I woke up angry this morning – really angry. While I was able to go to bed and get some sleep after the total debacle that was Monday Night Football, I woke up feeling I needed to punch someone in the face, and I’m not a very violent person. I’m sure I’m not alone – many Bills fans probably awoke this morning to a situation with no outlet for their anger.
I had some coffee, got ready for work and left the house for my morning commute – my wife and kids have the day off for Election Day, I still had to work. Only one thing to play in the car as I hit the highway – a mix of Slayer and Hatebreed – now I really, really want to hit something. Oddly enough, halfway through my drive I looked up to see a pickup truck with a Bills sticker on the back window – not something you see every day on route 495 outside of Boston. He sees my Bills decal on my back window and when we pass each other we just look over and shake our heads – another horrible Bills loss.
I’ve been through Bills losses of every variety in my 30 years of watching football seriously as an adult. All of the losses hurt, but some stick in your craw more than others, and this was one of those games. The blowout losses hurt, as do the close heartbreakers, but after so many I usually just take the “welp” attitude (I have a shirt with a buffalo on it, underneath the buffalo it says ‘Buffalo Sports’ and a giant voice balloon coming from the buffalo says ‘WELP’ – I’m amazed at how few people actually understand the shirt, but if you’re a Bills fan I know you do).
Why am I so angry over this particular Bills loss? A number of reasons – terrible defensive play and insanely bad officiating kept the Bills from winning a winnable game, and Tyrod Taylor is still Tyrod Taylor – stay with me and I’ll explain.
I’ll admit, going to Seattle on a nationally televised Monday Night Football game did not have me thinking the Bills would win, but the early part of the game gave me great hope. The Bills held Seattle to a 3-and-out series, then blocked a punt and scored on their first offensive play – hard to start a game better than that.
Of course the Seahawks came right back on the Bills and it was shaping up to be one of those games where the defense was going to get manhandled – just like the Jets game in week two. The first half was wild, but the Bills put together a number of long, sustained drives that ended in touchdowns – the type of thing we’ve wanted to see all year. No really big plays, but an ability to keep the chains moving. Some really nice catches on the sidelines past the markers and some good runs to convert third downs.
The best way to ruin a nice offensive effort is to get destroyed on defense. While the Bills did a solid job of shutting down the Seattle run game, they could do absolutely nothing against the passing game. Seattle has talent in the passing game, but the Bills secondary played like dog food. Every single cornerback the Bills had gave up at least one big play. Guys were consistently being beaten deep or having to grab the receiver for a pass interference call – it was comically bad.
For a unit that showed promise last year, the secondary has seriously regressed. Stephon Gilmore continues to put together quite a season lowlight reel – Jimmy Graham jumping over him will certainly be featured. Gilmore, I believe, still thinks he’s a top corner in the league – he reminds me of the guy who comes into the store on Pawn Stars with a baseball card and says he wants $20,000 for it, the expert comes down and says it’s worth $1500 and Rick offers him $1000 – and he goes away angry yet confident he’ll find someone to give him $20,000. Ronald Darby was beaten badly enough to be pulled from the game (although illness was cited), and Nickell Robey-Coleman was also giving up big plays. The Rex Ryan defensive scheme depends heavily on cornerbacks being able to play tight man coverage, and that’s just not happening – the Bills are getting destroyed in the passing game.
OK, so even with the Bills leading heavily in the stats – total yards, time of possession, first downs, third down conversions – they weren’t able to get a good lead, but they also weren’t being blown out. Enter the clown posse known as the officiating crew and let’s see how badly they can muck things up.
I’m usually not one to complain too much about bad officiating – normally I believe each team gets its share of good and bad calls and mistakes usually aren’t severe enough to really impact a game. Except on Monday night. As the clock wound down on the first half, the Bills lined up for a 53 yard field goal try. Richard Sherman jumped offside (way, way offside) and ran unabated to the kicker. Mistake #1 – the refs did not blow the play dead even as Sherman ran unabated. Sherman hit Dan Carpenter’s plant foot and a flag was thrown, but only for offsides.
Referee Walt Anderson explains the crew didn’t feel the hit was bad enough to warrant an unnecessary roughness call, but NFL officiating head Dean Blandino tweets that he disagrees (Carpenter went down in pain, although I thought there was some degree of flopping involved). In any event – if this had not been a field goal try but a regular play and a rusher went unabated to the quarterback and hit him, isn’t that almost always a personal foul call, regardless of how hard the quarterback got hit? Is there a different standard for kickers? The Bills should have been the beneficiaries of a personal foul and had a 38 yard field goal try – they didn’t.
