When you’ve given up 90 points in the previous six quarters, anything less than 30 allowed in a half would have brightened the mood around the Bills after the game Sunday. But could their performance against Arizona really be construed, as they suggested, as a step in the right direction?
Coach Chan Gailey convinced himself that their 19-16 win over the Cardinals was a marked improvement that, you know, revealed their character after a two-week downfall. You couldn’t help but wonder if his next move after such a big win was uncorking a bottle of champagne.
“I’m excited for those guys who have worked their rears off,” Gailey said. “They lost some respect the last couple of weeks, and they were out to gain some respect back. I think they did that."
Good Lord.
Gailey talked about gut checks and showered his team with praise in a transparent attempt to repair their collective psyche. I can’t imagine Bill Belichick fawning over the Patriots under the same circumstances. Gailey emphasized how impressed he was with his team, presumably for not folding for the third straight week.
Meanwhile, I’ve become less impressed with his coaching with each passing week.
Technically, the Bills’ performance was an upgrade over their listless losses to New England and San Francisco. Then again, any positive play after the national anthem would have met the criteria. Really, after getting crushed, 90-17, in their previous six quarters, how much worse could it get?
I know a win is a win, and any win is a good win in the NFL – zzzzz – but we’re past the 24-hour rule. It’s time they take a strong look at Sunday’s game and stop buying into the idea that all is well. At best, they’re a below-average team that’s somehow staying upright in an average division.
Being upright doesn’t equate to being right, given how the season has unfolded. The Bills are ranked 21st on offense, 31st on defense, a combined total (52) that’s last in the AFC East. Only three teams in the NFL are worse in combined yardage rankings — Tennessee (60), Cleveland (55) and Jacksonville (55).
Buffalo is tied with Tampa Bay, which had a plus-19 point differential while the Bills were minus-55. Maybe linebacker Shawne Merriman can help their run defense, last in the NFL, but it’s doubtful.
The Bills had no answers for the second half against New England. Gailey’s team wasn’t remotely ready for San Francisco. Buffalo was largely outplayed by Arizona, the weakest team with a winning record in the league. He darned near chucked away Sunday’s game after trying to outsmart himself with the Wildcat.
By the way, the Wildcat should be thrown to the dogs.
If anything, it’s a wild card, a waste of practice time that could be devoted to perfecting plays that work even when opponents know they’re coming. That’s what the Bills needed over some gimmick when they had the ball, and the lead, inside the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
At the very least, Gailey’s decision showed little respect for his defense and less for his quarterback. Clearly, he wasn’t confident the unit could stop Arizona on a potential game-winning drive. And his fears were justified. Gailey didn’t even attempt to defend the call afterward. With a straight face, he blamed poor execution for the botched play.
“We designed it to go to the middle of the field, but it ended up not hitting the middle of the field,’’ he said. “If we hit that, we’re all talking about what a great call it is. If we don’t, it’s a dumb call. So it was a dumb call. If I had to do it over again, I’d run it.’’
Actually, it was a dumb call the moment the play left his lips. If he did it again in the same situation, it would be doubly dumb. The pass was intercepted, but Brad Smith threw a better ball to Patrick Peterson than half of the passes Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed in the general direction of his own receivers.
Fitzpatrick’s inconsistent play remains the most troubling sign for the Bills, but that’s been the case since London Fletcher re-introduced himself last season. Fitz wasn’t much better Sunday than he was in the previous two losses, but his shortcomings were largely ignored amid the euphoria and relief racing through the locker room.
Let’s be honest – if Tim Tebow’s marginal passing skills were in Buffalo rather than New York, fans would be howling louder for him to become the starter than Jets fans have begged for him to replace Mark Sanchez.
Fitz is safe because nobody is pushing him from behind. He signed a big contract. He’s a nice guy and good teammate who is popular in the locker room. It doesn’t make him a good NFL quarterback, at least for the last 14 games. It merely helps cover up flaws with a right arm that rarely shoots straight.
Buffalo is 3-3 and locked into a tie for first place with the other three teams in the division. The Bills rationalized their place was a result of parity. It’s not parity. It’s a statistical anomaly that’s certain to even out and bite them if they continue playing the same way over their final 10 games.
The Bills looked at the score and convinced themselves that they beat the Cardinals, but really the Cardinals lost to the Bills. It’s a big difference. The Cards must have been shaking their heads after watching that one slip away but no more than New England must be wondering how it’s tied with Buffalo.
It doesn’t make sense because, well, it doesn’t add up.
The Patriots have lost three games by a total of four points. They could argue that they’re three plays from being 6-0 and running away with the division. They’ve won enough games over the years to know they’re in good shape. They have the right coach in Belichick and the right quarterback in Tom Brady.
Buffalo has lost three games by – we pause while I grab the calculator – 86 points. The difference could be more than 100 points, but they scored three touchdowns during garbage time against the Jets and Pats. Buffalo is 0-2 in the division while getting outscored, 100-56.
The Bills are one play and a few inches from 2-4, but they avoided the loss to Arizona. Does that mean they’re going in the right direction? Technically, yes, I guess it does. But they’re miles from being right.