“Obviously, there’s something I’m not doing correctly with this football team in the second half.”
The above words may have been spoken by Buffalo coach Chan Gailey, but they apply across the board for the Bills right now as they come off their 45-3 beating by the 49ers.
When Buffalo went shopping for defense after such a poor showing in 2011, what they came up with was looked at early as potentially being one of the best in the NFL.
The acquisition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson was supposed to make the front four tops in getting at the quarterback, rookie Stephon Gilmore was supposed to lock down the passing game, and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt was going to fix Buffalo’s pass rushing woes from a year ago with solid schemes and athletic, talented players.
Instead, the whole mess just got worse.
At least in 2011, there was a string of injuries that could be used as excuses for their poor performance, but with a largely healthy and revamped defense in 2011, the excuses have run out by Week 5.
Not since the 1950 New York Yanks of the NFL has a team allowed 550+ yards in back-to-back games, but the new-look Buffalo defense did.
In addition to sharing that record, Buffalo’s defense managed to set some marks that are now all theirs, including most yards ever given up in consecutive games (1,201) and only team to allow a 300-yard passer (Alex Smith) in the same game a team gets 300 yards rushing.
This was why Ralph Wilson finally started doling out his cash? For this?
The Bills have been sinking into the mire of their past with increasing frequency, setting new marks for ineptitude in 2012, while at the same time driving their fanbase further and further into the ground. What started as a season overflowing with AFC East hopes and playoff dreams has now become the most disappointing display of over-hype in years.
What’s worse is that Buffalo fans, normally a skeptical bunch unwilling to raise their expectations above the basement, bought the hype and ran with it to the playoffs before the season even began.
Now, they’re facing the harsh light of yet another Bills’ season like the stinkers of the last decade or so (one winning team since 1999), embarrassed that they got so caught up in an excitement that is quickly becoming nothing more than another year in Buffalo (and a pretty wretched one at that).
Sure, in 1992, the Bills’s much vaunted Super Bowl defense gave up a then ridiculous 598 yards to the 49ers, but they also won that shootout with Steve Young and company 34-31, gaining 488 themselves and capitalizing on San Francisco mistakes (2 fumbles recovered and an INT, as well as six penalties for 61 yards).
Buffalo version 2012 didn’t even have the guns to try to fire back Sunday, looking just as unprepared to face the 49ers as they were against New England last week, or the lowly Jets week one (Buffalo is the only team to this point of the year that hasn’t looked dominant against New York).
Combining their three losses in 2012, Buffalo has given up 145 points and have 59 of their own to show for it. Including Buffalo’s two wins against the Chiefs and Browns still yields them a paltry 118 points, while opposing teams have scored 176 against them.
The Bills’ rushing attack, briefly first in the NFL behind C.J. Spiller, has quickly dropped to fifth and looks to keep falling, as Buffalo has failed to rush for 100 yards as a team the last two games. What’s worse, the Bills’ supposedly improved run defense has given up 859 yards rushing to opposing teams this season, second to last in the entire NFL.
The passing game is no better, with Ryan Fitzpatrick currently fourth in INTs with eight, 24th in passing yards with 1057, and though he is also fourth with 12 TDs to this point, the bearded franchise quarterback is 25th in passing completion.
This Bills team just doesn’t look like it’s as good as advertised across the board.
What’s worse? Well, it’s quickly becoming difficult to find even the smallest glimmer of hope on the team. When one of the only notable performances on your team is a rookie linebacker that leads the team in tackles Sunday (Nigel Bradham, who had six tackles, but was often abused when in coverage), you know your team is in trouble.
Where’s the $100 million Mario Buffalo bought this season, as only 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks through five games doesn’t seem to be the stat-line he was signed for.
Where’s Steve Johnson, Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver who has just 234 yards on the year (51st in the NFL), 21 receptions (36th), and just three TDs (good enough for 12th)? Didn’t Buddy Nix reward him with a new five-year contract as well, paying him $18.05 guaranteed?
How can a Buffalo running attack that has two potential 1,000-yard rushers fail to get above 100 in back to back weeks (injuries be damned)?
This is a team in trouble, folks, and the answers to these questions don’t seem like they’ll be easy.
Example: Even though the Bills seem to have made strides in fixing their turnover issues (they were just a -1 against the 49ers) and are getting fewer penalties (two less than San Francisco Sunday, with 23 less yards penalized), they are still getting blown out.
Maybe this team, for all their supposed talent, just doesn’t have the mental toughness as a whole to compete, doesn’t have the drive to succeed. Though the Bills’ defense tries to hold the line, that fire to get to the quarterback is too often overpowered when facing inferior offensive lines.
What’s worse, Wannstedt tends to run few blitzes, instead preferring to depend on the pressure of his front four (which is apparently still coming), and yet the Bills are still getting gobbled up by opposing offenses, unable to properly cover even when they have superior numbers back in defense.
It’s not just the defense either, as Fitzpatrick continues to fire wobbly, inaccurate bombs to open receivers, even when given all the time in the world.
Chan Gailey tried summing all this up Sunday when he admitted that the Bills “got rattled” and that he failed in keeping them focused and in the game.
That’s been a trend throughout the year, as the Bills have been getting good quarters out of their players, but don’t seem to know how to respond once things start going south on them.
In the New England game, Buffalo put together a great 15:00 between the second and third quarter, leading 21-7 before a few bumps in the road derailed things in the second half and the Bills ended up scoring just one more time (as opposed to the 45 scored by New England), giving the game to a Patriots team that were well-coached enough to adjust in the second half.
In San Francisco, the Bills were still in it at halftime 17-3, but just didn’t show much (or any) fight in the second half, while the 49ers adjusted to the tune of 28 points that last two quarters.
Fred Jackson was quoted as saying the Bills didn’t quit Sunday, but simply “made some mistakes” and that all they need to focus on is “fixing mistakes”, but quarterback Fitzpatrick seemed to realize the effect too many of these defeats could have on the team.
“It’s tough on team morale… but you can’t let these losses linger.”
This is similar to the tune Buffalo played following the New England loss, but maybe the problems is that they should allow these losses to linger some, let them feel that sting going into their next game rather than forget about their past miscues and move on.
If they stop ignoring their failures and start using these games to help them move forward, maybe coach Gailey will have a clearer idea of what needs to change in order to get the Bills back on track, because right now, the whole franchise seems lost.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, “ said Gailey. “I’ve never been here before, so I’m in new territory.”
Hearing that can’t fill fans with much hope in the Queen City. In the end, something needs to be done and if the coaching staff doesn’t have a plan for the fix, maybe things were never all that good to begin with in Buffalo.