As we settle in for a much-needed bye week Sunday, a quick review of the numbers:
Against the Patriots and Niners, the Bills became the first NFL team to allow 550 yards in consecutive games since the 1950 New York Yanks. Their opponents’ current average of 5.95 yards per rush, over a full season, would be second all-time to the 1934 Cincinnati Reds.
That’s how bad it is. The Bills’ defense is challenging records for futility that date back to when NFL clubs had the same nicknames as baseball teams. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize that the Reds and Yanks had played in the NFL. Did they have Cubs and Pirates, too?
Oh, and as Mark Gaughan pointed out in Saturday’s News, the Bills are allowing 32.4 points a game, a pace that would rank as the second-worst in NFL history behind the 1981 Baltimore Colts.
So for Bills fans, this has been one of the most depressing defensive runs in franchise history. But I’ll take it a step further.
When you consider that it occurred after the Bills gave Mario Williams a $100 million contract, making him the highest-paid defensive player ever in the NFL, these past two months rank among the most humiliating defensive stretches in the history of the league.
Williams’ mysterious wrist injury only makes matters worse. It’s bad enough that Mario is using an injury to excuse his poor play. When the head coach claims ignorance about the severity of the injury, or the surgical procedure that Williams had last week to treat it, it looks bad for everybody.
Either Chan Gailey doesn’t know, or he’s playing dumb to cover for his alleged superstar. He doesn’t seem to have much of a handle on his defensive problems, either. A strong head coach has command over every aspect of his operation. Gailey appears out of his depth in the current crisis.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. But Williams is dragging the whole team down. We talk about superstars lifting their teams in sports. Well, alleged superstars who underperform and give a half-hearted effort, while being paid a king’s ransom, can have the opposite effect.
Nick Barnett has talked about a “lack of urgency.” It’s a favorite cliche of struggling teams. Lindy Ruff and the Sabres ought to have it copyrighted. I see more a sense of discouragement in the Bills. The life goes out of them too easily in games. Williams is a big part of that.
When a star underachieves, it can infiltrate a team’s competitive subconcscious. When the highest-paid defensive player in league history is pointing to his wrist, it can have a toxic effect. You can’t tell me it’s not affecting the locker room.
Chris Kelsay questioned some players’ effort last Monday. He talked about accountability and playing hard on every snap. He said you could watch the film and see there were players not going all-out. Kelsay took personal responsibility, but I suspect Williams was a major target of his ire.
A few days after the Pats game, I asked one Bill what he felt about Williams and his injury. You guys are warriors, I said. Just about everyone is hurt in some way. Mario’s complaints can’t go over well in here.
“I’m with you 100 percent on that,” he said. “A lot of us are.”
You don’t hear any passionate defense of the guy. Gailey gives Williams mild praise. But from the start, he has downplayed the wrist injury. He said the Bills don’t put every ankle and knee sprain on the injury report. After the “procedure,” Gailey still referred to it as one of those “little things.”
Williams’ defenders point out that Gailey first revealed the wrist injury early this season. Williams hadn’t mentioned it before then. But Williams would have brought it up soon enough. He seems only too willing to refer to the wrist when being quizzed about his dubious play.
There always seems to be an explanation when the $100 million man has a bad day. Remember the opener at the Jets? After getting outplayed by some no-name, Williams prefaced his postgame remarks by whining about the officials.
On the day he signed, Williams referred to his teammates as “brothers.” I don’t detect any profound brotherhood. Williams is the only Bill I can remember who had a personal refrigerator in his locker, even though the same drinks are available in a cooler about 30 feet across the room.
Williams is the only Bill who is required to speak with the media only once a week, not counting game days. Teams are allowed two such designations. This is the only Bill I recall asking for the privilege.
Maybe it’s petty to bring those things up. But what does it say about Williams? How could he be so politically tone deaf to make gestures that set him apart from his teammates and make him look like a diva?
The Bills’ locker room is filled with good guys. I suppose they’ve done their best to make Williams feel accepted. In the Super Bowl days, there would be a line of players waiting to fight him.
Mario says he doesn’t care what people think. Maybe that’s the problem. Believe me, the guys in Jim Kelly’s day cared. They took any insult, real or perceived, as a competitive challenge. They hated losing. They fought each other. In the end, they pulled together and turned it on the opposition.
I don’t see that in this team, certainly not in Mario Williams. There’s no discernible passion or fire in the guy. Maybe he ought to care more now that devoted Bills fans are looking at him as an overpaid fraud.
When Williams signed, people said it almost seemed too good to be true. Reasonable fans were ready to accept that fact that no player could live up to the expectations that accompany a $100 million contract.
No one could have imagined it would be this bad. But really, is it any surprise that a man who can’t walk 30 feet to get a Gatorade doesn’t always run all-out to the whistle?