TAMPA, Fla. — Sunday’s miserable loss by the Buffalo Bills wasn’t just a case of bad blocking, tackling, throwing and catching, although the Bills were awful in all of those football fundamentals.
There was something rotten with the Bills’ mind-set, or confidence, or resilience; or all of the above.
How else can one explain the Bills’ listless performance from start to finish in losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-6?
That’s why Bills coach Doug Marrone kept the locker room closed for a good 25 minutes after the game and opened the floor to his players to let them talk out their frustrations.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here where the coach gives us the floor, and gives us the opportunity to talk amongst ourselves and see what it is we feel,” said running back Fred Jackson. “He didn’t want to come in here and give some kind of speech. He wanted us to talk. Let us kind of clear the air, from a player’s point of view.”
“We were talking about things we need to do to get a situation like this fixed,” Jackson said. “We just didn’t get the job done today. We looked like crap. Bottom line, we did not play well. I can’t think of anything we did right. That’s something we need to take ownership of. There’s no one finger that needs to be pointed at anybody. As a team we looked absolutely horrible today and the score showed it.”
How bad were the Bills in falling to 4-9? An overview:
• They gave up an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage.
• Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had his worst day as a pro, looking uncertain in the pocket and throwing four interceptions (two of which were his fault).
• Their offensive line got dominated, and Manuel was sacked seven times.
• They made 11 penalties for 114 yards, including a holding call on Robert Woods that wiped out an 83-yard TD run by C.J. Spiller.
• They rushed for just 67 yards and a 3-yard average.
• They fumbled a punt.
• It was the first Bills game since 1971 in which Buffalo had at least seven sacks, four interceptions and no touchdowns.
Jackson, fellow team captain Kyle Williams and several other players spoke. Then Marrone wrapped it up with his views.
“The most disappointing thing is the first half of the game,” Williams said. “How you come out and either are not ready to go or are not focused on what you’re supposed to do? … We only get to do this 16 times in a season, if you get to do it that many ever, so there’s really no excuse for it. So it’s really hard to comprehend.”
Did the Bills leave their intensity in Toronto, where they suffered a painful overtime loss to Atlanta last week?
Marrone had talked to the players all week about rebounding from the Toronto disappointment. Just four weeks before, the Bills had suffered a heart-breaker to Kansas City, 23-13. They followed it up with a poor showing in Pittsburgh, which before Sunday was their worst game of the year.
“We played a game last week which was a very difficult game for our players,” Marrone said. “We talked about it during the week. We come back and we played even worse than we did in the Pittsburgh game. That’s disappointing.
“I learned we have to work harder. I learned we have a long way to go. I learned we have to take more accountability. I can’t stand up here and make excuses; I can only promise you we’re going to work harder.”
Accountability was a word on many players’ lips.
Asked about the inability to bounce back from last week, Williams said:
“I don’t think its everybody, but it’s here and there, where we have to get everybody to come back and to bounce back and to understand that in this league … after a disappointing loss or a tough loss you have to turn that disappointment and pour it back into your preparation for the next week.”
C.J. Spiller, who had 22 rushing yards on 11 carries, said Wednesday’s practice was sluggish.
“First day of practice didn’t come off well,” he said. “But we picked it up and I thought from then on we had a good week of preparation, had a good game plan going into it.”
Said safety Aaron Williams: “There’s a lot of little things that really need to be fixed on and off the field with this team. We talked about it as a team. As long as we fix the little things, the inconsistency will stop. … The captains know what’s going on and they voiced it out. The losing is just getting tiring.”
What was Marrone’s message to the players?
“He came out and said we got to be accountable for what’s going on,” said receiver Stevie Johnson. “We can’t be afraid to speak our minds to each other. That’s how you know you are playing with each other, when you got guys you can say whatever to, not just be quote-unquote, yes-men. You got to be real with each other. That’s what he was saying.”
Good teams dig themselves out of slow starts by getting some timely plays from their best players, a point Marrone acknowledged.
“Someone has to just step up and we have to make a play at that time,” he said.
The person best suited to that duty is the quarterback, and that’s where the Bills were lacking.
Manuel failed to string together a handful of good plays to get his team back in the game. He was just 6 of 15 for 54 yards in the first half. He finished 18 of 33 for 184 yards.
Manuel misread a two-deep coverage with man-to-man underneath on a second-quarter throw for T.J. Graham that was picked off by Johnthan Banks. He forced a third-quarter slant pass for Johnson even though the cornerback was cheating heavily to the inside to guard the play.
Marrone said the coaches probably need to reduce the size of the game plan so Manuel can better manage the information.
“We’ve got to look to see what we can do and probably cut down in what we’re doing,” he said.