TORONTO – In case you missed it, Chan Gailey had a Wade Phillips moment Monday. He compounded a brutal coaching performance against the Rams by declaring the Bills out of contention on his radio show the next morning.
“The playoffs are out of the picture for us now,” he said.
Shocking, coming from a man who had drawn hopeful parallels to last year's Super Bowl champions when his team was 4-7. Gailey corrected himself later in the day. The Bills are still technically alive heading into today's game against the Seahawks at the Rogers Centre.
Gailey is essentially correct, though. They're done. There's no point in examining the far-fetched and convoluted series of events that need to occur for the Bills to make the playoffs at 8-8. It's time to play for pride and jobs now.
Normally, this is where I remind you how much I despise the Toronto series, and how it makes the Bills look like a desperate, fragile and second-rate NFL franchise to farm out one of their eight precious regular-season games to Canada in the name of regionalization.
Those things remain true. But I have to admit, I'm really excited about this game. It wouldn't matter if they played it in the middle of the Queenston Bridge, or if the Bills were coming into the game winless. This could be the most compelling matchup of the season. Why?
Marshawn Lynch vs. C.J. Spiller.
Lynch, the prodigal son, comes home (sort of) as the star running back and face of a Seattle franchise — that is the hottest team in the NFC. Spiller, the Bills' dynamic and underutilized back, is set to be the unquestioned feature back now that Fred Jackson is out for the year.
Lynch has 261 carries for 1,266 yards, second only to the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. He has a 4.9 average per carry and nine touchdowns. Going back to the ninth week of last season, he has 2,207 rushing yards, the most of any running back in the league, more than 300 ahead of the next man, Ray Rice.
Spiller has 144 carries for 944 yards. At that pace, he would finish with the highest average per carry (6.6) of any NFL/AFL running back since Beattie Feathers became the first 1,000-yard man in 1934.
Both will be operating indoors, running on a fast track with lots to prove: Lynch will be eager to show the Bills they were wrong to trade him to Seattle after drafting Spiller two years ago. Spiller will be looking to prove he's durable enough to handle a full workload in Gailey's offense.
I know this isn't boxing. It's a team game and running backs don't square off against each other. But you have to admit, it's good drama for December, especially by our standards. For Bills fans, a Lynch-Spiller dustup is a lot more interesting than pretending that a victory might propel them on some heroic late-season run.
Keep in mind, if not for Lynch, Spiller wouldn't even be here.
It was Lynch's dubious off-field behavior that compelled the Bills to take Spiller with the ninth overall pick in 2010 - making them the only NFL team in the last 10 years to draft a running back in the first round three times.
They had two proven running backs in Lynch and Jackson, but Lynch had worn out his welcome and the Bills knew it was only a matter of time before they moved him.
No doubt, there are people who see Lynch's success as a redemption story, proof that he was treated unfairly in Buffalo and that trading him was yet another in a long line of miscalculations by the personnel department.
That's much too convenient. Lynch was a productive player with the Bills. He ran for 1,000 yards twice. In his finer moments, the fans embraced his relentless “Beast Mode” running style. He could have owned the town and been a Buffalo icon, if he had been mature enough to handle his early success.
But he wasn't. Lynch came here as a naive 21-year-old. Soon after he was drafted, his mother said people in Buffalo shouldn't judge her son by his tough exterior. Get to know him, she said. “When they see Marshawn,” Delisa Lynch said, “they will see the child that I raised.”
That's how Lynch behaved here, like a privileged, overgrown child. He never allowed us to know him, never let people in. His public act spoke for him. Hitting a woman with his car and driving away. Bringing his own booze into bars. Getting charged with weapons possession in L.A. Grabbing a $20 bill from a woman and saying, “Don't you know who I am?”
Maybe he was simply too young, or Buffalo too small. By the end of his third season, in which he served a three-game suspension for the gun arrest, I felt it was time for him to go. He wasn't comfortable here. A separation was best for both parties.
Lynch has reborn as a star in Seattle, which was desperate to make him the focus of Pete Carroll's offense. It's another regrettable case of an athlete leaving Buffalo and thriving elsewhere. But it sickens me when people talk as if we were a bunch of rubes who treated the poor guy unfairly.
I'm sure Lynch ran into an insensitive cop or bartender or reporter here or there. But his problems were mainly self-inflicted. He's not the first athlete to begin his career in extended adolescence, and he won't be the last. That doesn't mean we were wrong to want the guy out of town.
Evidently, Lynch has done a lot of growing up. I'm glad for that. He always had a soft side to him. He simply didn't make an effort to share it enough here. A recent Sports Illustrated story talked in glowing terms about Lynch's Fam 1st Foundation, and his efforts to build a youth center in his native Oakland. He should be commended for trying to make a difference in the lives of children in the city where he grew up.
The story was a little much, though. It made Lynch out to be a modern-day Bill Bradley. The author said if we could only look past his appearance, we'd see his “analytical” and “facile” mind. Sounds like his PR handlers are peddling a lot of the same stuff about poor, misunderstood Marshawn.
Oh, Lynch is still awaiting resolution on his DUI arrest last July in California. It might result in another suspension. But I imagine Seahawks fans are looking past it, now that Lynch is the centerpiece of a rousing playoff run.
So yes, it should be quite a showdown today. Bills fans should finally get to see how Spiller can do without the coaching shackles. And they can root against Lynch. Hey, if he runs amok again, at least it'll be in someone else's town.