As Mike Nugent’s 43-yard field goal sailed through the uprights at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday, I could only think one thing.
“Boy. I’m psyched I agreed to recap this game already.”
I think it’s safe to say that yesterday was a sad, sobering moment for all of us. Players, writers and fans were all reminded that while this team has certainly made great strides over the last few weeks, they still have a ways to go before being considered one of the elite teams in the league.
Great teams don’t give up over 450 yards of offense to three straight opponents. Good teams might do that, but not teams destined for greatness. I’m not saying that the team’s first playoff berth in 12 years isn’t within reach for this team. It’s just not as likely as it may have seemed Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock.
But I am the Apologist. And I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t find the silver lining to this dark cloud.
Sometimes in the course of a season, a team needs a wake-up call. And perhaps, the Bills need a loss such as this to remind them to stop drinking the kool-aid that comes with a surprising 3-0 start. Sometimes when you’re too inexperienced to know better, you need to be reminded that there’s still 12 more of these games left to be played and you’ve yet to accomplish anything. It’s nice and easy for them to say that in the locker room after coming back from being down 21 against the Pats, but can you still believe it after coughing up a 14-point lead against the Bungles.
Let’s face it. Yesterday was a bad loss. If you’re a playoff caliber team, and you’re up by two scores on the road against a team struggling to accomplish anything offensively, you’ve got to put that team away. And giving up 20 points while only scoring 3 is not going to do it.
Now I could split hairs and tell you what each position could’ve done more of, but I’m not that smart and you’ve got plenty of other pundits to pay attention to who do it better. But I will tell you I think this loss definitely hangs heaviest around one person’s neck: Chan Gailey.
Is it unfair to hang it all on him? Of course it is. He’s not the one walking up to the line of scrimmage. But that’s life in the NFL. If we’re gonna heap on the credit when the team starts 3-0, we’re gonna do the same when they suffer a bad loss to a bad team.
Clearly, the Bengals are the best defense we’ve faced so far. That seems strange, but it’s true. And yesterday the offense gagged in the face of that pressure. Fitzpatrick missed more than a few passes by more than a few yards. Fred Jackson finished with only 17 carries for 66 yards (the most glaring mistake on Chan’s part). They converted only 4 of 14 3rd down's. And ultimately, in the second half, where a single TD might’ve won the game, the Bills could only muster a field goal. All told, they scored only one offensive touchdown in the game.
Next week they head back home to face the Philadelphia Eagles. Before the season started, the Eagles were dubbed “the Dream Team” by their back-up quarterback who now watches the games in a t-shirt, which basically says it all. They’re off to a disappointing 1-3 start and the Bills should expect them to play like the desperate, hungry team that they are. The Bills might think they can afford to go 3-2 and still have a good season. But the Eagles KNOW they can’t go 1-4 and expect to have an easy time making the playoffs, let alone contending for a Super Bowl. Add in the fact that an injured Michael Vick just hung nearly 500 total yards on San Fran’s defense and this Sunday starts to sound like a long day.
After that game, the Bills head right here to NYC to face the enigmatic New York Giants. Ever since Tom Coughlin arrived, it’s been hard to get a handle on who the Giants are. From week to week, you’re never quite sure which version of the team is going to show up. Are they beatable? Of course they are. But if the Bills are riding a 2-game losing streak into town, it may be much easier said than done.
With that in mind, it’s realistic to believe the Bills could be heading into their bye week at 3-3. Three straight wins and three straight losses would lead most people to believe that we’re no better than an 8-8 team and it’d be hard to imagine the players and coaches setting much more realistic goals than that in their own minds.
But a team headed into the bye week with a 4-2 or better yet 5-1 record, with wins over the Patriots, Giants, Eagles and an improving Raiders team would have reason to believe the playoffs are well within reach. And despite all the gloom & doom in this post, I honestly believe that it’s completely possible.
So while it’s clearly too soon to start making huge predictions one way or another, I think it’s fair to say Week 5 will tell us a great deal more about this football team than the first 3 weeks did. We’ve seen what they can do when the whole league doubts them and their backs are against the wall. Everyone can play tough as the underdog. Now we’ve gotten our first taste of how they handle the praise and a lead on the road against a tough opponent. Next week they go back home to face a team with a losing record in desperate need of a win. It’s not a must-win game, but it could prove to be a tipping point for the rest of the season.