Did they quit? Tough question.
The only people who truly know if they rolled over Sunday in the latest humiliating loss are the players, who showed more emotion in the locker room while defending their honor than they did on the field in the 45-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Bring up the Q-word in a professional locker room, and you’re asking for trouble.
But what other conclusion could one draw after the debacle at Candlestick Park a week after the 52-28 fiasco last week at home in a division game against the Patriots? The names and faces changed, but the result was basically the same. The Bills in back-to-back weeks looked like they were on their knees and begging for mercy.
“Nobody in this locker room gave up or said it was over with,’’ receiver Stevie Johnson said after returning to his hometown. “When the game was starting to get out of control, we still felt like we were one or two plays from making a comeback. … Nobody was quitting on our team. Nobody gave up in the game.’’
Well, Stevie, it sure looked that way.
“Nobody quit,’’ safety George Wilson said. “Quit does not associate with these men in this locker room. Nobody quit. Nobody laid down. Everybody played to the very end. We didn’t tackle well. They moved the ball. We didn’t stop them. They made more plays than we did. Nobody in this locker room quit.’’
Regardless, the fourth quarter was enough for even the most optimistic, card-carrying, jersey-wearing Bills’ fan to quit watching the game. You couldn’t blame the fans back home for changing channels after enduring the blowout last week against the Patriots. Really, for a while, all that separated the two teams was a handful of plays.
The Bills once again stayed committed to making good players look like Hall of Famers against their defense, which has allowed 97 points over the past two weeks, including 73 in the second half of both games. At least they didn’t break the team record, when they allowed 103 points in back-to-back blowouts to Miami and Baltimore in 1976.
Alex Smith passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 156.2. Michael Crabtree had 113 yards on seven catches. Crabtree would have had 144 yards in the first two quarters, but a 41-yard reception was wiped out by a penalty. Wait. Excuse me, I failed to mention the 49ers rolled up 320 yards in the first half.
Buffalo’s defense couldn’t cover Kyle Williams, their defensive tackle, let alone Kyle Williams, the Niners’ third-year receiver who broke free on a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to give San Francisco a 10-3 lead. It grew progressively worse in the 2° quarters that followed.
Say whatever you please about Mario Williams, but he’s been one of their more consistent players. He has been consistently absent for all five games this season, selling himself as a $100 million player while offering $10 of productivity. He had two tackles, no sacks, Sunday. Did he quit? I’m not sure, actually, because it’s hard to know the difference.
Apparently, for some mysterious reason, the defense tumbled out of control and surrendered 28 points in the second half after coughing up 45 points over the final two quarters against New England. This time, the offense was worse than the defense. And that’s how teams lose by six touchdowns, plus six extra points.
Worse, a reminder of what could have been was standing on the opposite sideline soaking up his 18th victory in 23 games, including the playoffs, since taking over the Niners. Jim Harbaugh, once rumored to be on the Bills’ list of coaching candidates, must have been thanking his lucky stars that he didn’t pursue the job in Buffalo.
The man Buffalo hired, Gailey, made a transparent attempt to take the blame after questioning his players’ mental toughness last week. By the looks of things, he was right the first time. He deserved his share of criticism, too, along with the players, assistant coaches, the general manager and the bus driver who took the Bills from the airport.
Harbaugh outsmarted himself a few times, following the NFL coaches’ manual. He brought Colin Kaepernick off the bench and had him run a reverse. Kaepernick fumbled, and the Bills recovered with 46 seconds left in the second quarter. No need for Harbaugh to get uptight, of course, because Gailey didn’t waste time trumping him.
Gailey didn’t need to push for a score in that situation given the minuscule odds of scoring against a good defense. What he did need was an intervention. What he received was a fumble by Scott Chandler. One play later, Smith found Crabtree alone in the end zone. Good pass, nice catch. Niners 17, Bills 3. And that, folks, was the ballgame.
“I feel for those guys,’’ said Niners safety Donte Whitner, the former Bill. “There needs to be a change somewhere along the line. It’s a hard-working bunch. I was with those guys for five years. I know they want to get it done and have the passion to get it done.
“Only for so long can you hear, ‘we have to build the killer instinct’ or ‘we’re not mentally tough.’ That should never leave the meeting room. You’re questioning your own team’s mental toughness in the media? That’s not right.’’
Now, the staggering numbers.
The Bills allowed 621 total yards, becoming the first team since the 1950 New York Yanks to give up more than 550 yards on successive weeks. Wait, did someone say give up? OK, surrendered. Whatever. Water has a tougher time running through a strainer.
Tight end Vernon Davis handed the Bills their second straight Gronking with 106 yards on six catches. Frank Gore averaged 7.6 yards per carry on his way to 106 yards. Kaepernick even gained 39 yards rushing and scored on a 16-yard touchdown run.
It marked the first time in Niners’ history that they had a 100-yard rusher, two 100-yard receivers and a 300-yard passer in the same game. It was also the first time in NFL history that a team had 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in the same game. All that happened in a game in which the Bills claimed they didn’t quit.
Can you imagine how frightening the stats would have been if they did?