Because Carpenter is being attended to by medical staff and the Bills have no remaining timeouts, the officials rule that Carpenter must leave for a play before he can return – seriously? You let the guy get hit by swallowing the whistle, you see him get hurt and don’t call roughing, and now you’re going to further hurt the Bills by saying the kicker has to leave the field? Carpenter leaves, the Bills snap and spike the ball and players start running off the field.
Walt Anderson has now lost complete control of the game, and has to use his microphone to tell players the half is not over. Buffalo lines up for the 49 yard kick attempt, but now the play clock has wound down because the refs are trying to clean up the confusion they have caused. The official does not move from over the ball until there are less than 5 seconds left, and by the time Buffalo is allowed to snap the ball they are flagged for delay of game – are you kidding me? Back the ball up five yards and Carpenter misses from 54 yards (naturally). I’m not quite sure how the Bills could get screwed three times on the same play, but they did and it cost them points – points that were critical.
Fast forward to the end of the game and Buffalo is driving with less than three minutes to go. Instead of trying to win on a touchdown or tie by a field goal, the Bills now have to go for the touchdown because they are down by six points, not three. On the final play of the game Taylor rolls out of the pocket and tries to throw into the end zone, when the refs strike again. The pass is incomplete, Seattle wins, despite the fact that two Bills receivers were absolutely mugged on the play.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching football seriously for over 30 years, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the rules. Being a Bills fan, I am sometimes treated to the old “you didn’t know about this rule because it is never called unless it screws the Bills, but it’s on the books and we’re calling it – hey, aren’t you glad you learned something today?” This is very similar to the old “tuck rule” that stated “any fumble by a quarterback named Tom Brady is not actually a fumble if he was pump faking the ball” – a rule nobody knew existed until it was called to overturn an obvious fumble.
According to the Internet (so it must be true), if a quarterback rolls out of the pocket (which Taylor did), defenders are no longer prevented from making contact with receivers beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage – there is no longer an illegal contact zone afforded to the receiver. Evidently, that allows Richard Sherman to de-cleat Walter Powell who was running down the goal line and didn't even look at Sherman. It also must allow blatant holding against the receiver at the top of the play (LeSean McCoy?) as he was held and dragged out of bounds. Good to know. Now I’m even more upset at the Bills defensive backs – those guys must really suck because they are not tackling/leveling/murdering their receivers because the quarterback left the pocket – boy, we really need a better secondary. So instead of getting defensive holding or pass interference or unnecessary roughness for hitting a defenseless receiver and getting the ball at the one yard line, the Bills lose – good one.
In a league that is always harping on player safety, they certainly seem not to care if guys are getting hit hard, just so long as that player is not named Brady, Rodgers or Brees (if it’s Cam Newton, please, tee off). The inconsistencies in the NFL just drive you insane, don’t they?
OK, so the officials screwed Buffalo hard, but the Bills were in it until the end. Taylor had arguably his best game as a Bill – 289 yards with one touchdown throwing, another by rushing and one interception. He moved the ball and lead multiple, time-consuming drives. He used his legs and added 43 yards on the ground. The only thing he didn’t do was drive the team to the winning score, and that’s where I have a problem. Just about every week I’ve been noting that Taylor was not the reason the Bills lost, nor was he the reason the Bills won. It’ nice to have that, but I need more from a guy the Bills are considering making their franchise quarterback. To be a franchise quarterback you need to be able to take a team and drive them to a victory. Tyrod has had opportunities to win games, but hasn’t – that’s something the team needs. To be a franchise quarterback Taylor need to start taking some opportunities to lead the Bills to game-winning drives – with his arm, with his feet, with his leadership.
It’s hard to knock Tyrod for his play – he really has been quite good, but I don’t’ know if he’s good enough for the enormous contract awaiting him. Statistically he’s no better than a whole slew of other Bills quarterbacks, but those guys all lost games for the Bills and we have plenty of bad memories. I could easily see Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the Bills to victory in Monday’s game, then coming back to throw 4 interceptions and give away the next game against the Bengals – is it better to have a quarterback who will win some for you and lose some for you, or one that does neither? Does it matter?
But enough about the Seattle game – it’s not going to change. The Bills now have a losing record as they enter the bye week, and their playoff hopes are all but gone. This shouldn’t be anything shocking to Bills fans – this is where we normally are in our march to 7-9 and the 12th pick in the draft. We’ll be without Eric Wood who broke his leg late in the game, but hey – what’s one more top player not on the field for the Bills? Maybe next year we’ll avoid the injuries and bong hits that prevent the Bills from ever having all of their talent appear in the same game – wouldn’t that be something?
So maybe I’m still angry – angry at a bad loss, angry about the direction of the Bills, angry that nothing ever seems to change. Luckily I hear that as a way to calm stressed out voters, the San Francisco Zoo has a live feed of its playful red pandas streaming on its website – I should check that out, because if I find myself wanting to punch a panda I may need to give-up football for a bit.
Comments on this article