MIAMI – George Wilson, a font of oratory in years past, has been strangely subdued this season. His role on the defense has been reduced, and he hasn’t made the plays. I suspect it’s because the Senator’s enormous capacity for belief has diminished, too.
“I talk to myself all the time,” Wilson said Sunday after the Bills lost to the Dolphins, 24-10. “It’s like different chapter, same story.”
Wilson has been in the organization for nine seasons. He has played for Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey, answered to general managers and defensive coordinators too numerous to mention. Yet the story never changes.
The Bills keep selling hope, but there’s always another losing season under the Christmas tree. They raise your expectations and claim they’re making progress, but when the smoke clears, they’re back at the bottom of the AFC East.
It was supposed to be different in the year of Mario Williams. Maybe they wouldn’t overtake the Patriots for the division title, but they would challenge for a wild card. Clearly, they were better than a Dolphins team breaking in a rookie quarterback. No way they’d finish last.
But here they are again, last in the division. Guess what? They’re not better than Miami. The Dolphins won the rematch in convincing fashion, dominating the Bills through three quarters and coasting home on a day that begged for last-minute Christmas shopping.
Miami isn’t going to the playoffs, either. But the Dolphins are better, because they have the most important pieces in any rebuilding project: They have their franchise quarterback in rookie Ryan Tannehill; and they have a promising coach in first-year man Joe Philbin.
The Bills talk about progress, but they’ll finish behind Miami in what was supposed to be a transitional year for the Fish. Things are supposed to go in cycles in the NFL, but the wheel never stops on “Buffalo.”
They paid through the nose for Mario Williams. The schedule was in their favor. They had five games against rookie quarterbacks. It was a perfect setup. They’re 5-10. This makes them 0 for their last 3 against teams starting a rookie quarterback. That should get people fired.
Center Eric Wood said he’s certain they’re better. The films show it. But Wood said he knows how the NFL works, and that people are going to lose their jobs because of this. He’s right, and it should start with the coach.
Players said during the week that they might be playing for Gailey’s job. If so, this was an uninspiring show of love. The Bills were careless and unfocused on offense. Fitzpatrick said it might have been the worst offensive showing of his time in Buffalo.
Stevie Johnson, who was emotional in talking about Gailey last week, had a game to forget. He dropped a pass. He lost a fumble. He took the blame for the loss, which is more than you get from Mario Williams. Johnson admitted he might have been too wired to play his best game.
One way or another, the players aren’t responding to their coach. They look like a team that lacks passion and focus – that knows the operation is about to come apart, as Wood suggested.
How could they believe in Gailey? He’s 15-32 in Buffalo. He’s 3-14 in the AFC East, 1-4 this season. This makes 10 or more losses in each of his three years in charge. Three kicks at the can, and Gailey couldn’t match Dick Jauron’s signature record of 7-9.
You judge coaches (and quarterbacks) by their performance on the road, when the good teams assert themselves in the NFL. The Bills are 5-19 in Gailey’s three years. They were outscored in those losses, 636-310. That’s an average score of 33-16.
So if you’re desperate for signs of progress, Sunday’s margin was closer than the average road defeat in the Gailey era. OK, I tried.
I’m not sure what it will take for Gailey to lose his job. General Manager Buddy Nix swears his belief in the guy. Gailey has at least one, maybe two, years left on his deal. Ralph Wilson doesn’t like searching for coaches, or paying them for not working. But he hates losing to the Dolphins.
Don’t start with me about the officiating. I don’t want to hear about injuries, either. The Dolphins were riddled by injuries, especially on offense. But they outplayed the Bills’ defense, which was supposed to be getting better but has lost to rookie quarterbacks the last two weeks.
Lamar Miller, a rookie, had a career-high 73 yards rushing on 10 carries. Add him to my list of backs who have their breakout game against the Bills. Rishard Matthews, a rookie receiver, had a career-best 30-yard catch. Tannehill won’t make anyone forget Russell Wilson, but he had a career-long, 31-yard option run.
The Dolphins’ coaches were embarrassed by the offense’s showing in Buffalo last month. They were well-prepared for the rematch. The offense played with poise and purpose. It mixed up the plays well. The line did a nice job of blocking the Bills’ front as the Dolphins ran for 182 yards.
“They ran the ball better this time,” Wilson said. “They moved the ball up and down the field, changing up personnel and tempo. As a team, we never gained any traction today to get the momentum changing in our direction.”
Buffalo’s offense seemed confused and skittish at times. Johnson lost focus in the first half after his near-touchdown was ruled incomplete because he didn’t complete the catch while going to the ground. It was big of him to take the blame, but a strong coach doesn’t allow these mental lapses to persist.
It didn’t help to lose tight end Scott Chandler. They were also without Donald Jones, nominally their top speed receiver. T.J. Graham seemed lost. Suddenly, Dorin Dickerson turned into a go-to receiver.
But modest personnel doesn’t excuse some of the sloppy execution. The Bills showed a remarkable lack of urgency when they were 21 points behind in the fourth quarter, letting big chunks of time run off the clock between snaps.
The players insist they care about Gailey. They say they’re playing hard. You can’t say they quit, the way they did in Toronto. But there’s a flat, defeated quality to this Bills team.
Well, there’s always the Jets. Rex Ryan and his tortured team come to Orchard Park next weekend. If the Bills win, they’ll finish ahead of the Jets on conference tiebreaker. Maybe it’ll save Gailey’s job.
Before long, Senator, I’ll be talking to myself, too.