If ever there was a mixed fucking bag of a weekend for me and my sport-watching-and-commenting brethren, it was this one. A tremendous Liverpool win, a Sporting KC win forcing the Red Bulls to do the same in order to get their first taste of hardware, a predictable Bills loss at the Superdome, replete with frustrating football and officiating alike, the Red Bulls getting that win and that shield, and Thomas Vanek.
If you're not into the Sabres and came here for Bills-only takes, my not-apologies, fuck you and wait a minute while I opine.
We expected this for Vanek - a guy who all but said he wasn't interested in sticking around this shit bag franchise anymore - though the swiftness with which the trade came late on a Sunday, months before we really expected it, was jarring. You want to be able to steel yourself up for a moment like this; a moment where a player so dear to you and the entire fan base is allowed to go, for now, to a place where things look discernibly brighter and more optimistic; a moment where a player is allowed to walk away, leaving his fans pining for the "could have beens" from a frustrating six years of Sabres hockey. He was a guy you wanted to be wearing the Blue and Gold when this ship eventually (please?) gets righted, but the impossibility of that scenario - Vanek staying and the rebuild occurring with some degree of speed - was unmistakable. He really couldn't stay if all the shit needing fixing is going to get addressed.
A fact that doesn't make it feel any better to see a talent like him depart the club we support.
Vanek has been the sole reason this team was able to fake it for so long, convincing fans and owner alike that the team could figure it out and become a contender; that the deals for Stafford and Myers and Leino and whoever else you want to point to wouldn't be fatal; that perhaps Buffalo could win in spite of those decisions proven to be mistakes by disappointing play and empty nets missed, by out-of-shape camps and defensive gaffes, and by games missed ad infinitum.
Vanek is a talent that seemed to make anything possible, but nevertheless never did. No titles. No Cup runs under his leadership. No true moments where you could really, reasonably think that he was taking the team somewhere other than consecutive sequences of mediocrity with brief pauses for ultimately inconsequential brilliance.
Perhaps I've spent more than enough words on a guy who has won nothing, but received our love anyway, and who is now simply gone. I'd say good luck, but let's be honest, I want all that luck for the squad he's leaving behind.
The good news is that most of those terrible things didn't happen. The Bills lost, but I'm not calling it a blowout, even by Buffalo Bills standards of close games this season, since it was within one TD of the spread (opened at Saints -12.5, and ended somewhere around 11, I think), and the Bills battled to make it respectable when the game was really out of reach. The Bills looked bad at times, but really pretty good at other times - the running game in the 1st half was money, but it fell apart later on; Thad fumbled twice but he also threw some goddamned lasers; the defense got some big stops, most of them squandered by an offense struggling to get traction, but at other moments the defense - both in player quality and personnel matchups, got torched.
And Drew Brees, well, he remains an absolute stud of a quarterback. He was not perfect on the day, and the Bills forced him into some pretty terrible throws, but his rifle of an arm was, as always, absolutely stunning the vast majority of the time. He took a stalled 2nd quarter Bills drive resulting in a field goal and parlayed it into a complete momentum shift with the 69 yard bomb to Stills. It was a terrible personnel match-up for the Bills, which we all knew as Jerry Hughes did his best to keep up with a guy who runs a sub-4.40 40 yard dash, and Brees exploited it. I've watched that tape a dozen times now and man. It was clear Gilmore made a mistake in covering the middle of the field there and leaving his man, but I have to think that those sorts of things happen from time to time. Great QBs make you fucking sorry when it does.
- The Bills cornerbacks, Gilmore's gaffe aside, keep surprising me. Nickell Robey is still playing at a high level, despite the first Saints touchdown he gave up. It wasn't even terrible coverage, just a perfect throw by a quarterback who has made his living off of perfect throws. 5 TDs against the unit doesn't tell a completely fair story when you're playing Brees. Not that the unit doesn't have to keep getting better, but it looks as if they are. Incredibly young guys in there. but big upside with all of them. /tosses himself off bridge for using term "upside" //heroically swims to safety and finishes post
- Fred Jackson was, again, a workhorse. In-game adjustments by the Saints took away a lot of the running game, as did the score, but he was still great early on. Of the many things I hope for as the season progresses, a commitment to the running game is at the top of the list. I can accept losses. I cannot accept Thad Lewis throwing 39 times (more than Drew Brees) and handing the ball off only 23. I don't care about the score, particularly if you're going to throw a 5 yard crossing route on 3rd and 12, you dicks. Welp, there goes the positivity.
- It's super easy to see that Thad Lewis is completely overmatched playing in the NFL. Some of it is that the offensive line is often playing like equal parts swiss cheese, dog shit and Patrick Lalime, but his decision making is not good. Open receivers, late throws, poor throws. Yes, he throws the occasional dart, but it's not enough. The failure to run is on Thad, too. Hand the ball off to Fred on that read option, and there is no fumble. Use your best players to make you look better and maybe we won't notice that you kind of sort of maybe deserved to be on the practice squad.
- That all aside, Thaddeus Lewis is a fucking warrior. He didn't play great, but he is still a markedly better option than Jeff "I never know what the fuck is going on can someone get me some medicinal weed so I can have an excuse" Tuel. Who else was ready to call it an afternoon if Tuel got put in after Lewis looked like he was out for the game? Goodness, it was terrifying.
- The defense was good. Not great, but good. They held Brees to 332 yards passing and, generally, mid-range throws. Only the 69 yarder to Stills was over 20, though to be fair he did enough damage with the rest of his game. Main point is that I can't fault the defense on a day that the offense let them down with tough field position, short breaks between defensive drives, and terrible turnovers. The INT late in the second quarter, called back due to offsetting penalties, was entirely maddening, but it was also proof that the defense is improving. Sort of. I don't know. I'll take it on a day that I feared much worse.
- The Bills offensive play calling makes me want to set my pubes on fire.
- #MarioFuckingWilliams. The count is now 11, and the magic numbers are 8 and 11.5. Keep it going, you beauty.
As I mentioned in the words acting as the title for this recap/space to vent about the sadness lingering upon us this morning, there were some stunningly happy moments this weekend, bookended by resounding wins by Liverpool and the New York Red Bulls. Luis Suarez is back and hasn't bitten anyone yet, scoring three en route to a 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, the squad that fucking embarrassed LFC in last season's opening fixture. Good things.
And then, last night, the Red Bulls took home their first ever trophy after winning 5-2 at Red Bull Arena, finishing the year with the league's best record and the Supporter's Shield. Five different Red Bull players scored five different gorgeous goals and none of them were named Tim Cahill, a surprising enough accomplishment without even considering that it all happened with presumably cursed members of the DGWU Sports family were in attendance. Yachtsman, Apologist's brother Doc Hollywood and I were there, saw an awesome moment of MLS and NYC sports history, and had an amazing time. Playoffs are around the corner, so if you don't like fun and hate soccer, get bent/I still love you anyway and hope you keep reading the site kisses. This is going to be good.
It was a hodgepodge grab bag of takes this morning, but such is where my head is at after a crazy fucking 48 hours.