A few weeks ago I was a guest on a talk show out of town. I was talking about how it feels to me like the Bills are headed in the right direction despite their record at the time. The host said there have been false positives before and wanted to know why this time would be any different so I obliged, and explained why. Maybe I should call the guy back and tell him I was all wrong.
The Bills 27-6 thrashing at the hands of Tampa Bay felt all too familiar.
A game in December where the Bills are well under .500 yet we say "you know, they aren't mathematically out of it" and "if they run the table and get some help, you never know". But instead of starting a run, the Bills play like they're running for the bus.
For me, the final four games of the season were all about getting wins to validate the feeling of progress, even if they might not end up with a .500 record. I wanted to feel good about this coaching staff and we all want to feel like they drafted the right quarterback.
After watching that debacle, I was left feeling like I have in so many Decembers these last 14 years, wondering if the current Bills coach and quarterback will just end up like their predecessors.
Somewhere in the second half, I started thinking about some of the horrendous road games we have seen the Bills play over the last decade plus and there have been PLENTY to choose from but this one might be at the top of the list because its such a step back in year one of the Doug Marrone/EJ Manuel era.
This week, Marrone talked about the challenge of getting his team past the pain of last week's loss and focusing on the task at hand, beating Tampa Bay. The Bills looked like a team whose collective mind was elsewhere and like a team that didn't get up from the canvas after being knocked down by Atlanta seven days earlier.
Manuel was awful and turned in his worst game of the season, which is saying something considering they way he looked in road defeats to the Jets and Pittsburgh. Manuel is now 0-4 on the road. In those games, he's completed just 52% of his passes, averaged 177 yards, with two touchdowns, five interceptions and 20 sacks.
He was so bad, the Bills lost to a team whose quarterback,Mike Glennon, was 9-25 for 90 yards. He was picked off twice but did manage to throw 2 touchdown passes. It wasn't quite as embarrassing as losing to Cleveland when Derek Anderson was 2-17 for 23 yards but it was darn close.
Manuel missed receivers, badly at times, held on to the ball too long at times, and settled for the check down throw way too much. While the ineffective Glennon was taking shots down field, Manuel was not. Speedy wide receiver Marquise Goodwin wasn't targeted a single time.
It was pointed out during the broadcast that Marrone said he's been pounding into Manuel all season that check downs are a good thing. Maybe the head coach should stop saying that to his quarterback.
While some fans are suggesting the Bills should draft a quarterback in May, I have maintained that I would not unless Manuel got hurt for the third time this season or if he basically was so awful that it looked like the Bills put me on the field. Unfortunately, Manuel looked that bad against the Bucs.
The Bills offense had the ball 15 times but let's take out the one play possessions right before halftime and at the end of the game. In the 13 other drives, Buffalo produced 2 field goals, 4 turnovers and 7 punts.
The offense ran 62 plays and totaled 214 yards for a measly 3.5 yards per play. They were 1-11(9%) on third down and managed only one rushing first down. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 34 yards on 16 carries. The Bills longest run of the day was a 10 yard scramble by Manuel.
Stevie Johnson, one week removed from a critical fumble in the loss to the Falcons, had a pass go off his hands and into the hands of a Bucs defender for one of Manuel's four interceptions.
There were way too many penalties, 11 to be exact, for a total of 114 yards. A hold on Eric Wood wiped out an 82 yard TD pass to Spiller. The Bills offensive line was called for back to back false starts in a not so noisy stadium.
The defense wasn't that bad but they did give up an 80 yard touchdown run to a fourth string running back on the second play of the game which may have set a franchise record for earliest play to suck the life out of you. By the way, the 80 yard run by Bobby Rainey was the longest rushing play in Tampa Bay history.
I always try to remain positive and avoid the "here we go again, another lousy Buffalo sports team" mentality but this game sure made it feel like the entire 2013 season just came crumbling down, under the weight of the previous 13 years.