the roster contained a number of guys who weren’t what they once were.
Bledsoe was never the stud quarterback we thought we were getting – time has shown that there is a reason the Patriots let him go. We all had great hopes when he arrived (just look at the number of tickets he sold and the volume of merchandise he helped move).
Mike Williams has shown that he was nowhere near worthy of his #4 overall draft pick. Unlike Erik Flowers, Williams isn’t a total bust and is probably an average offensive lineman at this point in his career – decent but not great.
To date two dominant names on the defense have yet to live up to the hype assigned to them. While nobody could argue that Milloy, Spikes and Adams aren’t solid players, neither has been the dominating player they were with their former clubs. They have their moments, but aren’t consistently great and on par with their hype.
The jury is still out on McGahee and Losman – the hype is there and Bills fans believe that each will eventually be a Pro Bowl player who will lead us back to glory, but this could be the Kool-Aid talking as well.
Even the most optimistic Bills fan must surely now see that the offense is a major problem. Bledsoe is lead-footed and his posttraumatic stress disorder from taking so many hits has rendered him damaged goods. The offensive line really doesn’t have the talent to succeed – it’s not going to become a solid unit with coaching and/or gel time. Even run blocking is a problem for the unit – Travis Henry isn’t going to gain 1300+ yards for a third year in a row (in fact, he won’t break 1000 at this pace).
The Bills defense also isn’t as good as we drunken Bills fans would like to think. The Bills can’t generate a decent pass rush with the personnel they currently have. The Bills need to rely heavily on the blitz in order to put pressure on the quarterback and frequently don’t get there in time leaving the secondary vulnerable to the big play. If you blitz you have to get to the quarterback – if you don’t you’re in big trouble. The defense also seems to break down at key times – twice in four games they’ve allowed opposing offenses to drive down the field for winning scores, eating clock along the way. The Bills much-hyped defense may look solid statistically but it has failed where it counts – on the field protecting a win. Sure they’re keeping the points and yards against us down, but they’re simply not getting the job done over a full 60 minutes of play.
Rookie head coaches learning on the job have not served the Bills well. Sure it’s exciting to see a young fresh face and think that we are getting the next Bill Parcells, but that’s the Kool-Aid talking. When we start to taste what’s funny we realize that we need better coaching to be successful and can’t wait for a new guy to develop.
It’s time we realized that all is not well. The Kool-Aid may taste good, but ultimately it’s killing us. It’s time to stop drinking what’s being served to us and start to see things the way they really are, painful as it may be.
The next time I’m asked to take a drink of Kool-Aid I’m going to pass – I’m full and my stomach feels kinda funny.