It is shortly before Buffalo’s 1pm kickoff against the Saints in San Antonio, and 200+ Bills Backers Boston members are watching NFL Gameday on ESPN, talking about the game and listening to the so-called experts discuss all matters NFL.
Gameday ends, and as is not unusual, the busy bar staff is not right there to switch the 15 TVs to the correct satellite channel. So the masses watch what comes onto ESPN, and it is deeply disturbing. It is championship Scrabble, the board game with racks of lettered tiles where the dictionary is king. The bar grows silent as they watch 2 of the biggest geeks in the world draw tiles from a little velvet baggie and arrange them on their racks. 200+ beer-drinking Bills fans, pumped for a game and expecting bone-crunching hits, are now reduced to watching a televised board game in silent bewilderment. The first word is played, a word nobody knows, and the bar begins to cheer – this is sport at its finest. The scene is surreal – rowdy football fans watching the intellectual pursuit of greatness that is world class Scrabble on a 120-inch screen - something out of a Cohen brothers movie.
Finally the bar staff realizes that the game is about to start and their patrons are not here to watch the opening round of the nerd Olympics – they are here to see the Bills claim victory on the gridiron over a team from Atlantis. The channel quickly changes, but the wrong channel is again selected. It is now on a local channel fulfilling its community broadcasting obligation by airing a program entitled, “Road to a Jewish Life”. I mean no offense to people of any faith, but even my Jewish friends would probably admit that a theological conversation on the Jewish Diaspora is a pretty dry subject and a very poor substitute for Buffalo Bills Football.
The crowd has now grown tired and groans - quickly the correct channel comes on, just in time to see the Bills receive the opening kickoff.
What follows next is not pretty at all. In fact, a short time later I thought that perhaps watching Scrabble or “Jewish Life” would have been more beneficial. Perhaps I could have learned some new vocabulary or learned more about the Jewish experience. Alas, I do not broaden my knowledge beyond a deeper understanding of how troubled the 2005 Buffalo Bills really are.
Out of respect for the sacred sport of Scrabble, I’ll continue on with this column by noting my word scores.
Pathetic (double word score – 30 points) – The Bills were completely pathetic. Once again the offense failed to move the ball. After a solid opening drive that resulted in a Willis McGahee touchdown, the unit stopped producing. The next 3 possessions ended in 3-and-out, 3-and-out and a terrible interception (actually it was a pretty pass that hit the receiver in stride, but unfortunately that receiver was Jason Craft, the Saints cornerback). The Bills Defense once again played substantially more than the offense and gradually wore down. They held Deuce McAllister to 65 yards until the a late drive in the fourth quarter when he ran for another 65 yards on 5 final carries to drive the final nails into the coffin.
Penalties (single word score, 11 points) – Once again the Bills fell into undisciplined ways and the yellow flags fell like early autumn leaves. The Bills were flagged for 12 penalties resulting in 79 yards for the Saints. Perhaps most importantly, penalties gave New Orleans 4 first downs and knocked 30 yards off a 64-yard Fast Freddy Smith kickoff return.
Containment (triple letter score, 21 points) – For a second week in a row the Bills defense failed to contain a quarterback who made plays with his feet. Aaron Books ran 7 times for 33 yards and scored a touchdown, strutting into the end zone virtually untouched.
Inexplicable (double word score – 50 points) – Despite the early success of the running game, the Bills only gave the ball to McGahee a paltry 16 times. Considering the woes of the passing game due to a porous line and a struggling quarterback, the Bills insisted on trying to move the ball the air by passing 21 times. To quote music “legends” C + C Music Factory: things that make you go hmm…
Controversy (single word score, 19 points) – Let the great quarterback debate begin! J.P. Losman has proven to be greener than anyone imagined and Kelly Holcomb has already replaced him twice to provide a spark (a spark that never came). Many believe the ex-Brown will take over the reins of the team despite coach Mularky saying J.P. would remain the starter. I believe switching to Holcomb would be a huge mistake. With Losman struggling and in dire need of game experience at the NFL level and the defense imploding, I see no reason to believe that the Bills have any shot at salvaging the season. Why throw Holcomb in to lead the team to 6 victories this season and further delay Losman’s development? 6 victories doesn’t get the Bills to the playoffs. Wouldn’t it be better to stick with the kid, take your lumps now and be in better shape for next season? Does it really matter if we win 3 games or 6 games this season? Are a few more wins really worth another year of delay in Losman’s development? You also have to wonder about the psychological impact such a move would have on a young quarterback. The Bengals ruined a few decent quarterbacks in recent years by throwing youngsters to the wolves as starters and then wrecking their confidence by replacing them when they didn’t play like experienced veterans. The Bills should not make the same mistake.
Pollyanna (single word score – 14 points) – Gentlemen (and ladies), start your hate mail! Lambaste me for the last paragraph and my lack of faith in the Bills to turn the season around. Point out that it’s only 4 games into the season and we almost made the playoffs last season by starting out even worse. Tell me that I’m not a “true fan” because I didn’t drink the Kool Aid. Call me a bandwagoner for abandoning the team. Call me a doomsayer claiming the sky is falling. None of this could be further from the truth. To you Pollyannas I ask – what have you seen to give you any hope that the Bills will make the playoffs this year? Last year we started 0-4 but the defense looked strong. Indeed, it was strong, but not strong enough to win every game. This season we don’t even have the defense to fall back upon, and that makes me very pessimistic that the season can be saved.
You probably think I take joy in predicting the demise of the Bills this season – I most certainly do not. I want more than anything to see the Bills do well and I take no joy in seeing what I see (I lied – I can think of a bunch of things I’d rather see, including me on a tropical island lighting Cubans with $100 bills). If you find it therapeutic to send me comments about how wrong I am and how my view of the team doesn’t fit in with your rose-colored “reality”, so be it – it’s my job as a columnist to be there for my readers. Sooner or later you’ll step through the process and arrive at step 12, acceptance (single word score – 18 points).