Lost in all the hoopla and hysteria surrounding the terrible loss the Bills suffered on Sunday is the familiarity it brings to fans like me. Like that old Bills sweatshirt or the original pair of Zubaz, it may not look pretty but it’s familiar and comfortable.
Last week I was upbeat about the play of the Bills – a lot of really good stuff to get you thinking about the future and what could develop. It was hardly the level of optimism that would convince one that the Bills would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy early next year, but it was optimism.
I have to admit – optimism felt weird for me – it just didn’t seem right. I want good things for the Bills and I want to be a happy fan, but so much futility has gotten in the way – I really have to see it before I start believing it.
Watching the Bills lose winnable games has become my rock; it’s a miserable rock, but it’s familiar and seems like an old friend after so many years. When the Bills leave the field without a win at least it’s familiar.
The Bills we saw on Sunday looked familiar – very familiar; Inability to move the ball offensively, inability to get off the field defensively. Watching opposing newcomers and/or rookies have a breakout game at their position. Watching player after player go down with injuries – now that’s Bills football.
I really don’t know why I thought the Bills stood a good shot at beating the Jets on Sunday. Perhaps it was the hype about rookie quarterbacks or the hazy euphoria of the comeback against Carolina, but I should have known better. This was an AFC East divisional game, on the road. Lest anyone forget, the Bills haven’t won a divisional game on the road since week 15 of the 2010 season when they beat Miami by a field goal. You have to go back a year further, to week 6 of the 2009 season, to find the last Bills victory in the Meadowlands (a 16-13 overtime win). Since 2000, the Bills are 10-32 (.238) against division rivals on the road.
I guess I honestly thought that the Bills were a better team than the NY Jets – more talent in a number of places; more talent on the defensive line, more talent in the backfield and in the receiving corps, more talent at the quarterback position. If you saw Sunday’s game you wouldn’t believe any of that.
From the get go the game fell into a familiar pattern. The Jets took the opening drive 80 yards down the field in 12 plays and punched it in for a score. The Bills allowed the Jets to convert a 3rd and 7 that went for 45 yards, a 3rd and 17 that gained 18 yards, and a final 3rd and 3 that setup the touchdown 2 plays later.
Third down conversions have killed the Bills for years, and Sunday was no different. The Jets only converted 5 of 14 3rd down opportunities, but they made the most of them – when they really needed to keep a drive going they did, regardless of distance.
Defensively the Bills weren’t able to get any real pressure on Geno Smith, the Jets rookie quarterback. When Smith did get some pressure he made some solid throws against a depleted Bills secondary – he looked anything but a rookie.
Ah yes, the Bills secondary – where do I even start? Not a team strength when everyone is healthy, the Bills have been without Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks. On the opening drive Leodis McKelvin came up hobbling due to a hamstring injury and was gone for the remainder of the game. Justin Rogers became the #1 cornerback and things got very ugly very quickly. The Jets threw 10 deep passes in the game – 8 of them went to the right side and Rogers – and connected on 6 of them for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rogers was continually burned on the deep ball – so much that I actually wished Chris Watson was once again playing for the Bills. All NFL players have bad games, but this was epic – more than a day after the loss a WGR polls shows more than 40% of fans believe Rogers’ play was the worst thing about the game.
When the pass rush is held in check and the secondary is hurt, you can understand why the Bills weren’t going to come home with a victory. When the defense wore down later in the game the Jets went to the ground game and just stomped the Bills. Add the name Bilal Powell to your list of obscure players who have had career days against Buffalo (176 total yards, 149 rushing) – better write it down – you may never hear his name again.
Offensively the Bills just never got in sync – something was just off all afternoon. C.J. Spiller, a back who has yet to have a breakout game this year, put up a measly 9 yards rushing on 10 attempts – he also caught a 1 yard pass, putting him a cool 166 total yards shy of Bilal Powell’s day. Spiller’s poor showing on the ground came primarily from a lack of run blocking by the offensive line, but they weren’t helped by Spiller’s dancing “happy feet”, either – he is having a very difficult time breaking old habits this year. Take away Fred Jackson’s fluky 59 yard run bouncing off the pile and the Bills rushed for only 61 yards on the day – hardly the sign of a strong point on the team.
Let us not forget EJ Manuel, a man I praised just a week ago. I know Manuel is a rookie and he’s going to have rough days – Sunday was one of them. I have to hope we’ll see some more good from him because if we see more games like this, even on a fairly sporadic basis, he would fall well short of expectations – can you imagine the search for the Bills’ future quarterback continuing on?
On Sunday Manuel showed the long ball accuracy of J.P. Losman, the pocket presence of Rob Johnson, the willingness to quickly check down to receivers that Trent Edwards had, and the accuracy of Ryan Fitzpatrick on the days he just didn’t have it. Manuel threw the ball deep only 9 times and only connected on 2 passes for 44 yards. He attempted 32 short passes for 199 yards, a 6.2 yard per attempt.
The offensive line play was terrible. I never thought I would miss Kraig Urbik, but I do. Colin Brown at left guard has garnered the ire of fans, and much of this is deserved – he’s clearly the weakest link on a mediocre unit. Receivers are young and inexperienced, but really did a terrible job getting separation from defensive backs on Sunday – often times Manuel had nowhere to go with his throw (although that’s no excuse for holding onto the ball too long).
Play calling was also suspect. I’m no offensive coordinator, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why, when the rush was getting to Manuel and you needed to get Spiller in space, you didn’t work in some screen plays. Instead we saw the same predictable read option that always goes to the running back, some runs up the gut that went nowhere, and some uninspired pass routes – add it all together with your poor line play and a Rookie QB, in his first ever road game, and you have a recipe for disaster.
So the Bills have a long road ahead of them – it’s not going to get better immediately. In year 13 of the rebuild, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. I’d like to see some development on the part of the new Bills – but I’m afraid I’m going to see more of what I saw on Sunday – the same stuff I’ve been seeing for years.