Whoosh! Crash! Thud! Did you see that? Did you feel that? Itís the sound of the Buffalo Bills falling back to earth, at great speed.
After a meteoric rise through the rankings as well as the hopes of Bills fans everywhere, the Bills reached their apex with a thrilling last second field goal against the dreaded New England Patriots last week. Funny thing about those last second field goals Ė they donít always go your way.
Such was the Bills fate on Sunday. One week after celebrating a ball through the uprights they skulked off the field, losers after a similar play in Cincinnati.
It was classic Bills Ė if your definition of classic embodies the Dick Jauron era of mediocrity and futility. There was the famous flat offense, the three-and-outs, the questionable play calls and the poor execution. Defensively it was a nightmare Ė a team seemingly able to move the ball at will against a team who exerted very little pocket pressure, couldnít make a tackle and couldnít get off the field. Heck, there were even a bunch of questionable penalty calls and non-calls that always seemed to bite the Bills Ė oh the good old days Ė they were terrible.
After being named the AFC player of the month, Ryan Fitzpatrick went out and did what he sometimes does Ė he just didnít look very sharp. Passes were off Ė not terrible off to the point of being thrown to the guys in the wrong jerseys, but enough so that passes werenít caught and things just didnít click. As had been the case in the previous 3 games, the Bills were off to a slow start and really just didnít look like they had any sense of urgency. Surely the specter of being down by double digits would snap the Bills back to life, but things never got that grim Ė at their best the Bengals were up by a field goal.
Instead of saving their scoring for the second half, the Bills decided to score late second quarter points. In just under three minutes the Bills scored two touchdowns to augment an earlier field goal and took a dual touchdown lead into the locker room at halftime. Things were looking pretty good Ė the Bills still looked rather uninspired, but Iíll gladly forgo rampant enthusiasm for a two score lead.
Perhaps it was a bad thing not to be in a sizable hole at halftime. No wakeup call was needed and no wakeup call was provided. In a startling turn of events, the Bills came out in the second half with a sizable lead and let it slip away. After putting up 17 points in the second quarter the Bills could only muster 3 more points before the final gun. More importantly, the defense gave up 20 points in the second half and looked downright terrible in doing so.
But the crashing thud you felt and heard on Sunday afternoon wasnít just the Bills falling back to earth; it was the spirits of their fans falling with them. Forget what it was like to lose winnable games? Forget what your angry Sunday afternoons and dejected Monday mornings felt like? As Simon and Garfunkel once crooned, ďHello Darkness My Old FriendĒ.
My brother sent me an e-mail today saying he hadnít seen the game but had heard the Bills had played poorly and had been the victim of numerous bad calls Ė he asked whether Iíd broken anything watching the game. I know Iím pretty negative when it comes to the Bills, but oddly enough I was anticipating the Bills falling back to earth. Iím never happy when the Bills lose, but these days they really have to do something soul crushing to get a huge reaction out of me.
I know many fans are still predicting playoffs this year, and quite a few feel the Bills will win the AFC East. I think itís great to be enthusiastic and support your team, but it doesnít change the way I see things. The way I see things, the Bills are still no better than a .500 team.
A win is a win and a loss is a loss, but the stats donít lie Ė they also donít paint a very flattering picture of the Bills. 1620 isnít just the year the Pilgrims landed in the New World Ė itís also the number of yards the Bills have surrendered through the first 4 games of the season, ranking them 27th in the league. They are giving up more than 3 touchdowns a game. They are dead last in sacks with 4. These are not pretty stats. If defense wins championships the Bills certainly donít need to book travel to Indianapolis.
So why are the defensive stats so ugly? Didnít the Bills bolster their defense in the offseason? Shawne Merriman is back Ė Marcell Dareus is the real deal Ė Kyle Williams is a pro bowl player. Merriman has 5 tackles and no sacks Ė Dareus and Williams have almost identical stat lines Ė 9 tackles but the rookie also has a sack. In short, the front seven has generated fairly little pressure through the first quarter of the season.
What you donít see in the stats is even worse. They donít keep statistics on missed tackles, but if they did Buffalo would have to be near the top. If you wonder why the Bills donít seem to get the defensive stop and get off the field you need look no further than their inability to execute one of the fundamentals of the game Ė the tackle. Against the Bengals and desperately needing a stop or to force a long field goal, the Bills missed tackle after tackle and allowed Brian Leonard to go for 29 yards in the final two plays of the game Ė thatís the difference between the ball being on the Cincinnati 46 or the Buffalo 25 Ė thatís the difference between a punt and a winning field goal Ė thatís the difference between a win and a loss.
While the Bills lead the league in interceptions, they have also been victimized through the air. They donít keep stats on how often a cornerback gives up a big play, but Leodis McKelvin has to be a leader in that category. If the rumors are true heís being tapped to push McDonaldís new breakfast item, McToast (I like mine burnt). Yes indeed, another gift from the Jauron/Modrak era that keeps on giving.
The truth is that the Bills offense has played well enough to mask their defensive deficiencies but as we saw on Sunday, the unit doesnít always play crisp football. When Fitzpatrick isnít in the zone his accuracy can really hinder the ability to move the ball and keep the defense rested. If the Bills forget to utilize their most valuable player, Fred Jackson, things can bog down in a hurry. On Sunday the Bills went 3 and out on more than half of their possessions Ė as Charles Barkley would say, ďthatís terrrbleĒ.
To top it all off, the schedule gets markedly more difficult for the next 4 games as they face a desperate and angry Eagles team, a NY Giants squad that is getting healthier, a game against Washington in Toronto (seriously Ė do we ever win the Toronto game?) and against the NY Jets (write them off if you wish, but thatíll be a tough game for the Bills to win). The Bills could be under .500 by the midway point of the season.
In any event, it was fun to feel the excitement again, and even if they donít win another game this season I did get to revel in a win against the Patriots Ė I needed that. Iíll keep cheering for the Bills with my heart and soul, but Iíve tempered my expectations and come down to earth. I believe weíll hear some more crashes and thuds in the coming weeks as the Bills continue their descent - I just hope itís not fans jumping off tall structures because, as they say, the higher up you are the harder you fall.