The past few weeks have been rough – very rough.
Two weeks ago I failed to contribute a column to Bills Daily because a freak snowstorm left me without power for four days, forcing me to relocate my family to several different hotels in order to have creature comforts such as heat and light. Football was not a top priority.
Last week I was unable to comment on the loss to the Jets as I was mourning my own loss – a dear friend of mine suddenly passed away at the too-early age of 48, leaving a wife and 3 kids. I still can’t make any sense of his passing, but I can damn sure tell you football seemed like a pretty silly game last week entirely.
Last week my new cell phone stopped working. On Sunday it was my satellite TV – right in the middle of the game. Today it was my laptop – unless you like pretty blue screens filled with hexadecimal codes it didn’t really do much.
I travelled from Boston to Wichita, gateway to nothing, and spent a day in the Minneapolis airport. Despite waking at 3:30am to make my flight, the 8 minutes the airline afforded me to make my connection between two gates 6 miles apart was not enough, and with only 3 flights a day going to my destination I was stuck. Coming back home wasn’t much better – my new knee set off the metal detector at security and put me through 45 minutes of hell. In the end they discovered I was not armed and my colon and prostate look great for a man my age.
Not much to be happy about. I certainly hope the past few weeks have been kinder to you.
Nonetheless, if you’re a big Bills fan you’re probably not in a very festive mood, either. As in seasons past, reality is starting to set in. Illusions of being a playoff team are giving way to the clarity that the Bills are in very deep trouble. Somewhere in the distance you hear the echo of Jim Mora, “PLAYOFFS?! Don’t talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game – another game”….
Admit it – you got caught up in it, didn’t you? Heck, I’m one of the biggest Bills pessimists there is and I got caught up in it. At first I thought the Bills were getting lucky, but after a few wins I started to believe that perhaps they did have talent enough to be a contender. Whether the talent was there or not hardly mattered – the wins kept coming – you don’t question success – you try and enjoy it.
So hopes were higher than they’ve been in a decade. Sure there was that fast start in 2008, but if you recall the Bills beat some pretty weak teams to arrive at 5-2. Before the bottom dropped out you felt good but had to understand that the Bills hadn’t faced a top opponent. Fast forward to 2011 and not only did the Bills have a good record, but they had defeated some very good teams, including a win over the dreaded Patriots. This wasn’t 2008 – THIS was different.
Then the injuries started to pile up – Shawne Merriman, Chris Kelsay, Kyle Williams, Demetrius Bell, Aaron Williams, Rian Lindell and now Eric Wood. For a team that relied heavily on a ragtag bunch of no-name guys, talent went from thin to thinner. After a dominating performance against the Redskins the Bills got a whipping at the hands of Rex Ryan and company and then were torn limb from limb by the Cowboys.
You really wanted to believe that the Bills were going to be a different team this year. You wanted to believe that the underdogs, the small school guys and the undrafted guys nobody else wanted might just do a town like Buffalo proud and make believers out of everyone. Despite what people said about Ryan Fitzpatrick and his shortcomings, he was a guy who embodied the spirit of western New York, a guy who could lead and most importantly, a guy who could win. Some great stories for the national media – the little team that could.
My how the view changes when you step back from licking your wounds and take a close look at what you have – where to start?
Defensively the Bills are terrible. For a team that seemingly concentrated their offseason efforts on the defensive side of the ball the Bills seem even worse than last year’s squad in almost every aspect. Saying the pass rush has been anemic would be extremely kind – take away the 10 sacks against Washington and you have 5 sacks in 8 games – are there words to describe something like that (at least words that can be posted on a reputable Bills site)? As a team the Bills have only 5 more sacks than me and I’m a middle aged couch dweller with a bum knee. Pathetic is not a strong enough term.
Linebackers have been a constant rotation of guys playing positions for which they are not suited – Spencer Johnson at outside linebacker – are you kidding me? How can you play a 3-4 defense when you have almost no linebackers?
Despite Dick Jauron having a cornerback fetish, the Bills are incredibly weak at the position. It is quite possible that the Bills have the worst starting cornerbacks in the NFL. Terrence McGee is a shell of his former self – by late Sunday the last 12 balls thrown his way had resulted in 11 completions and 1 pass interference call. Drayton Florence was burned for a 58 yard touchdown on Sunday and it certainly wasn’t the first he’s given up this season. And then there’s Leodis McKelvin – words just escape me. If McKelvin was a 7th round player pressed into action due to injury I might cut him some slack as I wished for his return to the bench, but as a first round pick his consistently clueless play makes me want to hurt something. I can honestly see myself injuring my hand punching something if I continue to watch this guy play on a weekly basis.
Offensively the Bills may fare a little better, but there are still big holes. The offensive line has play surprisingly well (although the bar is set incredibly low in Buffalo so let’s not get too excited). With injuries piling up I really can’t see how this unit is going to hold up, especially now that opposing defenses are jamming the Bills receivers at the line and forcing Fitzpatrick to hold the ball longer.
Stevie Johnson is a trooper trying to play through illness (are you watching, Peyton Hillis?) but he can’t do it all, especially when he’s not 100%. Donald Jones and David Nelson – are these the same nondescript guy? Is there a Daniel Smith in there somewhere? Scott Chandler has shown some good ability as a receiver, but with all the injuries on the offensive line you have to believe his opportunities as a pass catcher are all but over now. C.J. Spiller is now a receiver because the Bills can’t figure out what to do with a luxury pick they didn’t need and doesn’t seem to actually be able to play in the NFL. These are the Bills’ receivers?
There’s no doubt that Fred Jackson is the real deal. Even is some terrible drubbings Freddie always seems to get his – 114 yards against Dallas in a blowout. The Bills need to lock him up with a new deal ASAP – he’s arguably the only player the Bills absolutely have to have.
This brings us to the quarterback, Fitzpatrick. Earlier in the season Fitz played well above expectations and showed himself to be a leader on the team. But in the past two weeks teams have figured out how to take the quick pass away from him and that’s had disastrous consequences – passes way off target and some really bad decisions have lead to a flurry of interceptions. Most of us knew that Fitz was going to have those games where he just really didn’t look good at all and that’s what we’ve seen the last two weeks. Bills fans better hope Fitz can get back on track because he just signed a very big extension deal that’s going to keep him here for a number of years and finding another starting quarterback looks like it’s off the table. I certainly hope the euphoria of the good start in 2011 which resulted in an extension for Fitzpatrick is not the second coming of the extension the Bills gave Dick Jauron after a fast start to 2008 – we all know how that turned out.
Perhaps the biggest and most surprising disappointment in the Bills decline has been the coaching. George Edwards has proven time and again he really can’t get anything out of the defense and seems more committed to playing a set scheme than working with what he’s got on the roster, yet he still continues to hold his job as defensive coordinator – why? Chan Gailey has been heralded as an offensive genius who gets the most out of his players, but he seems to have been badly outcoached the past two weeks and has failed to make any of the mid-game adjustments that proved so key to wins earlier in the season – can he do anything to stop this ship from sinking?
So there you have it – a sad state of affairs for the Buffalo Bills. After years of heartbreak most fans realize it’s over – just another year. It was fun while it lasted, but harsh reality is back in Buffalo as the weather turns colder. The Bills are actually ahead of where I thought they would be at this point, but damn its painful having your hopes and dreams crushed. Then again with the tough times I’m going through it’s just par for the course.