Week 1- Christmas!
Not Always as Good as You Think
by Tony Bogyo
September 13, 2016

To football fans, the return of the regular season is an event circled on the calendar well in advance. Heck, if you’re a Bills fan you probably circled the day in February – week one of the season is usually when we are at our most hopeful – the team starts with a blank slate at a perfect 0-0 record.

I raced around Sunday morning, completely amped for a new season. Sure the Bills had challenges with injured/suspended players and I was expecting the usual 6 to 9 win season, but I felt like a kid at Christmas – come on Santa, bring me something good – a good quarterback, a top 10 defense, a win over New England, maybe even a trip to the playoffs.

Storms rolled through my area a couple hours before kickoff – on my quest to buy chicken wings to cook up the first store I visited was without power and was not selling meat. I went to a second store, bought some wings but my path home was blocked by a gigantic tree that had fallen across the road. After the detour it hit me – my house, with my TV and Internet connection could well be without power – on Christmas!

I finally reached home and as I raced through the front door I found the lights and TV on – my home, and my blood pressure, had been spared. Start the wings cooking, grab a beverage and to the couch I went – oh boy! Christmas gifts for me! Hurry - open it! It’s….it’s…it’s….a pair of socks. All that waiting, all that anticipation and Bills fans got socks. If you were as excited as I was for the start of the season and saw the performance I saw, you know what it is like to open socks on Christmas.

Lackluster. Conservative. Unimaginative. Poorly executed. Call it what you will, Sunday’s game was disappointing. Gone were the downfield passes, big plays and excitement that brought you out of your seat. The Bills may have missed the playoffs last year, but for the most part they were pretty fun to watch – not so on Sunday.

Jerry Hughes and Zach Brown missed the first bus to the stadium and elected to take an Uber instead – funny, but also foreshadowing. If you followed the preseason, the storyline this year was supposed to be how much could the Bills defense contribute to a capable if unspectacular offense to translate into enough wins to make the playoffs. The early signs were encouraging – the Bills held Baltimore to 28 net yards and zero points on the first two drives by forcing a punt and gathering a fumble.

Unfortunately, the Bills were creating a snorefest offensively by going 3-and-out on their first two possessions, racking up negative yards in the process. Short passes that were stopped immediately, runs that went nowhere. If you like ball movement and exciting plays you were sorely disappointed.

The final stat line was pretty grim. Tyrod Taylor was 15 of 22 for 111 yards with five rushes for 11 yards. The Bills amassed 65 yards rushing and gained 11 first downs. This is what the stat line should be a halftime, not when the game ends.

This was one of those games that was there for the taking, but the Bills never seemed to want to take it. The defense held Baltimore to a touchdown and two field goals – that’s a winnable game if your offense can do anything. The offense had so many opportunities, but just looked flat and out of sync. There was no sense of urgency, no sense that the game could be won.

Defensively it was a solid if unspectacular effort. Ron Darby had a pick six hit him in the hands and dropped it. Throughout the game I can’t tell you how many times I saw a Bill wrap a Raven up and fail to tackle him or just flat out miss a tackle when being in good position– missed tackles played a major role late in the game as the defense seemed to wear down and allowed Baltimore to eat nearly 10½ minutes in their final two drives. It hardly seems to matter – even if the defense had made more timely stops it is doubtful the offense would have done much with further opportunities.

Missed busses, missed tackles, missed interceptions, missed opportunities – that was the storyline of the game.

I know this is only the first game of the season, but this is exactly the type of game the Bills can’t afford to lose if they want to end their playoff drought. To get to 10 wins this season you need to win the games you should win and the games you could win – there are enough on the schedule that aren’t realistic to win short of a major upset, and you can’t count on those. This game hurts even more because this is an AFC team so even if you manage to get to double-digit wins there’s a chance the tiebreakers don’t fall your way.

Unfortunately the schedule does not get any easier for the Bills. On a short week the Bills will play the Jets, then face Arizona and New England. Think what you will about the Jets, I think they have more talent than Baltimore and their defense is certainly tougher. Cordy Glenn is injured, Aaron Williams is still a question mark, Sammy Watkins has a sore foot and Marcell Dareus is suspended – that’s a lot of talent that is either unavailable or not at full strength.

Winning against Arizona would be an epic upset – that game is almost certainly a loss (wait to see the Vegas odds before blasting me for being negative – the bookmakers will be on my side). Beating a Brady-less Patriots team in New England is also a very tall order – Jimmy Garappolo is no Tom Brady, but he looked pretty good beating a very good Arizona team – I don’t see how Buffalo is going to show better than the Cardinals against him.

Before you know it the Bills could be 0-4 and in the conversion for a top draft pick in May. Fans will alternately be suicidal or vowing to give up the team and it’ll be hard to blame them. The Bills are nothing if not magnets for terrible luck, something that continues to amaze even the most hardened veteran Bills fan.

So Christmas has come and gone – for Bills fans it’s time to settle in for a long, cold, winter with nary a holiday in sight. At least you have some socks – hopefully they’re the nice, warm kind.