The Monday after a loss is something resembling the apocalypse around NFL facilities. For the fans, it resembles something similar to the Saturday morning hangover. Even worse is a loss where the fans, players, coaches, owners, corporate sponsors etc. can see the Promised Land known as the playoffs slipping away. Make no mistake about it, this cloud of darkness hung ominously over One Bills Drive on Monday, as the Bills stare a 11 going on 12 year playoff drought right in the face. With the loss total at five, and a competitive AFC East schedule looming, anything short of perfection could spell another long offseason in Buffalo.
So how did we get here? Why is it that a season that began with so much promise anchored by an offseason of logical, yet aggressive moves, has withered into another Western New York disappointment? And more importantly, is it possible for the Bills to still make the playoffs despite being on pace for another 6-10 season? While the problems with the Bills seem to be endless and insurmountable, I’m here to say that there may, just may, be some light at the end of the tunnel.
To anyone who watched the Bills-Texans games on Sunday, the idea that there are positives to be taken away from the 21-9 loss isn’t that surprising. The defense that has been under such constant and justified criticism gave up only 21 points to the second best offense in the NFL. Ryan Fitzpatrick was called on early and often, as Chan Gailey ignored the tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson (more on that later) and threw the ball 38 times while only running it 12. Fitzpatrick avoided the costly interception (might have had a fumble. I may or may not be talking myself out of this positive) and was able to play pretty well into the second half when the dominance of the Texans proved to wear too mightily on the Bills.
The play of the defense and Ryan Fitzpatrick aren’t shocking revelations. The defense has the talent to be one of the best in football, and Fitzpatrick’s 15 TDs to 9 INTs are not bad numbers. The question is: after seeing these things in a losing performance to a team that is clearly better than the Bills, are they sustainable? I think the play of the defense should remain constantly good enough to win. There are still serious issues in the secondary but if we have learned one thing about Dave Wandsedt’s defenses is that they start with the pressure generated by the front four. There was pressure on Sunday, it may not have been quite as consistent as we would have liked, but at least it was there. Mario Williams had by far his best game as a Bill recording seven tackles, one sack, and winning almost every one on one matchup he was out up against. Maybe it was his emotional return to Houston, maybe that wrist procedure that was so talked about proved to be effective. I don’t know, what I do think is that this is the kind of play we can expect from here on out from Mario Williams. It does not make sense for a player as physically gifted as him to not dominate every snap of every football game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is more of a mystery. The fact that has made him so endearing to Bills fans is the very thing that drives them crazy. Ryan Fitzpatrick is impossible to predict. There is not very often a mediocre center that he can settle into. He is either Jim Kelly with a sprinkle of John Elway or Rob Johnson mixed with Rob Johnson. There is no center. On Sunday, he seemed to find a middle ground were he was able to make big throws, and although his numbers tailed off in the second half he was spreading the ball around with relative ease and finding holes in a defense that no one has really been able to find this year. When the question of sustainability comes up, all Bills fans can really do is shrug as if to say: “your guess is as good as mine.” The fact of the matter is this: Ryan Fitzpatrick is fast meeting is losing quota in Buffalo. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The career of Ryan Fitzpatrick is at a crossroads. It is hard to say for sure what direction he is going, but it does not look promising.
One thing Ryan Fitzpatrick is not, and never will be, is the focal point of the offense. Chan Gailey is someone who has a history of spreading the field, being creative, and if his teams throw the ball 40-45 times a game, no one is happier then Chan Gailey. That’s nice when you have Tom Brady. The Bills do not have Tom Brady. The fact that Chan Gailey can really think it is a good idea to run the ball 16 times with the incredibly talented duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson does not speak well to his future in Buffalo. The play calling against Houston was so unacceptably bad that it might have opened a conversation I wasn’t to keen on having this year. Is it time to replace Chan Gailey? I have a deep, sinking feeling that this will be the driving point of many conversations for the rest of the season.
So there you have it. The good, the bad, and the ultimately deciding final score of the most recent Sunday failure for the Buffalo Bills. Up next? The New England Patriots. It never can just be easy, can it?