Orchard Park, NY (WGR550) -- Back in October, you know, after the Buffalo Bills blew a fourth quarter lead to lose to the Tennessee Titans, I started off the post-game column with the following line:
"The one that got away."
It certainly seems like Sonny & Cher woke us up, we went and talked to Doris at the Tip Top Cafe and Ned Ryerson told us about his wicked case of shingles during senior year of high school.
If that sentence means nothing to you, I'm sorry. For the rest, you get it.
It's Groundhog Day at One Bills Drive. The only difference, Phil Connors eventually learns from the error of his ways and finally gets out of the constant soul-sucking cycle in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Although not mathematically eliminated just yet, the Bills now need the eventual winner of the Week 16 showdown between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers to not win another game, and hope that the loser doesn't win their other two contests.
Oh, yeah, and the Bills have to beat a Seattle team that is pounding the snot out of teams, a Miami team that they scraped by against and a Jets club that slapped them upside the head in Week One just to have a chance.
Ah, where to start? Let's get to it:
- How many unbearable conservative decisions by head coach Chan Gailey that end up doing more harm then good needs to be suffered before he finally gets it? It seems like such a long time ago when the Bills in 2011 -- and even at times in 2010 -- were refreshing in their offensive play calls that kept teams off-balance. For some reason in his third season Chan Gailey channeled his inner Punxsutawney Phil and is frightened of his own shadow, which in this case would be making a stark decision that could potentially pay high dividends but instead siding with the illogically decided norm. I'm not sure what was worse, the decision to punt from only 34 yards outside of the St. Louis end zone, the inner freakout that got to that decision, or Gailey's explanation of it after the game.
"When they first told me when I first turned, they told me it was a 50-yard field goal instead of a 52, 53-yard field goal. We had just dropped the snap on the extra point, so that is why I pulled them back out of there and said 'Hey let's let the defense try and keep them pinned back.'"
Did he also forget that the player that dropped the snap was the one in the backfield that would have caught the punt, or that St. Louis punter Johnny Hekker just had a snap to him in a punt formation slip through his hands? Past that, why not take the false start instead of burning a timeout just to punt?
"Well I was trying to get that to them to take the delay of game and Scott Chandler saw me tell them to take the delay of game, but I did not know he got that word. So I was scared they were going to snap it. That it is why I called the timeout."
Man… too easy. He was scared to attempt a 52-yard field goal despite his kicker hitting a 50-yard kick in worse conditions last week, with room to spare. Using his own words, Gailey was coaching as though he was scared to lose. That's just what happened against the St. Louis Rams. 'Scared to lose' transfers in to a loss. Remind me where I've heard that before?
- If you think I'm done with Gailey's decision making, you should know that I'm just warming up. Let's glance over that precious series of events at the end of the first half. Play-by-play style, shall we? The first two plays didn't have a lot of area to criticize. They gained 15 yards on passes to Fred Jackson and T.J. Graham that set up a 1st-and-10 on the St. Louis 34-yard line. No big deal there. My mind almost exploded with every play after that. Despite teams knowing the Bills love a screen play at the most desperate of times, Buffalo calls it to their less explosive running back, Fred Jackson, in the middle of the field with only 1:02 remaining on the clock. The play, shockingly, went for zero yards. Instead of using a timeout, the Bills got back to the line and snapped the ball a fresh 22 seconds later (38 seconds remaining for those counting at home). The Bills complete an 11-yard pass to Scott Chandler over the middle of the field and promptly call a timeout. Okay, no problem there, besides the whole wasting 22-seconds thing. Then, the Bills call a run play (!?!?) up the middle over their undrafted rookie center that had been getting dominated all day. They lose a yard and have to burn a timeout. Now, there's 27-seconds to go with just one timeout remaining and they're 24 yards out from the end zone. They have at least a three plays left to get a first down and maybe even a touchdown, right? Wrong. They dial up a 2-yard screen (shocker) to Jackson and get wrapped up in the field of play. Call a timeout, rush to the line, do something. Instead? They dilly-dally their way to just 10 seconds to play where they mercifully burned their last timeout of the first half. Still, with 10 seconds to go, it's third down so they should conceivably have one shot at the end zone while still preserving enough time to kick a field goal. Right? Right? Is this thing on? Bueller? Sorry, wrong movie. That's just too logical. Instead, through the uprights it went and we're all left scratching our heads. Deep breaths people, it couldn't get worse, could it?
- But wait! There's more! How do you effectively take your offense out of the ball game, you ask? Here's how! By only giving the best player you have on offense eight touches throughout the game, that's how. C.J. Spiller, as Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham pointed out, received his lowest amount of carries and receptions since the Bills were shellacked by San Francisco in October. Let's send it down to Chan, Chan?
"Well he gets… he had two good runs in that first drive, he gets winded and he comes out."
"It was not happening there after that first drive of the second half. We were trying to run the football and when it was Fred's turn, it was Fred's turn to be in there."
