Note to self – never, EVER start to feel optimistic towards the Buffalo Bills until they have reached six wins. For the 5th time in the incredible playoff drought the Bills have hit 5 wins in first half of the season and if history is any indicator, it won’t matter at all this season. In previous years the Bills have gone on to win six, seven, eight and nine games, and each time the Bills have watched playoff football from their couches. The magnet that pulls the Bills toward a middling finish has the team firmly in its grip and is pulling it into mediocrity.
The Bills were supposed to be bad this year, but they were bad at being bad – they started off hot by winning five of their first seven games. That was enough for just about everyone to fall victim to the patented Buffalo Bills fool’s gold of playoff excitement. Right now I feel a mix of rage and embarrassment for believing in the 2017 Buffalo Bills.
At 5-2 we all knew the Bills were going to lose more games before the season was over, but the last two losses have been ridiculous drubbings. Few but the most diehard Jets fans predicted the absolute dismantling the Bills suffered on national television, and many thought that might serve as some sort of wakeup call for the team. It was a short week leading up to the Jets contest and really nobody played well in that game, leading many to think that the team was beat up and worn out both physically and mentally – why else would they look that bad? Regardless, the Jets game was just ugly and marked the low point of the season.
Never underestimate Buffalo’s ability to hit new lows. If you thought the jets game was ugly you didn’t see anything until you saw Sunday’s game against New Orleans. The Saints are a hot team and a far more talented team than the Jets so a loss by the Bills was not out of the question, but the home team showed absolutely nothing positive in the loss.
The magnet of mediocrity is strong with the Buffalo Bills. To put it bluntly, the Bills are bad at being good, and also bad at being bad. Over the last 17 seasons the Bills have topped out at 9 wins (twice), but also finished with less than 5 wins only twice. No matter what they do, the Bills seem destined to be at or below .500. Whether the team cleans house in the offseason or stands pat, the end up in mediocrity. Whether they spend in free agency and mange to bring in talent or jettison talented players to pick up draft picks, the Bills draft between 10th and 20th. The trajectory of the Bills’ season after Sunday’s loss looks to be much the same – middle of the pack.
The Bills have extra picks in the 2018 draft, but traded one away to Carolina for Kelvin Benjamin. Obviously the Bills organization got sucked into the same optimism the rest of us did – maybe if they just had that big-bodied receiver they could get over the hump. I’m not saying the trade was a bad move, but after the last two games I’m not sure how excited Benjamin is to be a Buffalo Bill – he’s probably surprised to realize Hell was so cold (yes, it will get much colder in Orchard Park).
Up until the last two games the Bills have looked like a decent team, especially defensively. With a fantastic turnover ratio, the team was staring to get some national attention. Some national reporters gave support to Sean McDermott for Coach of the Year in their midseason assessments. The Bills seemed to be winning even with a lack of talented big name players and depth, but the awful losses over the last two weeks have exposed a team that was likely the product of smoke and mirrors.
The Bills have been so bad recently that some of it has to go on the coach. Against the Jets the team looked completely unprepared, but it was a short week and the team was playing on the road so conditions were less than ideal. Fast forward to Sunday and the team still looked completely unprepared even with 10 days to prepare and home field advantage. Worse yet, the team looked completely undisciplined with penalty flags flying everywhere and sloppy play. Play calls, especially on third downs have been extremely suspect – why do the Bills insist on throwing to a man 5 yards short of the sticks on third down? On top of it all the coach continues to make some head scratching personnel decisions – not sure why we see so much of Mike Tolbert and why Vlad Ducasse has a starting guard job.
Coaching aside, the Bills have shown absolutely nothing positive on either side of the ball over the past two weeks. Defensively, the team has just been awful – incapable of stopping the run or the pass. The Saints literally ran up one side of the Bills defense and down the other to the tune of 298 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. It was absolutely sickening to see the Saints impose their will on the Bills run defense. Even when the whole world knew they were going to run the ball, Drew Brees would hand the ball off and the runner would go for 10 yards or more – it looked like pro team playing a high school unit. Opposing offensive lines have been manhandling the Bills defensive front and when running backs get into open space poor tackling gives up ridiculous yards. The pass rush has been completely nonexistent – 1 sack in the last two games. The Bills have been savaged in the passing game with opposing receivers finding gaping holes in coverage where they can not only catch a ball cleanly but turn it up field for additional yards. As they have so many times in years past, the defense also can’t seem to find a way to get off the field – on Sunday the Saints punter Thomas Morstead could have been inactive as New Orleans didn’t have to punt at all. Honestly, the Bills defense has been a train wreck.
Not to be outdone, the Bills offense has also been miserable. For two weeks the offensive line has been completely dominated and pushed all over the field – they’ve been physically beaten in almost every way. Over that period they have given up 9 sacks of an extremely elusive quarterback (I shudder to think how large the number would be with a different quarterback in the game), and allowed the Bills to rush for a total of 132 yards. The offensive line has seriously regressed from earlier in the season.
Poor Benjamin – since his arrival he’s been part of a team that looks like one of the worst in football. As the clear #1 wide receiver he caught exactly one pass from Tyrod Taylor and had 2 others targets come his way that were off the mark. Once the game was completely out of hand he caught a few more balls from Nathan Peterman who saw a very conservative prevent type defense that allowed short passes. If Benjamin though he might be joining a team that was going somewhere he certainly got a rude awakening. Benjamin looks like he’s gone from the replaceable man in Carolina to the invisible man in Buffalo – don’t even get me started on what this means for attracting free agents down the road.
I’m not sure what the solution is to all of this – there’s no clear answer. I thought this team had serious talent deficiencies and that they would have a poor record but a good draft position. Then I thought that they had the talent to take the next step and they even acquired a receiver to help them get there and then flopped terrifically. The Bills are headed towards the ending none of us wanted – the same middle of the road, middle of the draft with which they always end. Almost all roads lead to this ending – with seven games remaining the Bills will almost certainly win at least one but no more than four, putting them between six and nine wins on the season like every other year. As Red Redding would say, “Get busy living or get busy dying” – the Bills need to do something to avoid the giant magnet of mediocrity that pulls them so hard.