Quick show of hands. How many of you are thrilled to see the 2012 Buffalo Bills season come to an end on Sunday? One, two three, four….keep your hands up and I’ll count as you read.
The most disappointing of the 13 straight non playoff seasons will officially go into the record books when the Bills finish their game with the Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But why wait for Sunday night or Monday morning to look back on the campaign. I think I have everything I need to know for my slightly unconventional season in review.
After randomly selecting categories to match up with moments I wanted to write about, here is what I have come up with, in no particular order:
1. Defining moment- I’ll go with the 2nd half of the week 4 match up with the New England Patriots at RWS. After a surprising(and foreboding) opening day blow out loss to the Jets, the Bills beat teams we figured they should have in weeks 2(Kansas City) and 3(Cleveland) setting up the showdown with the bullies of the AFC East.
Going for their 2nd straight home win over Brady, Bellichick and company, the Bills went up 21-7 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter when the game went kaboom!
The Pats basically did to the Bills what Ralphie did to the bully in “A Christmas Story” and it included a string of obscenities(from Bills fans watching). New England scored 35 straight points over 12:41 of game time covering the 3rd and 4th quarters.
The Pats toyed with the Bills while putting up touchdowns on 6 consecutive offensive possessions. Their 45 2nd half points were the most by an NFL team, that had been trailing at halftime, since 1950. The bludgeoning saw the Bills defense give up two 100 yard rushers(Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden), two 100 yard receivers(Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski) and a total of 580 yards. While Rome burned, Nero was playing the fiddle. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt stayed with his nickel package and 4 man rush even though neither was working.
2. Rock Bottom- That came one week after the roof caved in against the Pats.
The Bills headed out west to play San Francisco and actually looked worse than they did against New England. When the firemen finally put out the five alarm blaze, all that was left was a 45-3 shellacking. The Bills set a new franchise record by giving up 621 yards or 9.9 yards a play. Buffalo became the first team in NFL history to give up 300 yards passing(310 to be exact) and 300 yards rushing(311) in the same game and the first team since 1950 to give up at least 550 yards in back to back games. The D had no sacks or interceptions.
3. Craziest Chan Gailey decision- This was tough because there were so many
worthy nominees but you can only have 1 winner. I’m going with the field goal attempt/timeout/punt in the game against St. Louis. Earlier in the season Gailey explained he was not a fan of FGA’s from 50 or more yards but lo and behold here was Rian Lindell on the field, awaiting the snap on a 52 or 53 yard attempt. The Bills were facing 4th and 7 at the Rams 34 yard line with 11:52 left in the 4th quarter and leading 12-7.
Before the snap, the Bills call time(which they REALLY could have used on their last offensive drive of the game) to seemingly re-think the decision. Gailey then sends out the punt team. After the game, Gailey said he called time because he was afraid they’d try the kick. He was told it was a 50 yarder but when he saw it was 52 or 53 he thought punting was the best approach. Gailey said the 2 or 3 yards makes a big psychological difference(for a kicker who is 18-31 from 50 or more yards in his career). The Head Coach actually said he was afraid of a play where his team had a chance to score points and extend their lead in a critical game.
4. Craziest Chan explanation- As noted in the previous category, again there are
many(way too many) worthy nominees including the explanation I just mentioned from the Rams game but I’m going with a different one. It was actually a recurring answer over the course of the season when Gailey was asked why C.J. Spiller wasn’t out on the field for a particular series. His answer “it was Fred’s turn” will go down with the most infamous quotes in Bills history.
5. Biggest Disappointment- Of course there is the actual season itself but I’ll go
with the play of the defense. The improvement of that group was supposed to spearhead the Bills push for a playoff spot but it helped doom Buffalo to an 8th straight losing season. Despite big free agent acquisitions, numerous high draft picks spent on that side of the ball and the presence of a veteran coordinator, the defense, in terms of on field production, is as bad as it was when Gailey arrived 3 years ago. Compared to the woeful 2011 defense, the 2012 group has yielded almost as many points, more rush yards, has fewer takeaways and is worse on 3rd down and in the red zone.
6. Bright spots- I didn’t want the whole column to be negative and there
were some bright spots in this mostly miserable year. Spiller became one of the most dynamic backs in the NFL. He is 15 yards from becoming the Bills 1st 1,200 yard rusher since Willis McGahee in 2005. Spiller leads the league in average yards per carry(6.5), is 2nd in 20+ yard runs and tied for 2nd in 40+ yard runs. He’s 9th in rushing but would be higher if he was given the ball more. Spiller is 29th in average carries per game with 12.2.
A couple of rookies should give you reason to feel a little better. Stephon Gilmore was the first rookie cornerback to start on opening day for the Bills since Nate Odomes in 1987. Gilmore had a rocky first month of the season but played pretty consistently the rest of the way. His 16 pass breakups are tied for 9th in the NFL and he hasn’t been beaten for a touchdown since the San Francisco game(5th of the season). Gilmore has been targeted 86 times this season and gave up only 3 TD’s. Of the 25 defenders targeted at least 85 times, the 3 TD’s are tied for the 4th fewest given up.
Cordy Glenn also started from day one and seems to have solidified a left tackle spot that had been shaky since the departure of Jason Peters. Glenn struggled a bit in games against the Rams and Seattle but easily receives a passing grade for the year. According to NFL stats, the Bills lead the league with an average of 7.13 yards per rush to the left tackle position(45 plays).
Jairus Byrd made a strong push for the Pro Bowl, tying for the AFC lead with 5 interceptions. Byrd now has 18 picks since joining the league in 2009, tied for 3rd most in that time span with future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Byrd’s clutch INT’s were crucial in wins over Arizona and Miami. He was also 3rd on the team in tackles and added 4 fumble recoveries. Byrd will be an unrestricted free agent but don’t freak out. The Bills can always place the franchise tag on him for the 2013 season at a cost of about $6.8 million.
Speaking of soon to be free agents, Leodis McKelvin had a tremendous season in the return game. McKelvin led the NFL in punt returns with an average of 18.7 yards, some 4 yards better than the next best player. He also added a league best 2 returns for touchdown. McKelvin ended up 2 kick returns shy of the minimum needed to qualify in league stats but his 28.3 yard average would have been 5th best in the NFL.
I’ll even throw in the play of the offensive line which was pretty steady despite numerous injuries. The starting group from opening day(Glenn, Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears) ended up playing just 4 games together. Glenn missed 3 games, Wood was out for 2, Urbik was sidelined for 3 and Pears went on injured reserve after the 4th game. Still, the Bills go into the finale with the 6th best rushing attack in the NFL and 12th in sacks per pass play.
Join WGR for day long coverage of the final game of the season beginning at 7am Sunday with “Breakfast with the Bills”.