If you haven’t figured it out by now, after 11 games, the Bills are a crappy team. If you sit and wonder why the Bills are either ignored or ridiculed outside of their blindly loyal fan base, now you know. In the world of the NFL where it’s about wins and losses rather than fluffy backstories and likable players, the Bills are bottom feeders and have been for quite a long time.
A crappy organization begets a crappy team, especially one that never gets better. You have to admit that an organization that has failed to achieve any measure of on-field success in over a decade probably has some major issues – issues that are neglected year in and year out. If your financial adviser hadn’t had any success in the last 13 years you wouldn’t invest with him and if your plumber continually worked on your plumbing but you still had leaky pipes 13 years later you’d certainly send him packing – why then are we so easily convinced that our chosen football team is a good team on the cusp of success?
I get the blind loyalty thing – I, too am a fan of the Buffalo Bills. I get excited at the draft in April; I daydream about what the team is going to do based on encouraging reports out of training camp. Every Sunday, like some sort of zombie, I am compelled to sit in front of the TV and vociferously cheer for the team (this includes yelling and cursing uncontrollably, sometimes in front of my wife and children if they elect to stay in the house during the game).
After 11 weeks the veneer has worn off the Bills, even for fans like me. I consider myself very cynical when it comes to the Bills – chalk it up to years of heartbreak and disappointment and the natural coping mechanisms of the mind. Before the season started I actually believed the Bills had accumulated the talent needed to contend for a playoff spot. I brushed off the pounding they took in week one at the hands of the Jets as a bad game with new players. But the losses kept coming. Some games were close, some were not. Plenty of shoulda coulda woulda games – if only the Bills had done this instead of that they’d be in a much different place.
But the Bills aren’t in a different place – they’re in the same place they always are around this time – completely irrelevant in terms of football (I guess those national writers who ignored or dumped on us were right again) and gearing up for a stretch to win some meaningless games which will serve only to worsen our draft slot in April. Things never change.
Surprisingly, the Bills in many respects are a worse team than they were last season. It’s hard to think that they brought in some big name free agents and got worse, but they did – the numbers don’t lie. The Bills are 31st in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game, 18th in passing yards allowed and 26th in total yards. While the defense has shown some better performance over the past few games, they had some historically horrific games earlier in the season and should be substantially ahead of where they are. Injuries haven’t been a huge factor and the defense contains a number of seasoned veterans – it’s not a bunch of green rookies. Given what I’ve seen so far this year I suspect I severely overestimated the talent on the squad – there are plenty of weak spots and few if any who could be considered amongst the top of their respective positions in the league.
After a decent start the Bills offense has fallen flat. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Bills were putting up points (it’s just that their opponents were putting up more). There’s not much I can say about Ryan Fitzpatrick you don’t already know – you know he’s a nice guy with accuracy issues who can’t throw the ball downfield and is never going to take the Bills any further than they are now. Receivers are in short supply and offensive line depth is an issue, but in general the unit has talent.
The Bills are a crappy team for the talent they don’t have and the talent they do have. I know of no other franchise that has suffered and tolerated mediocre play from the most important position on the field – quarterback. Even the Dolphins of Chad Henne and Cleo Lemmon notoriety have seemingly found a solid quarterback by drafting Ryan Tannehill while the Bills are dealing with their 6th “quarterback of the future” who isn’t. Six times since 2000 the Bills have seemingly found their next generation signal caller who turned out to be no better than a backup – Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and now Fitzpatrick. In that period of time the Bills have drafted 3 quarterbacks – Losman, Edwards and Levi Brown and picked up retreads such as Brian Brohm and Tyler Thigpen.
Not only do the Bills not have a starting caliber quarterback on the field, they aren’t even in the process of developing one. There is no highly regarded rookie biding his team learning behind Fitzpatrick because the Bills haven’t drafted one. Free agent options in 2013 are slim to none, meaning Fitzpatrick may be the best option the Bills have at signal caller next season. That the Bills have no good option at quarterback shows that as an organization they either don’t see there is a problem or don’t have any idea how to deal with it – either the height of arrogance or the height of stupidity. As a fan it makes you want to scream – what’s it going to take for the Bills to do something about the quarterback situation?
The Bills are also a crappy organization for mismanaging the talent they do have on the roster and this goes directly to coaching. I tried to like Chan Gailey and give him a chance, but his time is up – he’s the problem not the answer and he has to go. Over the past few weeks Gailey has been completely incapable in his strategy and play calls. His resistance to pounding the ball on the ground, Buffalo’s strength, and relying on the pass, Buffalo’s weakness, is maddening. C.J. Spiller, arguably the most exciting running back in the league has been grossly underutilized, touching the ball less than 20 times a game. He’s been spelled by a solid back in Fred Jackson, a friend of the coach in Tashard Choice, and a weak armed quarterback in Fitzpatrick. Gailey has also resisted taking any risks at all – punting instead of kicking a field goal or trying to keep a drive alive. In short, Gailey has no guts, and as a result has no glory.
In his third year as coach, Gailey now sports a record with more than twice as many losses as wins – 14-29. He’s won 9 home games and 5 road games. .325 might be a good batting average, but as an NFL coach it’s terrible. What’s worse, Gailey really only runs half the team – he freely admits he has almost no responsibility for the defensive side of the ball, a stunning admission for a head coach. The defensive game plans with their reliance on a 4 man pass rush that has failed to generate pressure much of the time have been the responsibility of defensive coordinator Dave Wannestadt – many question whether he is properly utilizing the talent he has at his disposal.
The fact that the Bills put up with year after year of poor quarterback play and poor coaching speaks volumes about the organization. The Bills seem to accept mediocrity at these key positions and this above all else explains the lack of success they have seen in the 21st century. As fans you suffer through this, but by now it has to be obvious – the Bills are stuck in neutral and probably aren’t going to take any developmental steps for quite some time – they don’t have the coaching, quarterback, linebackers, receivers or corners to get there and aren’t likely to have them in place next season. Chan Gailey has 2 more years left on his contract and historically things have had to get really bad for the organization to pay someone to leave. It also wouldn’t be completely surprising to see Fitzpatrick under center for the Bills next season as their options to replace him in the short term are extremely limited.
As in years past, the silver lining is that the season has wrapped up just in time for the craziness of the holiday season. Admit it – you probably have shopping to do, parties to attend, family with which to spend time. This Sunday I’ll probably record the game in favor of chopping down a Christmas tree with the family. If I need to get my fix of meaningful football games I’ll check in on my fantasy teams – the Bills may accept losing but I don’t and I’m hoping to put some money in pocket in the next few weeks. Hopefully I’m able to get more joy out of my Sundays, just don’t start telling me things will be better next year – I know better than to believe that.