“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go…..”
Thanksgiving has passed and we are in full-on Christmas season. If you’re a Bills fan you’ll recognize the season not only by Christmas carols in the elevator and the frenzy at the shopping malls, but by meaningless football games and blacked out contests in Orchard Park.
I should be happier about Sunday’s win over Jacksonville, but I’m not. Not since a week 2 drubbing of Kansas City have the Bills played with dominance we thought would be more commonplace this season, especially against weaker opponents. What a difference 11 weeks makes.
In September the Bills played the game we all knew they were capable of, dominating the game against the weak after being throttled by the Jets on opening day. On that day the Bills had a punishing ground game, racking up over 200 yards on the ground. C.J. Spiller was electric – 15 carries for 123 yards and a pair of endzone visits. Ryan Fitzpatrick was efficient, completing 10 of 19 passes for 178 yards and two scores. Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler each scored. The Bills defense had 5 sacks and scooped up three turnovers on the way to putting up 35 points. The Chiefs were never really in the game – 14 of their points came in the 4th quarter after the outcome was all but final.
On Sunday the Bills ran for over 200 yards. The scored 2 touchdowns on the ground and 2 through the air. Spiller was electric and found the endzone. Fitzpatrick threw for 112 yards, completing touchdowns to Johnson and Chandler. The defense collected 2 turnovers and had 4 sacks. We’d seen this game before, right?
Instead of 70 degrees and sunshine, Sunday in Orchard Park was 50 degrees with a steady rain. Instead of 70,000 fans, the game was played in frost of 53,000 – most of whom must have been wearing invisibility ponchos or camouflage gear that made them look like empty seats – on TV it looked as empty and dismal as I imagined it would.
Hope makes a difference – in fact, it makes all the difference. In week 2 we believed the 2012 Buffalo Bills were playoff bound, in week 13 we know a playoff berth is about as likely as winning last week’s huge Powerball jackpot – thanks for playing, try again.
With games being inconsequential, I’ve hit my normal Christmas mode – watch the game at some point on Sunday, but don’t schedule around it – let the DVR do its job while I spend more time with the family. I know some readers will send me e-mails screaming that the games still have relevance and should be taken seriously – I’ve got more than a decade of December Sundays telling me my time is better spent preparing for the holidays. And so instead of situating myself in front of the TV precisely at 1pm, ready to yell and scream and suffer a rollercoaster of blood pressures, I was out in a field with my wife and children cutting down a Christmas tree – a pretty decent way to spend Sunday afternoon. Next week I may try getting some shopping done. I suspect my Sunday routine may not be that different from that of other Bills fans – if they live in the Buffalo Area they don’t have a choice – Ralph Wilson Stadium will not see another locally televised game this season.
As I said, I should be happier about watching the Bills win and playing the way I expected them to play, but it actually makes me more depressed. Had the Bills played more like they played on Sunday against opponents like Tennessee, Indianapolis or even New England they might be playing meaningful can’t-miss games with high stakes consequences. I should be happy to see a game plan that properly utilized a high-powered running game to grind it out on the ground and asking Fitzpatrick to manage rather than win the game. I should be happy that the defense looked good, lead by Mario Williams making highlight reel plays. I should be happy that for most of the game the Bills were in the driver’s seat and I really had confidence that they were going to win. I should be happy that instead of maddeningly stupid play calls, Chan Gailey actually let the Bills play – even Rian Lindell who made a 50 yard field goal – outdoors, in the rain.
Alas, there was also plenty to be upset about. Chief amongst the negatives were the loss of several key starters. Eric Wood went out with what is now known to be an MCL tear, a tremendous loss to the offensive line. While it is possible Wood could be back in a few weeks would the Bills risk his health just to get him into the lineup of some meaningless games? Chis Hairston was also carted to the locker room, meaning next week’s offensive line could see some very unseasoned faces. Stevie Johnson’s hamstring injury may allow him to play next week, but these types of injuries are notorious for lingering. Leodis McKelvin may also be able to return after suffering tightness in his back.
While the Bills made progress in some areas, in other areas they were downright scary. Defensively the front 4 have underperformed as a unit, the linebackers have been terrible, and the secondary susceptible. On Sunday Buffalo’s young secondary was downright scary, being flagged for numerous pas interference and contact penalties. Some of these penalties seems ticky tac, but that tends to happen anytime the defender makes any contact with a receiver without turning his head to even see where the ball is. The Buffalo secondary was continually unable to turn to look at the ball and had Chad Henne been a better quarterback the game could have been much different.
The outcome of the games matters little, so it’s time to start enjoying the holiday season a little more – spend time with family, tackle the list of things you have too little time to do – enjoy life outside of football. The Bills will still be the Bills – they’ll still be playing on Sunday afternoons in December, making you wish it was already April.