As the Bills players dressed after a tough loss on the snowy field of Cleveland Browns Stadium, they learned that their flight home was not going to take off from the airport because of the snowstorm. It got worse on Monday when the charter flight was again grounded because of a wide turn on the tarmac which got the the plane stuck in the mud. Instead of a short charter flight back to Orchard Park, the Bills were forced to take a lengthy bus trip along the shores of Lake Erie, plenty of time to dwell on another lost season without a playoff berth.
The Bills travel woes are an excellent metaphor for their season as a whole. Instead of flying high and coming home the easy way, they ran into trouble in Cleveland and came home in decidedly less style - the team stuck in the mud like the landing gear and not going anywhere.
If you’ve been a Bills fan for more than a few years it was tough to see the Bills lose in the snow. Instead of Jim Kelly and crew dismantling the Raiders or defeating a shivering team from Houston wearing powder blue, the team relied on rookies from California with predictable results – oh how the times have changed.
Being the pessimist I am (I prefer the term ‘realist’), I had little hope for the Bills this season. Even before the first of 14 players were placed on IR I thought the team would see about 4 wins this season. The losses of experienced players, the untested youth at many positions and frankly the lack of talent at some positions did not leave me with expectations of greatness.
As the season progressed the news seemed to get worse by the week – players being injured on a weekly basis, conservative game plans, difficult opponents all had me thinking that this was going to be a long season.
But a funny thing happened after some brutal losses – guys stepped up and the team started to find some momentum. Granted, the team wasn’t beating quality teams, but they were winning and gaining confidence on a weekly basis. For the first time in three years the Bills won four games in a row. Despite some positions being manned by third stringers, they were making plays and the tide was turning. Fans were excited, national media started to pay attention and a game was moved into primetime. It was a good time, and easy for a fan base hungry for success to get caught up in the moment.
No matter how tantalizingly close the Bills came to becoming a playoff team it was not to be. Momentum and youth only took the Bills so far. The truth of the matter is that they were simply overmatched by the better teams on their schedule. Sure, they were close to beating Dallas, but for the most part their losing margins were predictable. And it all came to an inglorious end in Cleveland on Sunday.
Playing their first game in winter conditions, the young Bills offense showed they have a lot to learn about playing in snowy, blustery weather. Trent Edwards played his first game using gloves to keep his hands from freezing and the results weren’t good – he was wildly inaccurate on a number of throws. Beyond that, the California kid looked confused and unsure of himself in the conditions and was unable to move the offense for much of the afternoon.
If Edwards is going to be successful in Buffalo he’s going to have to learn how to handle the snow quickly, as will many other players. Perhaps training camp should be moved to Barrow, Alaska this year. There would be less fans and the team may have to hire polar bear lookouts, but think of how easy it would be to get tickets to night practices!
To be fair, the loss to the Browns can’t be blamed completely on Edwards. The receiving corps had a tough time running their routes and getting open. While the Cleveland receivers adjusted their routes to accommodate the field conditions, the Bills receivers did not and were slipping and sliding all day.
Defensively the Bills had a tough time controlling the line of scrimmage and stopping the run. Given the weather the Bills had to expect to see more of the Cleveland running game than most but still allowed Jamal Lewis to rack up 163 yards on the ground – not a good showing by the defensive line and the linebacking corps and certainly not good enough to win the game.
So the Bills find themselves shut out of the post season yet again. While that isn’t surprising (at least not to people like me), it is painful, especially since the Bills were so close. Its one thing to play poorly and win only a handful of games – then missing the playoffs is expected. But getting close enough to have the playoffs within reach and seeing slip away is painful – “Bills painful” as I call it. We saw this last in 2004 when the Bills controlled their playoff destiny and lost to a squad of backups in Pittsburgh in the last week of the season. That wasn’t just painful, it was Bills painful (if you still don’t understand the term go back and watch the Dallas game from this season – it’ll tell you what that gnawing feeling in your gut is called).
So here I write a piece about the end of the Bills season, something I always knew I was going to write. But the gnawing in my gut is much worse than I expected. I don’t know if that’s any better or worse than a long bus ride from Cleveland or being stuck in frozen mud, but it hurts and I don’t see the pain ending anytime soon.