The nice thing about writing a column that appears on Tuesday is that it gives me some time to digest what happened in Sunday’s game – after I’ve seen it, thought about it and let it sit.
It’s been more than 24 hours since the latest epic and soul-crushing loss, and I really don’t know what to think about it. Like most fans, my first reaction was shear anger – how in the world could the Bills get that outplayed by a team that featured replacement talent in key positions? This wasn’t exactly the 1986 Chicago Bears who absolutely destroyed our beloved Bills, this was the 3-9 Tampa Bay Bucs.
If you watched that entire game you probably wanted to punch something. Or you just sat back and laughed. Or you turned the game off. Regardless, you probably weren’t singing the same tune you were after watching the Carolina game in week 2 or the win against the Jets less than a month ago.
So what’s changed? How could we be so hopeful and optimistic and dreaming about the playoffs such a short time ago, and find ourselves questioning so much today? Did we not have a promising quarterback and a good core of young talent earlier in the season? How did we get to a place where some fans are talking about blowing up the whole thing and starting over (I’m not sure how many rebuilds that would make – I lost count years ago)?
I’m a cynic when it comes to the Bills – I’ve never tried to hide that (although many have accused me of not being a true fan because I don’t partake in blind optimism). I just want to see the Bills win – now. It scares me to death that the reason for the negative metamorphosis may be the Bills themselves.
Could it be that organizationally the Bills we saw on Sunday are the same Bills we’ve seen over the past 15 years? Sure, the names and faces have been recycled many times over, but are we simply watching the latest iteration? Is E.J. Manuel J.P. Losman? Drew Bledsoe? Is Doug Marrone Dick Jauron? Gregg Williams? Is Stevie Johnson Peerless Price? Lee Evans? Is the offensive line any good, or continually plagued by at least one weak link? Do the Bills have anyone who can play cornerback? Does the receiving corps have anyone who can be an impactful NFL receiver?
I want to believe that the Bills are a new team, a team on the right track and leaving the ghosts behind. Of course Manuel is going to have a bad game – he’s a rookie! Of course he struggles on the road – he needs to learn how to win. Of course he can’t be expected to put the team on his back and get come from behind wins every time.
I want to believe Doug Marrone has the ability to lead and get the most of his players – to make sure they always play hard and can hang with almost anyone. Marrone is also a rookie – of course he’s going to struggle being innovative in the NFL and keeping his players always at the top of their game. Of course he’s going to be out-coached by guys who have been to and even won the Super Bowl.
The Bills have talent in many places – the defensive line can be a force, Kiko Alonso in the centerpiece of the linebacking corps, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin could be key speed receivers. I want to believe that these players will be key pieces of a new and successful Bills team.
But on Sunday the Bills sure did look like the same ‘ole Bills we see every year, didn’t they? Last week it was the impossible loss – coming up with multiple ways to make sure they escaped Toronto without a win. This weekend it was the old run for the bus classic – nobody played well. Across the board the team was flat, uninterested, and emotionless. When the Bills have nothing to play for and find themselves on the road, chances are you’re going to see a performance like we saw in Tampa. Again, I ask – WHY?
How do the Bills do this year after year? Isn’t this a new team? Is it that our optimism is misplaced? I’d hate to think that a hardened “show me” cynic such as myself could be the victim of such false optimism. What happens if 5 years from now Manuel holds the same place in our collective memories as Losman? What if Marrone becomes yet another ex-Bills head coach serving as a coordinator in the NFL? What if C.J. Spiller and Alonso go on to have stellar careers in other uniforms?
And so I sit, still trying to figure out if Sunday’s debacle is something I should shake off as growing pains from a new team, or whether it is just the latest stale rerun from an organization that changes faces but continually serves up the same product. I want to be optimistic, but how long does that take? If I write this same article next season is it time to give up and advocate for more “rebuilding”? At this point I suppose I’ll start daydreaming about the draft because I don’t even want to think about what will happen when the Bills play in Jacksonville.