INDIANAPOLIS — Chan Gailey is plain desperate now. After another afternoon of dubious play-calling, the Bills coach walked into the losing locker room and played the only card he had left in the deck.
He compared them to the defending Super Bowl champions.
“I told our players our goal now is to get to 7-7,” Gailey said Sunday after a 20-13 loss to the Colts. “That’s where the world champions were last year. That’s our goal. We’ve got to get to 7-7 and see where everything sits.”
Uh, Chan. Put the card away. You’re embarrassing yourself. Look around the dressing room. That’s not the Giants. That’s not Eli Manning over there. That defense, it’s not the one that took down Tom Brady and the Pats here last February at Lucas Oil Stadium. And you’re not Tom Coughlin, by the way.
Bills fans aren’t in the mood for silly talk. Some of them bought into the Colts game as some heroic stand, an opportunity to knock off an upstart team and pull within one game of a playoff spot in a watered-down AFC.
Your own players said it was a must-win game. They said they were treating it as the start of their playoffs. A win would lift the Bills within a game of sixth place. So what happened? They found a way to lose, as they invariably do when they play a road game with any trace of meaning.
Playoffs? Well, you know what happens when you lose a playoff game. Season over. Done. I don’t want to hear about the Giants, or the prospect of running the table to 9-7 and sneaking in. They had a chance to make the season interesting again, and it was too much for them.
The Bills are 4-7. Get this: They’ve been either 4-7 or 5-6 at this point in the season in 10 of the last 11 years. And to think, people were ready to get giddy about 5-6. Please, someone, make it stop.
After 13 years, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. You just change the names and dates and the uniform numbers and recite the same old laments. If it’s not J.P. Losman making the bad throw at the end, it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. If it’s not Gregg Williams punting inside the 35, it’s Gailey.
Let’s stop dancing around and state the obvious:
The coach is second-rate.
The quarterback is second-rate.
Until that changes, the franchise will be second-rate, which is troubling news for anyone who worries that a bumbling, consistently underachieving NFL team is more vulnerable to being whisked away to a town with more people and a more vibrant economy.
Gailey is 14-29 in Buffalo. Dick Jauron was five games better at the same point with the Bills. Gregg Williams was one game better. Gailey has won five road games. The evidence against him continues to mount. It’s at the point where you can no longer distinguish him from the failures who preceded him.
Williams’ most notable gaffe was punting from the Pats’ 32 in a 2002 home loss. On Sunday, Gailey punted from the Colts’ 34-yard line on fourth and 14 midway through the second quarter.
Gailey said he wanted to pin the Colts deep. He liked the way his defense was playing. Clearly, he didn’t trust Rian Lindell to attempt a 52-yard field goal. The Bills punted. Indy started from its 11 and marched to a field goal.
Lindell was diplomatic about it. But in today’s NFL, if a kicker can’t be trusted to try field goals from that distance — in a dome — he’s on his way out of the league. Gailey did the same thing in Arizona and got away with it. But at some point, you need to show faith in your kicker.
If he didn’t want a field goal, Gailey could have gone for it. Sure, fourth and 14 is a long shot, but what’s so terrible about turning the ball over on downs around the opponent’s 30-yard line in the second quarter?
But Gailey’s tactics at the end of the half were even more maddening. The same coach who was afraid to kick a long field goal had his struggling offense come out throwing from its own 8-yard line with 58 seconds left in the half — with only one timeout left.
Fitzpatrick threw incomplete to Stevie Johnson on first and second down. Then they ran Fred Jackson for 4 yards. The three plays took a grand total of 14 seconds off the clock. They punted to the Colts, who drove to the Bills’ 1-yard line and settled for a field goal.
Coaches have been fired for less. Of course, Gailey has demonstrated an outsized belief in his precious spread offense — and Fitzpatrick — for three seasons now. It doesn’t work, especially on the road. But Gailey continues to call the game as if Fitz were a future Hall of Famer.
For better or worse, Gailey tied himself to Fitz, and they rise and fall as a tandem. Overall, it’s been a failure. Gailey’s misplaced belief in Fitz has made him overly reliant on his passing game and caused him to under utilize the most dynamic running back in the game.
C.J. Spiller ran for 107 yards against the Colts. He averaged 7.6 yards a carry. It’s getting redundant. Spiller had only 15 touches. Early in the second quarter, he had consecutive runs of 11, 13 and 3 yards. He didn’t touch the football for the last 11 minutes of the first half.
Fitzpatrick, who had missed on two deep throws to open receivers earlier, completed a 63-yard bomb to Johnson late in the half. It was a perfect time to use Spiller, with the Colts’ defenders reeling. The Bills called three straight passes (two incompletions, a 4-yard scramble) and kicked a field goal.
The Colts are a mediocre team. They were beatable. Andrew Luck showed uncommon poise for a rookie. The Colts were 8 of 16 on third downs, including two third-and-11s and a third-and-17. Still, the defense sacked Luck four times and held the Colts to 20 points. They got a big game from Mario Williams.
That should have been good enough against an Indy defense that had been allowing 26 points a game and surrendering a lot of big plays. The Bills scored half of that. There’s no excuse. Gailey and Fitzpatrick did what second-rate coaches and quarterbacks generally do. They found enough ways to lose.
“I always question myself,” Gailey said. “Am I doing the right thing to get us where we need to be? If you don’t question yourself, and if you’re hard-headed, you’re doomed for failure. So you always are looking for the answer, because it’s obvious we haven’t found it at this point.”
Gailey said he hasn’t lost confidence. He can point to last year’s Giants, after all. Maybe the Bills will win the next two home games against modest opposition and lure the more gullible fans into believing again.
I find it a lot easier to compare this Bills team to the dozen losers that came before it.