Seven carries, 37 yards as opposed to 14 yards on nine carries. What happened to the hot hand approach from last week that gave Jackson so many more carries than Spiller? Needless to say, I can't wait until it's Tashard Choice's turn next week.
- Despite the Bills having a much more impressive outing offensively in their game against Tennessee, who wasn't reminded of that loss as the Rams drove the ball down the field and broke the Bills' collective spirits on Sunday? A game the Bills desperately needed, and one they were on the brink of pulling away from until crucial mistakes late kept them from corralling a victory. Even George Wilson had a game-ending interception in his grasp, like he did against Tennessee, and couldn't bring it in yet again. Good teams know how to win close games at the end. It just goes to show exactly where the Bills are right now.
- I've written a whole bunch of words without commenting in a positive manner, but I need to stress it wasn't all bad for the Bills. For instance, for the sixth straight week their defensive line performed very, very well. Mario Williams and Kyle Moore provided the pressure off the edge, Kyle Williams did the same up the middle and Marcell Dareus is a steadying force at the line of scrimmage that occupies blockers. Alex Carrington also chipped in his second consecutive impressive game. The Rams run game was a dead issue, rushing for only 78 yards on 27 carries. It was another strong outing for that group.
- Until he shows he can consistently stick with his man and not give up a big play, opponents of the Bills will continue to attack rookie cornerback Ron Brooks on the outside. We saw it last week against Jacksonville, where Cecil Shorts III was able to have a very solid day in a loss and drew some penalties on Brooks in the process. Against St. Louis, Brooks was the target as soon as the Rams crossed over in to Bills territory on the final, fateful game-winning drive. As you would expect, Brooks was very down on himself afterwards. He's going to have to forget that very quickly with the suddenly high-powered Seattle Seahawks on the horizon next week.
- The Bills' offensive line, in a word, was… woof. In his first career start, undrafted rookie David Snow was a liability the entire game. It was the first career start for right tackle Sam Young as well, who had a better game than Snow, but struggled a bit to recognize a stunt in time to get out to his should-be assignment. Left tackle Cordy Glenn wasn't effective and even the rock-steady Andy Levitre lost his block on some key plays. It was a day to forget in what has been a mostly solid year for the offensive line.
- In a game where quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played well enough to help his team to a victory, the offensive play-calling is what ultimately did the Bills in. Sure, Fitzpatrick made a boneheaded decision when he didn't recognize a zone look and almost got picked off by James Laurinaitis early in the contest. And if Laurinaitis wasn't there, rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins was in position to jump the route and return the ball for a touchdown like he's done three times over the past two games. Other than that, though, Fitzpatrick was on point for a large majority of his throws. The 38-yard pass to Stevie Johnson down the right sideline was a perfect ball to his back shoulder against an aggressive corner. Fitzpatrick should have been on the victorious side today. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
- Usually I reserve this space for breaking down the inns and outs of the players that are on the Bills 53-man roster. I have to say, though, the plays made by Rams tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receiver Austin Pettis on that final drive were amazing displays of pressure-playing and athleticism. Kendricks laid out over the middle on a perfectly thrown ball 22 yards down the field to get in to Buffalo territory. Then, on a 4th-and-1, Bradford badly threw it behind a slanting Pettis. The wideout somehow adjusted to the ball, reached back and brought in the reception which kept the Rams' hopes alive. That might have been the play of the game.
- There's a lot of criticism that will be thrown around throughout the next week, but any person out there has to feel for Fred Jackson. An injury-riddled season, Jackson received one more crushing blow on Sunday. As the Bills helped him to the sidelines to sit on the bench, they ushered the cart over almost immediately. With a towel draped over his head, a visibly upset Jackson didn't test out his (likely) knee injury like he did against the Jets in New York in Week One. Instead, the dejected Jackson gingerly plopped himself in the front seat of the cart and was wheeled up the field and through the tunnel. It didn't look promising from my perspective, I'll say that much.
Bills' MVP: Marcell Dareus - The big man came to play and was a force throughout the game.
Bills' LVP: Chan Gailey - Do you really need and/or want more?!
Up Next: Sunday, December 16 vs. Seattle at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Draft Order Update (New Feature!): Through 13 games, the Bills currently have the 10th overall pick. If Detroit upsets Green Bay, the Bills will have the 9th pick.
- The 2004 Buffalo Bills are safe to uncork the champagne bottles and start celebrating. For one more year, they'll remain as the lone Bills team to have a winning record since the turn of the century. The Bills' playoff hopes aren't dead yet mathematically, but it's pretty much a dead issue at this point. They have a lot of solid pieces along their roster, but the whole doesn't equal the sum of those parts. Buffalo has to learn how to win all, or most, of these close games that have gone against them for so many years in a row. How do they go about doing that? The answer to that is above my pay-grade. Fittingly it took thirteen games to get to this point in the thirteenth straight year, so here goes nothing: let the draft watch commence.