Change is too often no more than a well-sold wish, a dream advertised as reality that quickly becomes unraveled in the light of day.
In Buffalo right now, it is this idea, this false hope inherent in the basic notion of change that has Bills fan feeling so much less fanatical after their 52-28 spanking Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The Bills sold the a fantastic product to Western New York this offseason, one that promised a 2012 season free from the fetters of a decade plus of failures and blunders. Ralph Wilson began handing out money like it was on fire, the team blueprint began to look impressive on paper, and there was a real change in the way fans viewed their Bills.
A palpable buzz returned and ran through the Queen City inspiring legions of near breaking Bills loyalists to once more take up the shout, to look with inspiration back on what they were able to do in the early nineties and honestly expect similar results in the present.
That change, though, hit a solid brick wall against the Patriots and the season that was supposed to be is now the season of sad familiarity.
Yes, things changed top to bottom in Buffalo, from their attitude to their personnel, but what didn’t happen was a change in the outcome, as the Bills are now 1-17 against New England the last 18 games. Face it, this team was rebuilt defensively to first and foremost get at Tom Brady. The theory that a good pass rush throws Brady’s passing game into fits has been well-documented and Buffalo looked to be perfectly manned to utilize such a tactic.
As a result, they lost even worse than they did to end the 2011 season.
In fact, to truly chart the utter failure that is the brand new Buffalo Bills of 2012, all you really need to do is compare the final game last season at the Patriots to this first one at Buffalo. The numbers, you’ll see, tell a scary tale of how expensive change and unfounded expectation too often results in an even higher height to fall from, an even harder impact when the ground is hit.
1/1/12: BUF 21 - NE 49 9/30/12: BUF 28 – NE 52
Last year, Buffalo leapt out to a 21 point first quarter lead, then essentially sat back and watched the Patriots score 49 unanswered. Skip ahead to last Sunday, and the Bills found themselves with a 21-7 lead early in the third, then essentially sat back and watched the Patriots score a franchise best 45 points in the second half. Out of pride, Buffalo managed to eke out one more score themselves, but were embarrassed before their home crowd, with many fans leaving well, well, well before the final gun.
If this is change, Buffalo was better off getting embarrassed on the cheap last year.
1/1/12: BUF-106 yds/NE-138 yds 9/30/12: BUF-98 yds/NE-247 yds
The triumphant return of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson from injury was short lived in Buffalo, overshadowed by the coming out party for the New England running attack. Repeat, the Patriots have a vicious running duo, with Stevan Ridley equaling Buffalo’s 106 total yards from last season by himself in 2012, only to be outshone by rookie Brandon Bolden, who announced his presence in the NFL with 137 yards on 16 carries, including a seven yard TD run (it was his first NFL score on a day that saw him also snag career highs in every professional category).
The Bills run defense had looked much improved coming into this one, holding Trent Richardson to just 27 yards rushing last week and keeping Peyton Hillis and Jamal Charles under 70 yards combined the week prior. However, that defense was nowhere to be seen Sunday as even the usually immobile Tom Brady scampered for a four yard touchdown.
As for Jackson and Spiller, their return may have prompted an emotional lift to start, but they combined for just 62 yards rushing between them. CJ had 60 himself in the 2011 loss, relieving the then injured Jackson. After all the talk about how good the Bills’ offensive line had looked to start, the Patriots (minus Logan Mankins even) just did it better, creating massive holes against a Buffalo defensive front four that was supposed to be the evidence of the most change, in a game when that change was supposed to be the most visible.
Leading us to...
Sacks and Pass Rush
1/1/2012: BUF-4 sacks/NE-2 sacks 9/30/12: BUF-1 sack/NE-3 sacks
The Fearsome Front Four in Buffalo was the most altered in the offseason, starting with the change to a 4-3 system under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, and ending with the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Though the perceived upgrade came with a goliath price tag, as adding in the contracts of fellow linemates Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams brings the grand total for the quartet to around $174 million, it looked like things were starting to bear fruit, as they had amassed nine sacks the first three games of 2012.
Turns out, all that change made things against New England no better.
D-coordinator Wannstedt had made it clear he believed Buffalo’s front four could overpower the slightly diminished New England offensive line in 2012 and was just proven really wrong over and over all day. Buffalo actually took a step back in pressuring Brady, too often just rushing the front four without any help from the seven men behind them (almost always actually), resulting in one less sack than in their horrible showing last season, when the Bills didn’t even have a healthy Kyle Williams.
New England handled a Buffalo offensive line that had started to really show promise and the results were evident in both Ryan Fitzpatrick’s erratic throwing day and the poor performance of the Bills’ rushing duo. Maybe money can’t buy you happiness… or a defense that can get to Tom Brady.
Total Yards/First Downs
2011: BUF-402 yds, 26 first downs/NE-480 yds, 28 first downs
2012: BUF-438 yds, 19 first downs/NE-580 yds, 33 first downs
Sunday’s 580 was the fourth highest total in New England history, a full hundred more than they gained over an injured and less armed Buffalo defense last season. In 2012, the Bills gained five less first downs than in 2011, the Patriots gained five more and, simply owning the Bills in the second half in first downs.
Where is the change you promised Buffalo?
Quarterback TD vs. INT.
2011: Fitzpatrick-2 TD, 4 INT/Brady-3 TD, 1 INT
2012: Fitzpatrick-4 TD, 4 INT/Brady-3 TD, 0 INT
At least Fitzpatrick scored two more touchdowns, but all that work with quarterback coach David Lee in the off season didn’t seem to improve Buffalo’s throwing game much. Ryan was erratic, overthrew numerous open receivers, and looked like… well, like a guy throwing with broken ribs. Seems all his change this offseason, including healing from a hidden 2011 rib injury, didn’t do a whole lot to the end result in 2012.
Brady, meanwhile, did what he’s done against Buffalo for the last 21 games, a stretch over which he is 19-2, has another six 300+ yard games to add to this one, and has thrown 49 TDs. Just against Buffalo. Nothing good about this change.
So, for all that promise of change, it seems that Buffalo should have been asking if it brought some measure of success with it. For now, the Bills will travel to the West coast for two weeks, play the Titans at home and the Texans away, then finish up this nasty stretch with a game at New England.
Do you think things will change for Buffalo before then? Or, will it be the same bunch of overpaid underperformers?
Hey, always remember that no matter how rough things look, there always a chance things will change.