The nightmare against New York followed by the disaster in Dallas, and suddenly the Buffalo Bills are reeling and one loss away from officially free falling. After their hot 4-1 start, the Bills have dropped three of their past four games, including losing two in a row on the road. They’ve been outscored 71-18. They’ve lost the ability to make big plays. They’ve lost Eric Wood. They’ve turned the football over seven times the past two weeks. Now, they could be without both Stevie Johnson and George Wilson on Sunday.
Needless to say, Bufalo’s ship is taking on water, and suddenly their 4-1 start has fizzled away faster than a fourth of July sparkler. In the middle game of a three-game road trip against a surging Miami Dolphins team that has won consecutive games, the Bills are in full-blown survival mode. Hoping to still remain on the inside of the AFC playoff picture, Buffalo now faces their biggest game of the season in South Beach.
It’s been a while since the Bills have won a road game, two full calendar months to be exact. Buffalo routed Kansas City on Sept. 11 in Arrowhead Stadium 41-7. Since then, the Bills have lost three straight road games. It wasn’t until last Sunday that Buffalo looked helpless on the road. They lost two games, both by three points in the final moments of the game, to Cincinnati and the New York Giants. But last Sunday, and for he past two weeks, was the first time this season that the Bills have looked the part of their 2010 selves leading Chan Gailey to proclaim that the Bills are pretenders instead of contenders at the present time. That’s a tough point to argue against right now.
Buffalo is 5-4 and remain alive in the playoff picture. With a couple of fortuitous weeks where perhaps both New England and New York fall asleep at the wheel and the Bills could thrust themselves right back into the conversion for the AFC division crown. But after seeing the Bills get outmuscled by New York, then dismantled by Dallas it’s hard to take the Bills seriously anymore as a playoff hopeful. Unfortunately, the Bills proved they weren’t national tv material two weeks ago against the Jets and in the “Put Up or Shut Up Bowl” last week in Big D, the Bills never came close to opening their mouths.
What we’ve seen the past two weeks is brand of football that’s played in playoff games. Offense can lead you into January. Defense will carry you into early February. With the exception of games against Kansas City and Washington, Buffalo’s defense has been a problem all season long. Last week, they bottomed out with their worst showing of the season at the worst possible time. Tony Romo threw all over the place, throwing for as many touchdowns (three) as he threw incompletions. DeMarco ran every which way he wanted to totaling 135 rushing yards and 171 yards from scrimmage. Murray’s 2010 draft class counterpart C.J Spiller finished with one carry for one yard. The Bills never came close to touching either. They also never came close to covering Laurent Robinson or Dez Bryant. The best thing I could say about Buffalo’s defense last week? At least they weren’t shredded by Jason Witten.
So now the question is have the Bills come back to reality? Were they just a fad, an early season feel-good story? Regardless, this three-game road stretch was going to be difficult back in August. No matter the opponents, three straight road games in the NFL qualifies as cruel. But now for a Bills team struggling to score, struggling to slow down let alone stop anyone on defense, and with their depth being heavily tested, this bad stretch of road seems damn near impossible for the Bills to recover from should they end this roadtrip and return to Buffalo without a victory. My next question becomes, other than Fred Jackson, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, who rises to the challenge for the Bills?
The most likely candidate would be the quarterback. Fingers are likely to be point in the direction of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who hasn’t exactly won a lot of popularity contests the past two weeks. He threw three interceptions and 146 yards against Dallas, both season worsts. He’s thrown nine interceptions to seven touchdowns the past five games. In just about half of Buffalo’s games this season, Fitzpatrick has thrown at least two interceptions in four of nine games. Seven of his 12 picks this season have come in losses. When it has mattered most, in the past two weeks, Fitzpatrick has turned in two duds and his two lowest quarterback ratings of the 2011 season. He’ll come under fire and rightfully so for his performances that coincide with his $59 million contract extension. Regardless of the timing or the circumstances, the Bills can only go as far as Fitzpatrick can take them. What he’s done in two weeks against the Jets and Cowboys, it’s more likely Fitzpatrick is taking the Bills to a mid-level draft selection instead of the wild card playoff round.
A week ago, this would’ve looked like the perfect spot for the Bills to begin to get some of their mojo back against an inferior Miami Dolphins team. Throw that notion out the window now, as Miami has reeled off two straight wins over Kansas City and Washington after an 0-7 start. They’ve found ways to effectively involve Reggie Bush into the offensive gameplan. Defensively, the Dolphins have come on as of late. They haven’t allowed a touchdown in two weeks while Matt Moore has managed the offense with three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Ironically, this previously winless Dolphins team sort of resembled Buffalo’s 0-8 team from a year ago. Five of Miami’s seven losses have come by 10 points or less. The Dolphins have played some good football early this season, however, the wins have managed to elude Miami late in games.
Perhaps a bitter divisional contest is just what the doctor ordered for the Bills, who are now facing a playoff-type game for the remaining seven weeks of the season. This week’s theme features the “Sinking vs. Surging” bowl. Buffalo has been a cute story. But they’ve been dealth two harsh reality checks in consecutive weeks. They’ll be tested like never before so far this season starting Sunday. They’re not completely sunk just yet. But a loss on Sunday to Miami and the fat lady will start to clear her throat.
Prediction: Miami 24, Buffalo 19. This one is a tough one to get a handle on. It’s tough to tell who this Buffalo Bills team is right now. We know they’ve looked awful in two big spots the past two weeks. The injuries and the skepticism are rapidly mounting. Ryan Fitzpatrick has looked less than average. Defensively, they look as though they’d be a step behind a wet paper bag. Miami has responded with two wins in a row after losing their first seven games. Their defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown the past two weeks and the Bills will be without Eric Wood, possibly Stevie Johnson and who knows who’s playing left tackle on Sunday. When there’s positive momentum there’s positive momentum, and on the flip side when there’s negative momentum there’s negative momentum. Aside from Fred Jackson, George Wilson, Nick Barnett and Jairus Byrd, who do you have faith in to step up and make a big play? Buffalo is just lacking in a lot of areas right now and their playmaker deficiencies are beginning to show. I think the Bills will play good down in Miami, but I just don’t think they’ll play well enough to win. The slide continues