Bills fans are an optimistic lot. I suppose when you’ve had the recent history this franchise has had you need a healthy dose of optimism to do what you do.
But optimism does and should have its limits. Prior to Sunday it was the preseason – that magical time of year when all teams have the same win-loss records and the possibilities are limitless. If you’re an optimistic Bills fan it could be your favorite time of year, but I heard some downright crazy things listening to fans between April’s draft and Sunday afternoon.
Plenty of fans did not only predict a winning season but a return to the playoffs. The reasons for such grandiose predictions varied widely. There was the opportunist theory – the Bills were actually competitive in a lot of games they didn’t win last year and they were just mere plays away from having losses become victories – surely with a smidge of better luck and execution success could be realized. There was the analyst theory – the Bills actually have a number of good players who couldn’t fully contribute last year due to injury and have now returned (as a bonus, their understudies now have real game experience). There was what I refer to as the “lottery theory” – somebody’s got to be the team to come out of nowhere and be a hot team – why not the Bills?
As far-fetched as some of these theories were, all paled in comparison to what I call the “Jasmine theory” (I have a 5 year-old daughter who goes around singing “A Whole New World”) – the theory that because there had been changes at head coach and general manager it was a completely different reality than last season and the Bills would return to greatness.
I must admit – I was really taken aback by how many people so completely bought into the elevation of Buddy Nix to GM and the hiring of Chan Gailey as coach that they were willing to sing their praises prior to seeing any actual results. To hear people talking, Buddy Nix is a personnel genius capable of finding impact players throughout the draft and quickly bringing more talent to the team. Gailey is hailed as a guy who has always won and whose specialty is his ability to take very mediocre quarterbacks and make them very capable NFL starters.
Are these the same fans who have been burned time and time again by the promise of a new coach? Wasn’t Gregg Williams/Mike Mularkey/Dick Jauron the perfect guy to come in, get the most out of his players and turns this mess around? Are these the same fans who put so much faith in Tom Donahoe – another “great personnel guy” – to bring in guys who would raise the franchise to respectability? How, after being burned so badly in seasons past, were people so willing to so totally embrace these new faces as saviors?
Maybe I’m just cantankerous old man with a bad attitude, but before I’m willing to sing the praises of anyone in the Bills organization I need to see some actual results. This is particularly important if you were part of a front office responsible for some poor prior drafts or a guy fired from Kansas City who didn’t have a job last year. Don’t get me wrong, I WANT these guys to succeed, I’m just not willing to give anyone a blind benefit of the doubt.
Whatever the reason for irrational optimism, it was certainly proven misguided on Sunday. The game was in no way shape or form the dawn of a new era in Buffalo – rather it appeared to be a continuation of the decade-long nightmare that has haunted Bills fans everywhere.
Despite a new coach, new rookie players, now-healthy veterans and a clean slate with which to start, the Bills looked exactly like the Bills we saw last year.
For the umpteenth consecutive year, the Bills were completely unable to move the ball on offense. Three and outs ruled the day. The offensive line was once again absolutely horrific, failing to keep pressure off of the quarterback and opening no holes in the running game. Trent Edwards was absolutely terrible, alternating between getting rid of the ball way too fast or doing his best Rob Johnson impersonation and holding it way, way too long. Receivers could not find ways to get open, tight ends were invisible both receiving and blocking, and there was never much of a commitment to the running game.
The defense played well at times but gave up long third down conversions too often and couldn’t get off the field at key times. A number of times Miami’s average quarterback was given the time to stand back and make throws worthy of top players at his position. To top it all off, an already decimated linebacking corps suffered a key injury when the oft-injured Paul Posluszny was knocked out of the game yet again.
I could go on and on about how similar the 2010 Bills looked compared with last year’s model, but you saw and you’ve probably read the analysis of it ad nauseam. The question really is, why?
The Bills have been saddled with organizational inertia so severe it really borders on abuse of its fans. Seriously, how long do fans have to wait until the organization puts any real effort into addressing the offensive line or the quarterback position? How can any sane franchise be happy with Cornell Green, a Raiders cast off and Demeterius Bell, a seventh round draft pick as the bookends to the most important unit on the offense? How can anyone believe that Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Brohm is a starting caliber NFL quarterback? How can a team build a stable of solid running backs and give them absolutely no surrounding talent? How can a team allow all of its divisional rivals to make a splash in free agency while standing pat on a roster devoid of talent at so many positions?
I've run out of answers or theories about the Bills at this point – I can see what is happening but I can’t explain it. I think it’s very easy to explain why season tickets are down by 20% this year, why Edwards gets booed at camp and at the stadium, and why fans have been beaten down past anger into apathy. I can see that the Bills aren’t in any sort of hurry to address what ails them. Sadly, I can see what 2010 is going to be a long year for the Bills and their remaining fans – a very long year.