Like many other Bills fans, I probably should have stayed in bed on Sunday morning, but I didn’t. In an ironic twist, I found myself with a familial obligation in Buffalo this weekend, but needed to get back home to ensure I saw the game. Rather than sleeping in, I was up at 4:30am so I could hit the road and make it home by kickoff after a 7 hour drive. I shouldn’t have bothered.
Despite the early start, the drive home wasn’t too bad – a quick stop for coffee at Tim Horton’s and some fast music and I was feeling pretty awake even before the sun came up (gotta love satellite radio – I heard Slayer’s Hell Awaits at 5:25am). When the sun came up some of the programming on NFL radio was live, so I was able to get in the mood for week 1 of the NFL season. With the wonders of the Internet and streaming technology I listened to a few hours of the Bills pregame on WRG55 – I was getting psyched.
In recent years I’ve refused to allow myself to get too excited about the Bills before the season started – I’ve seen the futility and when you get your hopes up it makes the fall that much harder. But this year was different – the Bills had made some real investments in by committing to Mario Williams, the defensive prize of all of free agency who came with a $100 million price tag. I didn’t think the Bills would be able to land Williams, but they put on the full court press and somehow made it happen. They added Mark Anderson and with the return of Kyle Williams, suddenly had a defensive front to be reckoned with.
Sure, the Bills still had issues, but they were on the right track. Suddenly people were talking about double digit wins and playoffs – and not just the normal fans who predict this annually. I was, for the first time in quite a while, getting excited about what could be. Was this going to be the rebirth of the Bills?
Then the preseason came and the new-look Bills underwhelmed. In limited play, neither the offense nor the newly retooled defense distinguished themselves. It was easy to dismiss the lack of results as just the preseason – teams don’t really show much beyond base vanilla packages on offense and defense – they also tend to protect their important and high priced weapons. Much as I tried to stay positive, I started to worry – I didn’t see any glimpses of greatness.
Sunday’s game against the Jets has not only reaffirmed my doubts about the 2012 Buffalo Bills, it’s seriously shaken my confidence in the team and their ability to field a product any better than they’ve been able to field over the past dozen years.
Sunday’s game was nothing short of a mess – a debacle – FUBAR as some in the military might say. Almost nothing went right from the get go.
Prior to the opening coin flip, a healthy T.J. Graham was listed as inactive – puzzling considering there were questions about Steve Johnson’s health for the game and the assumed game plan would force the Jets to play honest defense by taking deep shots down the field throughout the game. Why then did they bench a young speedster who cost third and seventh round picks? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this move tells me that Graham’s talents my not be as great as originally thought or he needs a lot more development to contribute to the team.
Of course the real problems didn’t start until the game began. Ryan Fitzpatrick had another one of those games – you know, where he looks like a career backup quarterback with serious accuracy and timing issues.
There’s no other way to say it – Fitzpatrick was awful on Sunday – really awful. Even his biggest fans/apologists won’t be able to deflect the criticism he deserves for his performance. He was consistently slow on his release and as a result his throws were often behind the receiver. His reads were sometimes poor, directly responsible for an Antonio Cromartie interception return for a touchdown – Fitzpatrick never saw him and put the ball right in his hands. On the day, Fitz turned the ball over 3 times – he finished with a passer rating of 66.5.
While it’s easy to give the goat of the day award to Fitzpatrick, he probably loses that award to the defensive unit as a whole and the defensive line in particular. The Bills were the recipient of a first quarter interception of Mark Sanchez, but Sanchez’s ill-advised shovel pass is about their only accomplishment on the day. The team surrendered 384 yards, allowed six touchdowns and forced only 2 punts, both in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over. The defense could not make any plays to end a drive and get off the field. Worst of all, the highly-touted defensive line got absolutely no pressure on Jets quarterbacks – zero sacks and only 2 knock downs.
To top it all off, Fred Jackson went down with a knee injury and his return will be determined after he has an MRI. Receiver David Nelson also suffered a knee injury – one that is possibly even more serious than Jackson’s. The Bills can ill afford major injuries on offense, especially so early in the season.
