When the chips AREN'T down, when there's NO reason to fight on, and when it seems that the best option would be to lay your head down and take a nap for the last few games, here come the Buffalo Bills. It's a fact in Bills country, that no matter who the opponent or where the game is played, as long as there's nothing on the line and winning would fly in the face of all reason then you can be assured that Buffalo will post one in the W column.
Week 16's thrashing of Denver 40-14 just underscores how frustrating it can be to root for the team from Western New York. Assured of their failure for yet another year, sporting a losing record for the seventh year in a row, halfway to Tampa's NFL benchmark for futility (14 losing seasons between 1983-1996). Sure, Buffalo may not be near the Buccaneer's level of joke yet, but at least that franchise won a Super Bowl, while the Bills still hold the record for most consecutive Super Bowl losses (4).
After the false hope of the season's start, where Buffalo rattled off a 5-2 record, they have now tripped and fallen back down the basement stairs, past the Dolphins, and ended up in the dark bottom of the AFC again. However, with other terrible teams stomping on playoff hopes (see the Colts) and taking out #1 teams (see Kansas City), Buffalo felt that they needed to get in to the mix too, because in the NFL, if you can't win it all, you can at least spoil someone else's party no matter how many you lose or how bad you've been playing. The NFL, and sports in general, have this thing where even the most insignificant team can play a role in the playoffs (even if they aren't going), so while the win may not have done much for Buffalo in the way of wins and losses, it affected the look of things for playoff bound teams.
However, was the win a good thing for Buffalo? In fact, has any of this season been a good thing for the Bills and their fans? Sure, it started with whispers of winning records and dreams of playoff wild cards, but quickly degenerated into a seven game losing streak that wouldn't have been out of place in the 2010 season(when they started the season dropping eight straight). It may have been a fun ride, but by the time Buffalo dropped their third of the year against the Jets week 9, you knew the seasons was already slipping away. By the time Fred Jackson went down, it was all over, but the damage was already being done to next season and what's worse is that this week 16 win will just further confuse the fans and front office about whether the Bills are a good team or not. It makes scouts and coaches wonder what Buffalo really needs, as they've watched their current players suddenly be able to play at elite levels some games (a la New England, Washington, and Denver).
CJ Spiller. Once looking to be one the quick train out of Orchard Park, he has now put up the kind of numbers he was expected to post, but does that mean Buffalo won't bother offering a big contract to Fred Jackson in the off season? Spiller and Buffalo need to know if this is just a short spurt against bad teams, or if CJ is finally becoming big time. Jackson is getting older (30 for a running back is almost ancient) and though offering him the money to stay seemed like a no-brainer at the mid-point of the year, now Spiller is causing some second guessing about who is the more dependable in the long haul. A streak like CJ is having could be a flash in the pan or could be the real deal and I for one am glad I don't have to figure out which it is.
George Edwards. The defensive coordinator for the Bills, stolen from the Florida Gators at the last minute, has made questionable moves all season, from putting Chris Kelsay at outside linebacker (the Bills are dreadful at the linebacker position) to waving good-bye to Aaron Maybin in the preseason (if they had shown patience, maybe Maybin would have done in Buffalo what he's doing for the Jets). Every time you look at the Bills defense, you've got to wonder how a coach that's achieved ranks of 27th in points allowed and 28th in rushing yards could be looking at a job next year. However, the turnovers (5th in interceptions with 20) and defensive scores (2 alone in the game versus Denver, giving them second in the NFL with 6 pick sixes) may lead many to believe Edwards is doing something when he's not. Games like the Denver game and the Redskins game earlier are just aberrations on an otherwise undermanned and under coached defense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick. Making his payday, putting up big yardage (3525) and scoring (22 TDs), but tied for first with 19 INTs (with Phillip Rivers, who has just two more TDs on the season). That guaranteed 10 million he got early in the year was perceived by many to be a knee jerk reaction and the wrong player signing (see Fred Jackson), but what makes it difficult to determine is his play late in games. Much like Tebow was for most of the season, Fitzpatrick has been a terrible first half QB, but manages to string together some good drives late in games to save his stat line during garbage time. This last week, he was crisp and efficient, not turning the ball over, but not scoring either, so... Does Buffalo need a QB or does Ryan just need more protection?
Finally, there's the whole winning thing. Going into New England this week, Buffalo has a chance to derail their rival's number one status and further confuse their 2012 draft. By putting together a win, the Bills not only do a disservice to themselves (draft spot, examination of needs, player capabilities, etc.), but to fans who have already suffered enough and just want to put the season to sleep and end the pain. I know, many fans would start balking at this notion, saying that a win would feel good against the rival Patriots, but would it really end the season on a high note when you stop to think about it?
Would beating Brady and the boys twice in yet another losing season really stand out come next year? Does taking the last two give you momentum heading into 2012? Or, does it further cloud thinking in the offseason, hide need, and give the Bills a false sense that their team is going in the right direction?
Again, this isn't a wish to tank the last game, but more of a cautionary tale about putting too much hope into a win like that. Beating the Patriots may be nice to do twice, but this Buffalo Bills team still needs to see that regular season wins are meaningless without a whole team and coaching staff to direct all that talent. Buffalo is currently a team without an identity, a boat with a broken rudder just floating about in the water aimlessly searching for solid ground. Winning may feel good now, but it won't last without the right decisions in the offseason, from who should be the coach to how good the current players are, so be careful what you wish for Buffalo.
Again, it would be nice to beat the Patriots again in 2011, but only if what's taken away from this season ensures that it can happen again in 2012 and beyond. Don't settle Buffalo, don't get complacent. Things went in the right direction for once this season, here's hoping it can stay on target in the next.