After suffering three crushing losses during the young 2012 season the Bills finally lost a close game, and the pain may have actually been worse. Coming home for one game before heading into the bye the Bills faced a struggling and injured Titans team. Despite putting up 34 points on offense, the Bills allowed a touchdown in the final minute to fall 35-34. Fans are furious. Players are embarrassed. The entire organization heads into the bye week looking to “re-evaluate” everything. What needs no further evaluation is the fact that this is clearly not the playoff team that many believed was going to step onto the field in 2012.
Let’s take a look back at how the Bills addressed the major concerns heading into the game.
Dave Wannstedt cannot figure out how to coach this defense
(Question 1 was: Can the Bills contain Chris Johnson?)
This story may have mercifully reached its conclusion. Watching Wanny coach this defense is like slogging through Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. People keep talking about how brilliant the guy is, but after 550 pages (or seven games) there seems to be very little evidence to back that up. The Titans offense averaged 70 yards rushing per game coming into Sunday. The Bills knew that, despite the numbers, that Chris Johnson was their only effective play-maker. Yet, he still had over 100 yards in the first quarter, finishing with 195. Players never seem to be in the right gaps, tackles are missed regularly, and the defense always seems blindsided. Either every single player on the Bills defense has forgotten how to play, or Wanny is just incapable of making this defense work. Signs point to the latter and it might be time to part ways.
This team is clearly not well-coached
(Will be a season long question from here out)
Really, much of the attention being paid to the Bills over the bye week should be focused on the poor quality of coaching on this team. I’ve already railed against Wanny, but in general, this team never seems prepared. When I watch the Bills on Sunday I get the sense that they spent all week finger-painting, playing with building blocks, and enjoying a nap like a typical day in pre-school. The fact that the Bills started the game with personal foul penalties and continue to accumulate false starts is further proof that this team lacks focus. That starts at the top.
Chan Gailey continues to make questionable calls
(I felt that this was important enough to warrant two explanations).
Now the lambasting of the coach staff reaches the end. Chan Gailey has simply been insufficient as the coach of the Buffalo Bills. Yes, the Bills complete a high percentage of passes and the running game is strong, but somehow Gailey keeps finding ways to prevent them from getting over the hump. This week was no different. The decision to throw the ball at the end of the game, up by six with 3:03 to play, is inexcusable The Bills running game was wearing out the opposing defense. They need to have the ball in their hands. Gailey also stubbornly refuses to take shots down the field during the game. The Bills were facing the league’s worst secondary, but continued to try and make slants turn into 40 yard passes. As a result, the Bills threw for only 225 yards. It’s just not adding up.
Fitzpatrick continues to make mistakes at crucial moments
(Question #5 was: Can Fitz fix the mistakes he admits are there?)
Yes, he had a very high completion percentage and threw for three touchdowns, but Fitzpatrick continues to cost the Bills football games. The interception that gave the Titans the ball on their own 48 with just over two minutes to play was atrocious. Not only was the decision terrible, but the pass was horribly underthrown. Then, to top it off, Fitz is given the ball with a minute left and two timeouts and proceeds to throw two passes short of the first down marker. For a guy who graduated from Harvard, he seems to have no football intelligence whatsoever.
The Bills cannot find anybody who can cover in the slot
(Question #2 was: Can the Bills find a CB opposite Gilmore?)
I remember just last year when Justin Rodgers was considered the steal of the Bills draft. He played incredibly in the slot and looked to be another effective young corner in the Bills arsenal. How long ago that seems now. Rodger was beaten in the slot throughout the day, including on the game-winning TD to Washington. With Aaron Williams also having a poor season (despite improvement this week), it seems as though the Bills are failing on many secondary draft picks. That being said, I still hold out hope that Ron Brooks recovering from injury can fix that.
However, even in the most disappointing of games, there are still things that go well.
The Buffalo running game is legit
(Question #3 was: Will the timeshare at runningback work?)
I doesn’t seem to matter how many carries these two get, or what rotation they use. They just continue to rack up yardage. Spiller and Jackson were making tacklers miss at will, breaking big runs and gaining hard yards on short downs as well. The fact that they each aren’t given 10-15 carries a game is inexcusable. They are the most effective part of the offense.
The Bills were able to make plays through the air
(Question #4 was: Can the Bills take advantage of the Titans pass defense?)
For the second week in a row Stevie Johnson seemed to get open at will. He beat McCourty regularly and was helped by Donald Jones on the other side of the field. For much of the game, the Bills passing attack seemed to be firing on all cylinders. However, they still refused to take any shots downfield, which limited the damage that was actually done. Throwing for 225 yards against one of the league’s worst secondaries isn’t really a banner day.
When it all boils down to it, yesterday was one of the most disheartening days in my life as a Bills fan. There’s not much else to say other than the team needs to really clean things up after the bye. In one sense, coming out and playing the Texans and Patriots is probably the best thing for the team and the fans. The team will know right away if they made enough changes to really fix the trajectory of the season, and the fans will know right away if we should get our hopes up again or not.