At this time last year, with the Bills destined for another long season, linebacker Nick Barnett drove their bandwagon while George Wilson rode shotgun. They didn’t bother asking skeptical fans if they wanted a ride. They practically grabbed them off the streets, threw them aboard and screeched their tires while pulling away.
Barnett reminded them to not throw away their season tickets, insisting the Bills would have a great year. Wilson worked the crowd while challenging his teammates to play to a higher standard. Together, they were intent on improving the psyche of a football town that long ago stopped basing high hopes on blind faith.
Pleas for support aren’t necessary this season. Fans watched while Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson signed new contracts. They saw a core of young receivers mature into proven players. They welcomed Mario Williams and Mark Anderson knowing they would beef up the defensive line.
The Bills provided plenty of reason to get excited, but fans would be wise to temper their enthusiasm given Buffalo’s showing through three preseason games. They haven’t looked anywhere near ready to meet lofty goals.
“The expectations for this team are completely different than they were a year ago, a year before that and a year before that,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, we’re still working to be at the top of our game. Where we are right now, we’re not satisfied by any means. But we know we’re taking a step forward.”
The preseason is the preseason, but the Bills have no reason to feel comfortable. Really, have they given any indication, with the opener approaching, that this season will be different than others in recent years? The 38-7 loss Saturday night ended with many more questions than answers. Their responses haven’t been very good, either. Several players rolled out tiresome “it’s just the preseason” rhetoric, which has become a blanket statement.
Wilson has played long enough, and lived through enough, to know preseason games shouldn’t be tossed aside like yesterday’s junk mail.
“Preseason matters,” Wilson said. “[The games] don’t count, but it matters. The habits you start in the preseason usually carry over into the season. When we have opportunities to make [defensive] plays in the passing game or the running game, we have to seize those opportunities.”
I’m sure video confirmed the Bills’ starting offense didn’t play as poorly as it appeared, but there’s no way around the sloppiness in the passing game.
Whether it was Fitz misfiring or the offensive line not blocking or the receivers making poor reads, their starting offense was uninspiring and nowhere near good enough. Even the eternal optimists had to be sobered.
Heck, the Bills might have woken up to a full-blown quarterback controversy if Vince Young showed a shred of promise against Pittsburgh.
There was talk the Bills were nearing a deal with Seattle for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who threw for 3,000 yards for the Seahawks last season.
The Bills have one preseason game remaining before the season begins. They’re not going to sneak up on teams the way they did previous years. That ended the minute they signed Williams, and the standards were raised. The bandwagon is accepting passengers, but it could be a very bumpy ride.
The Bills haven’t looked anywhere near ready to meet lofty goals.