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:
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.