It’s Sunday, week 2 of the NFL season, and there are 200+ Bills fans shouting for joy inside the Harp, home of the Bills Backers Boston chapter. Josh Reed has just made a nice catch. The place erupts.
Passersby on the street are surprised to see a happy mass of buffalo-bedecked fans yelling and clapping, eyes glued to the TV sets and drinks in hand.
Surely the spontaneous burst of applause and delight signaled some great feat on the gridiron, but sadly it did not.
It is the third quarter, and Reed has just made Buffalo’s first third down conversion of the game.
Perhaps Bills fans are an optimistic bunch, or perhaps they just drink too much, but they’ll cheer for any ray of light, and there was precious little to cheer about on Sunday.
Things were so bad against Tampa Bay that they approached the comical.
“Hey folks, I just flew in from Buffalo, and boy, are my arms tired. Hey – did you see how bad the Bills were today?”
Audience: How bad were they?
“They were so bad that JOSH REED was the leading receiver! They were so bad that KELLY HOLCOMB came in for a HEALTHY J.P. Losman! They were so bad that SHAUD WILLIAMS had more receiving yards than ERIC MOULDS and LEE EVANS COMBINED! They were so bad that the defense played TWICE as long as the offense!”
(audience laughs hysterically – why not, they’re drunk and trying to forget)
“Thank you very much. You’ve been a great crowd. I’ll be here all week. Try the meatloaf.”
By the four quarter I was looking for anything to be happy about. Mike Williams went out with an injury and his replacement, Greg Jerman, wasn’t really any worse (think of the salary savings!). Reed proved he could catch a few balls. In fantasy football I had Cadillac Williams and was playing against Willis McGahee so I was scoring points and my opponent was not (seriously, if you take Bills losses hard, play fantasy football and don’t pick many Bills – you’ll probably have something to cheer about). OK, I was grasping for anything to make me forget the pain.
Alas, I see it every year – Bills fans truly believing that this is the year we go on to greatness. The defense is going to win the game for us if the offense can be less than horrific. Losman will be OK if he plays within himself – he can’t be any worse than Bledsoe. Yes sir, if the Steelers and Ben Rotlessburgermeisterson can do it, so can we. Indeed, a full 87% of those polled on Bills Daily before the game felt that the Bills would emerge victorious in week 2.
I like optimism as much as the next guy, but you’ll recall I warned last week that Houston could be the easiest game on the Bills’ schedule this year. We thought we had a good defense because we sacked David Carr 5 times, but Pittsburgh sacked him 8 times yesterday. It’s kinda like being happy that you won free fries at Wendy’s and then realizing everybody wins free fries at Wendy’s – it’s nice, but not unique and not really a measure of greatness. Buffalo was playing a bad team at home with 70,000+ cheering fans in perfect weather (even under these conditions the Bills dodged some bullets by not suffering an interception).
You had to know that Sunday’s debacle was entirely possible. No matter how limited a first year quarterback’s role is in the game plan, he still needs to lead some drives and move the chains. He doesn’t need to complete the long passes, he just needs to find and hit an open receiver to keep the defense honest and not stacked 8 in the box to eliminate the running game. The offensive line has to open some holes for the running backs. Receivers need to get some separation from defenders. The defense has to have some time rest.
The die was cast early in the game when the Bills went 3 and out on their first 5 possessions. Without the offense on the field, the defense wore down in the Tampa heat and gradually a defensive battle turned into a sizable victory for the home team. The Bills didn’t move the chains because Losman made poor decisions passing the ball into tight coverage and, when given the chance, missing open receivers. Again the young man escaped without an interception only by divine grace – the defense dropped a few balls that should have been picked.
If Strother Martin was a football coach, his post game press conference might have included, “What we've got here is failure to execute. Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men.”
You may think I’m picking on Losman and that he takes an unfair share of the blame and perhaps he does, but them’s the breaks when you’re a starting NFL quarterback. The truth is that the loss was not wholly his fault – there’s plenty of poor performances and lack of execution (there’s that &*%@! term again!) to go around. The offensive game plan starts with the quarterback and when he can’t get anything going everything breaks down.
Do I think the Bills will put up another stinker like this again? It’s entirely possible, but didn’t we all know deep down that such would be the season? Losman and the Bills will have their up days and their down days – some days they’ll look like world beaters (please let it be against the Patriots), and some days they’ll look like FEMA trying to manage the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, somehow oblivious to the thousands stuck at the convention center an unable to quickly make things better.
The Bills are not doomed this year – far from it. If they learn from this experience and don’t repeat it, the Bills are in good shape (it’s not entirely a bad thing to get such a jarring loss in week 2). They are still capable of winning enough games to make the playoffs and can beat any team on any given Sunday. What’s lacking will be the consistency, and if you’re like me, that’s enough to drive you mad anyway.