They say you can never truly change who you are, despite outward appearances. No matter what you do to try and become something else, you retain your true identity – the only question is how many people believe the new identity. The Buffalo Bills are a prime example of this concept – despite disguises I’m not buying that they are a different team from what I’ve seen in the past decade.
Sunday’s game at Carolina was downright nostalgic in how much it resembled years past. On a beautiful sunny afternoon I saw the Bills put forth a solid defensive effort that was wasted by a completely inept offense. While the defense was keeping the team in the game until the very end, the offense squandered all opportunities and never seemed poised to rise up and claim victory. As much as fans hoped for a stirring final drive that would end with a winning touchdown, you had to know that it wasn’t going to happen – it’s just not in the team’s DNA.
Throughout the current drought years, the Bills have been defined as a team that has trouble moving the ball and putting up points. Over this 18 year span the Bills have finished no better than 7th (2004 – Bledsoe, Moulds, Price) but have finished in the bottom half in 12 of those seasons. Outside of the 2004 season, the Bills defense has been ranked in the top half of the league in points allowed 7 times, and three times they have been in the top 10. Sadly, in those seasons they have finished no better than 12th in offensive points scored with most finishes in the bottom 10 spots in the league. In short, the Bills offense has been poor for a very long time while its defense has shown quality from time to time, but even when the defense is good the offense is bad.
It’s no secret that the Bills have been in search of a quarterback since Jim Kelly, and Sunday exemplifies the current state of the organization. I’m not here to bash Tyrod Taylor, but it should be obvious to all that he is not a franchise quarterback – I think by now there is almost unanimity of that point. What’s frustrating about Taylor is that he’s not terrible – he’s generally not the guy who loses the game for you. In the past two seasons with Tyrod under center the Bills have finished 12th and 10th in points scored – not fantastic, but definitely enough for the Bills to do something with their season. I think this is why there was so much initial buzz around Tyrod – people thought he could possibly get better and even if he just stayed fairly average the team might find success if it could field a solid defense.
Last season I truly felt the Bills might have been able to break out of the drought if they had simply been able to play incrementally better defense – come up with 3 more wins and you’re in line to make the playoffs. There were certainly more than 3 games on the schedule the Bills could have won – half of their games were decided by touchdown or less.
And so Sunday was like watching the Bills of previous seasons. Offensively the Bills couldn’t get anything going – they put up an embarrassing 39 yards of offense in the first half of the game and only held the ball for less than 7 minutes. Tyrod was 5 of 7 for 15 yards and LeSean McCoy had zero yards on three carries. The team had a single first down and decided to let their defensive teammates wither in the heat and humidity under the hot Carolina sun for much of the half.
Tyrod wasn’t very good on Sunday, but in truth, nobody was on the offensive side of the ball. When you’re the quarterback you get the blame and the glory, but when the offensive line doesn’t open running lanes and receivers don’t get separation from their defenders it makes for a long, stagnant afternoon. It shouldn’t be shocking that the Bills need more receiving talent – we all knew the departure of Sammy Watkins deprived the team of a legitimate #1 wideout. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t have receivers or a quarterback that are going to produce a vertical passing game. Without the ability to pass the ball an opposing defense is going to sit on the run all day, and that’s exactly what the Panthers did on Sunday.
Defensively the Bills had a bit of slow start in the first half, giving up two scoring drives that ate almost 21 minutes if clock. Despite garnering 3 sacks on Cam Newton, there were missed tackles and receivers wide open in spots for gains of more than 10 yards on multiple plays. Fortunately, the Panthers were unable to make the most out of their opportunities and only lead 6-0 at halftime – the Bills weren’t out of it.
The second half marked a tightening of the Bills defense – they held Carolina to 3-and-outs on their first two drives and negative yardage over the first three drives, gathering two more sacks. Buffalo then began its own 11 minute scoring drive and cut the Carolina lead to three with a field goal, only to give that field goal back on the next Carolina drive.
Despite taking a statistical beating, the Bills were still in it until the end when Tyrod threw a bad pass to an open Zay Jones down near the goal line with 14 seconds left in the game. The combination of an off the mark throw and a young receiver resulted in an incompletion and the Bills went down to defeat.
A week after playing a very weak Jets team, the Bills learned that not everyone else is the Jets. I expected the Bills to put up a fight against Carolina, but when you looked at both teams there’s a reason the oddsmakers favored the Panthers by more than a touchdown. The loss stings, but in May not having this game in the win column may provide its own reward to an organization that is rebuilding.
I wish I could say that I was shocked by the outcome of Sunday’s game, but I wasn’t. Sitting down and watching Tyrod go 3-11 lifetime in games within 1 possession at the start of the fourth quarter made it seem so familiar. Watching a Bills team completely fail to move the ball and force an exhausted defense try and stop an opponent really made me feel at home, as if I was watching the true team I know and not a team trying to look like something else. They say you can never really change who you are.
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