And just like a suede coat in the rain, it was only temporary. The ghosts of 2008 have shown up in full force. The question no longer becomes can the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs. Let’s get those pretty little fantasy thoughts out of our minds right now. This is not a playoff team. That became crystal clear by the end of the first half yesterday when the Miami Dolphins were blasting the Bills 28-6 on the way to a 35-8 embarrassment. Three straight losses by a combined total of 106-26. I feel pretty confident stating that this is worse than what happened in ’08.
I wish I could tell you we haven’t seen this scenario play out before. But I can’t. In 2008, the Bills started out 4-0 and 5-1. They became one of the first quarter storylines in the NFL. They became the apple of the sports media’s eye. And then it was over. done, history. Buffalo followed their 5-1 start by losing eight of their final 10 games, finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs. They turned out to be frauds. They turned out to a big disappointment, and as it turned out, they just weren’t physical enough, they didn’t lacked elite talent and the play at the quarterback position badly failed them. Fast forward to the present day and those same issues that haunted the Bills in ’08 and for the majority of the past 12 seasons, continue to torment the Bills today.
If Chan Gailey doesn’t have any answers for you to neatly sum up Buffalo’s downward spiral, then I don’t either. I can only go by what my eyes tell me. If you were to be completely ignorant of the standings and records before yesterday game between Buffalo and Miami, predictably you probably would’ve guessed that Miami was the team fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive, bringing their absolute best game of the year with their season on the line. As far as Buffalo was concerned, you might of guessed that they were one of the lead horses in the Andrew Luck derby. Hell, there still might time for the Bills to land Luck. I haven’t seen much evidence lately to point to the contrary that the Bills will win another game this season. This is as bad as it gets. If you want to take away the Indianapolis Colts, fine. I’ll even give you the St. Louis Rams. Beyond those two teams, Buffalo must be lumped in there as one of the worst teams in the NFL right now.
It would be unfair and out of line to question Buffalo’s character. Character in the locker room is the least likely of Buffalo’s growing problems right now. They don’t need to prove their character. They’ve done that through the first five or six weeks of the season. The comeback against Oakland. Finally slaying the New England dragon. Outlasting Philadelphia. Winning football games when few envisioned they’d win more than a couple of games here and there throughout the year. Character, heart and determination, the Bills have. Elite talent, depth and toughness is what they sorely lack.
Winning is perhaps the greatest deoderant. It masks your shortcomings. It hides your ineffeciencies. Early on the Bills had that darling charm about them. They were a team many predicted to be slightly better than the Cincinnati Bengals by the time the 2011 season came to close. They had a collection of seventh-rounders, undrafted free agents and no names. But they forced a plethora of turnovers, scored a bunch of points and collected a handful of wins while the Patriots and Jets struggled to find their footing and rhythm. But just like after a long hard day’s work outside under the hot sun, that deoderant has completely worn off. The turnovers stopped coming. Everyone wondered early in the season what the Bills would look like in games against teams who took care of the football and didn’t give it away at alarming rates like the Patriots and Eagles. We’ve gotten our answer haven’t we? And oh yeah, the Bills have stopped scoring as well. 26 points combined in the last three games. Buffalo scored at least 20 points in all of their first seven games. Since beating Washington 23-0 on Oct. 30 the Bills haven’t scored more than 11 points in a game.
During Buffalo’s greatest hour of need, Ryan Fitzpatrick has done little to help elevate the Bills. With each game the Bills get blasted and with each game Fitzpatrick resembles a practice squad quarterback, his contract extension looks worse and worse. He has four touchdowns to eight interceptions during the Bills’ three-game slide. Fitzpatrick has thrown at least two picks in three straight games and four of the Buffalo’s past five. He’s overthrowing. He’s underthrowing. He’s sailing throws. He’s having balls tipped. He’s having passes dropped. In times of crisis, you expect your franchise quarterback to lift the team, to rally everyone around him and make them better. Instead, Fitzpatrick has crumbled and slunk directly back to the land of mediocrity.
But, to place the all the blame at his feet would be misguided and unfair. He’s just a small piece of the large, crummy puzzle right now. Buffalo’s problems go well beyond the play of their quarterback. The defense has no juice. That’s a direct reflection on George Edwards first and foremost. Yes, they’re void of talent but Edwards simply hasn’t figured out ways to maximize the most from what he has. Six times this season, the defense has allowed at least 27 points. The Bills are 2-4 in those games. The spread offense has gone stale. It’s simply not working in the ways it did earlier this season largely because the Bills have been figured out by better defenses. That’s the way it goes. Teams get better as we get deeper in the season. Fitzpatrick has less time and space to work with. Receivers are struggling to get open. Nothing is coming easy on offense. The creativity and sync between Gailey and Fitzpatrick has vanished. The offense has become a pass-pass-pass-punt with some runs mixed in.
Where the biggest problem lies is their critical lack of depth. It was a big problem before the season began and with the littany of injuries plaguing the Bills, it’s become crippling. Unexplainably, the Bills always seem to be among the teams with the most injuries. They’ve lost Eric Wood and Kyle Williams, their heart and soul along both the offensive and defensive lines. But the Bills did very little in the offseason to address it. I’m pointing at you Buddy Nix. Wood goes down for the season. Instead of taking the week to bring in a free agent center, the Bills instead promote two players from the practice squad (neither of which dressed against Miami) and throw Andy Levitre into the fire to play center. There’s no veteran receivers on the roster. Brad Smith was signed to boost the offense with a jack-of-all-trades playmaker. He’s touched the periodically this season. In fact, he didn’t touch the ball at all against the Jets and Cowboys. Yesterday, he made some costly mistakes that led to a drop pass and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Tell me who the experienced backups are on the offensive line? How about the defensive line? I’ll save you the trouble: you can’t. Because there aren’t any.
Buffalo has been brutally dissected three weeks in a row and the evidence is crystal clear. The Bills aren’t a physical football team. They don’t have the playmakers on offense. There’s esssentially zero depth on the roster. That’s a crippling trio when you want to be taken seriously, when you want to win football games and when you have aspirations of making the playoffs. The charm has worn off. The smoke has cleared. The Bills just aren’t a good football team. I’m not really sure where Buffalo goes from here, how or even if they can recapture their early season magic. But a wounded and weakened bunch now must venture out on the road for a third straight week against the Jets next Sunday.