Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone knows what his team is doing to its fans.
He’s going through it himself.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not adding years to my life or any of our fans as they watch it,” Marrone said of the preponderance of close games his team has been involved in through the first seven weeks of the season.
Just how close have they been?
The closest in team history. Buffalo’s seven games this season have been decided by a total of just 31 points, an average of 4.4 points per game. The previous closest total margin of victory through the first seven games of the season was 38 points in 1998, an average of 5.4 per game. Last season, the average margin of victory through the first seven weeks was more than two possessions, at 16.9 points per game.
Every Bills game this year has had a final score within one possession, save the 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. In that game, the Bills got the ball back down by six points with 2:19 to play, but backup quarterback Jeff Tuel threw a game-deciding pick-six to Browns safety T.J. Ward.
“Everyone is just playing as hard as they possibly can,” Marrone said. “I think one of the things we look at is how the players are playing. We do need to improve. We have a lot to work on, there’s no doubt about that. As far as our effort and trying to get things right, that’s there - despite all the injuries and adversity that we’ve had.”
Chief among that adversity has been injuries. Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore missed the first five games of the season, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was hurt against the Browns and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have battled various minor injuries most of the year.
“Obviously we’d like to be sitting better than 3-4, but we’re fighting,” center Eric Wood said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity. There’s not a ton of teams playing our schedule, against the defenses we’re playing with a pretty good rotation at quarterback, we missed Stevie Johnson for a game, we’ve missed other receivers for games, two dinged up running backs, shuffling the offensive line and still putting up points and still going out there and fighting week to week.
“Playing every team tough and putting ourselves in position to win. We’re not making all the plays at the end, which we need to do a better job of, but we’re out there fighting. Credit to the coaches putting us in good position and the guys go out there and try.”
Close games are not exclusive to the Bills. Through Week Seven, 74 of 107 games (69.2 percent) have been within seven points in the fourth quarter, the most such games through the first seven weeks of a season in NFL history (there were 73 such games in 2004).
Of the 107 games in the league thus far, 29 of them (27.1 percent) have been decided by a fourth-quarter comeback victory. That puts the 2013 season on pace for the second-highest percentage of games with a fourth-quarter comeback victory since 1970, when 31.3 percent of games (70 of 224) had one.
The Bills had a fourth-quarter comeback victory in Week Two against Carolina.
“We’re a team that’s fighting and trying to get over this,” Marrone said. “We haven’t been in the playoffs in 12 years. We know it’s out there. It’s not the elephant in the room – we talk about it all the time. We’re fighting, fighting, fighting and that’s what we’re going to keep on doing.”
Marrone was actually off by a year. It’s been 13 years since Buffalo’s last postseason appearance, and a 3-4 start means it will be a difficult – but not insurmountable – challenge to end it this year.
Since 1990, 32 teams had a losing record after seven games and advanced to the playoffs. Two teams - Cincinnati and Washington - accomplished the feat last year.
“At some point it’s going to start to break,” Marrone said. “That’s what you’re seeing right now. You’re seeing a group of guys that care about each other, at least that’s what I see when I’m around them.”
Belief in quarterback Thad Lewis - who has gone 1-1 in replace of Manuel - is high.
“I think that is a very, very important thing,” Marrone said, “when you have someone at that position and the players think you can win with them.”
“I appreciate it as a coach, how they handle themselves professionally. How they go about it and how they’re playing. Granted we’re not happy with the record or where we’re at, but we’re working at changing that every single day.”