Sunday’s game was by no means one that the Bills were supposed to win. Many expected the Bills to win, others thought it would be a close game but even Rex Ryan probably didn’t dream it would be so lopsided. It is widely expected that the Bills and Jets will battle for second place in the AFC East and a wild card invitation to the post season, so Sunday’s game would go a long way to determining who would have the upper hand.
The game was terrible – one of the worst the Bills have played in recent years (and that’s saying something). While it’s not a total shock that the Bills lost, here’s what made it so bad:
- This game was a major test. Bills didn’t just fail to ace the test, they failed miserably. It’s the equivalent of taking your calculus final completely hung over after missing most of the lectures as well – not pretty
- The defensive front four, playing against an offensive line that included a right tackle making only his second NFL start, amassed these stats – 3 tackles, 1 assist, 0 sacks – that’s not domination, that’s not even average – that’s pathetic.
- Once again Ralph Wilson must be wondering why he bothers to shell out the big bucks to get impact players – it seems whenever he does loosen the purse strings he ends up paying big money for little or no results. You might also get a reputation for being cheap if you were continually burned when you spent money on free agents who didn’t produce.
- Fitzpatrick’s errors generally were not the result of being pressured or trying to make heroic throws – these were routine throws where he had time, he just did not execute. It’s been a very long time since Fitzpatrick has had a solid game – is he a starting caliber NFL quarterback?
- Losing is one thing, being dominated is another – the Bills were dominated – the only time they showed anything at all was in garbage time – it could have been even worse statistically.
- The Bills looked completely unprepared to play. If you can’t get ready to play after an entire offseason and doubtless a few solid weeks preparing for this specific game, how do you prepare for games when they are coming every 7 days or less?
- Injuries – the team may be able to bounce back after a terrible loss, but the injuries could impact the rest of the season. Grandma always said, “at least you have your health” – the Bills may not, especially if injuries curtail the seasons of Jackson and Nelson just as they started.
- This was the Jets, not the Patriots or Packers. Not to take anything away from the solid performance of the New Jersey crew, but the Bills are likely to see stiffer competition this year – if they gave up 48 points to Mark Sanchez, are they going to give up triple digits to Tom Brady?
- After being completely dominated, can the Bills bounce back? Things will get really ugly really fast if Sunday’s loss creates a hangover that leads to further losses – the team has to be able to shake this off and move forward – not easy to do.
- The Bills have lost some of their intimidation factor – do other teams now have more confidence in facing the Bills and their much-hyped defense?
- Not only were the offense and defense bad, even special teams got in on the act by allowing a punt return for a touchdown – the trifecta of fail.
- Penalties – the Bills looked terribly undisciplined by committing 6 penalties for 34 yards, most of them of the mental variety.
- For the 781st consecutive season, the Bills made some plays on defense but could never string enough of them together to force the opponent’s drive to end – the Jets could have had 3rd down and 26.2 miles to go and the Bills would have allowed the conversion – what is it with this team and their inability to stop drives? Will it ever get better?
- On Monday all of your stupid non-Bills fan friends are going to say something stupid to you about the game – remember, hitting someone is assault and can lead to the loss of your job and criminal charges – try to let it slide (again).
- OK – it’s one game – still 15 more to go. There is plenty of time to turn things around, show signs of growth and progress and maybe even make the playoffs. If nothing else, Sunday’s loss should illustrate to even the most die-hard Bills fans that success is far from guaranteed. Maybe it’s a good thing for fans to come down to earth a bit from high expectations – to hear some people talk, double digit wins and playoffs were forgone conclusions.
Sunday’s loss has me shaken. I had thought the Bills would win 8 or 9 games, maybe 10 if everything went well. Of course this was based on assumptions that the defensive line would be something for which opponents would need to game plan and that Fitzpatrick would turn in a solid if unspectacular season. Sunday’s loss resoundingly showed both of my assumptions could be well off base, and if that’s the case I fear that the 2012 model Buffalo Bills will look much like previous models, but with a higher price tag. I hope I’m wrong because reliving the recent past is something no Bills fan needs to do.
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