Bills 27 – Jets 31 – 10 Things I Think

Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

1. It’s a terrible time of the season, and we’ve been there before. The Bills are out of the playoff hunt. You don’t want them to lose because they’re your team; you don’t want them to win because then you’ll be asking all night “why couldn’t they do that when it counted?” Then you get a game like this, and it’s the worst of both worlds: They play well enough to win on the road against a good team with a Hall of Fame quarterback, then lose anyway. Is there any pain like the pain of being a Bills fan?

2. I have to start with Whitner. If there was any doubt, I think he eliminated it against the Jets: Whitner plays pass defense just well enough to stay with his man and make the tackle after the catch, but not well enough to break up the pass. I can’t remember when I’ve seen him cause an incompletion covering a receiver. I’ve seen him come out of his zone to make hits on receivers, but simple man-to-man coverage, it’s a completion every time. This game was the worst. He led the team in tackles because his receivers caught so many balls.

I wonder what he will guarantee next season.

3. The defensive performance against the Jets also combined the worst of the Bills defense: A touchdown on the first possession (and for good measure, a touchdown on the second possession, too) AND a long run for a score. The Bills defensive strategy seems to be play the standard, passive defense for the first half, see how they’re attacking it, make adjustments and stop it. The problem is that it’s SO standard and SO passive that the Bills are always in a hole by the time they make their adjustments.

This defense gave up 3 points in the second half and got the ball back over and over for the offense. In the second half, the Jets had an eight play drive that ended with an interception, then five plays and a punt, three plays and a field goal (after the Losman interception), and then three straight three and outs. Once again, the defense played well enough to win (just barely well enough), if the offense had produced (or if the offense hadn’t given up a touchdown with two minutes left).

I watch the Bills on Sunday afternoon and then I watch the Sunday night game, and every week I have the same reaction: Why don’t the Bills hit like that? Did you see the Giants and Cowboys? They were absolutely pounding each other. Every player took every opportunity to deliver maximum punishment on every play. Steelers do it, Ravens do it, all the good teams do it.

Some fans say the Bills don’t hit enough in training camp. Some say they don’t practice outside. I think it’s all of that and then some. To succeed in this game there has to be a level of hunger, a level of frenzy, a level near madness that we never see from these Bills defenders. Poz makes picture-book tackles but never blows anyone up. When have we seen Whitner hit anyone this season like he hit Chad Johnson last season?

This isn’t flag football – it’s nearly a war. It isn’t Madden – it’s NFL football, for Pete’s sake.

Memo to Dick Jauron: I saw Yale (remember Yale?) beat Columbia this year. Yale hits harder than the Bills.

4. It seems like every year there are hints that the Bills will start taking some chances, doing the unpredictable. We see a little bit early, then they go back into their shell, and it only when the playoffs are out of reach that they open up again. Fake field goal in the first game, fake punt in this game. I think there was one other fake punt. Wendling leapt over the line to try to block a field goal in the first game, tried it again in this game.

We didn’t see the no huddle much at all.

It happens in games, too. First play from scrimmage, the Bills had several defenders on the line of scrimmage. After the first play, the linebackers fell back into their standard 4-3 spots. Not much blitizing, not much of anything that would take Favre out of his comfort zone.

5. We got the worst of both worlds with Just Pray Losman, too. When he’s your quarterback, there’s nothing you can do except give him the ball and Just Pray Losman doesn’t screw it up.

Just Pray said he was putting together a highlight reel, and he was right. This game had everything in the JP arsenal, except the long pass. We saw the rifle arm, the nimble feet, the short-ball inaccuracy, the indecision in the pocket and the turnovers. Touchdown pass was great, interception to Reed was pretty bad, interception to Royal was horrible, and the fumble was, of course, a total disaster.

I don’t believe JP finds the open receivers. He clearly doesn’t know how to pull the trigger.

And now I’ll say what Losman fans have said for a couple of years: At least some of the blame has to fall on the coaches. JP may make lousy decisions when he can’t find open receivers, fine. Then it’s the coaches’ job to run the plays where he CAN find them or to redesign pattens so these receivers CAN get open, because JP hasn’t had trouble unloading the ball when he finds the guy. When Trent struggled for several weeks this season, it was the same thing – the QB can’t find an open receiver. These quarterbacks have been having the same problems for two years now, and the coaches have failed to find solutions.

6. The grousing about the Bills’ playcalling will go on forever.

I didn’t have a problem with calling the pass play that lost the game. I can make the argument both ways; in the end I come out in favor of another run because (a) it was time to challenge the O-line to keep delivering and (b) Just Pray has a knack for making the big bad play. But it was second and five, the Bills needed at least one more first down, and the two-minute warning would have stopped the clock, anyway, so an incompletion wouldn’t have hurt that badly.

What bothered me more was not running out the clock at the end of the first half. It neither hurt nor helped the Bills. I’ve had this argument with people forever – I like running out the clock deep in your end on the road, because a bad outcome is more likely than good, and the Bills were down only four. I understand a lot of people see it the other way. That’s okay.

What I didn’t like about that decision was this: Jauron very clearly believes what I believe – kill the clock and win the game in the second half. If he believes that’s correct, it’s correct in every game, whether you’re 4-1 or 6-7 fighting for the playoffs. If you believe you maximize your chances of winning by killing the clock, why would you open up the offense at that point in the game against the Jets? Or if you believe you maximize your chances of winning by opening up the offense in the last minute of the first half, why have the Bills shut it down in that situation for the last 2+ seasons? There’s no point in playing hunches – just decide what’s right and do it.

7. Too bad about Hardy. I hope he recovers fully; next year was the year I was hoping he’d begin to prove valuable.

Nice touchdown catch by Johnson. Nice pattern, good grab (and nice celebration by Evans). Ugly run on the end around. The guy clearly is not a ball carrier, but most receivers aren’t. Want to know who’s a ball carrier? Ellison. That was a great cut on the fake punt.

8. Marshawn was magnificent. Still not a lot of running room, but Marshawn made the most of it. The offensive line, finally, seems motivated to run the ball. I have no doubt the O-line and Marshawn were disappointed when the Bills decided to pass before the two-minute warning. After Marshawn’s run, followed by the spectacular touchdown for Jackson, followed by the success running the ball right up to that play, I’d guess the O-line was thinking “pound it five more times and this game is OVER!” It wasn’t to be.

9. With all due respect to Mr. Wilson, I don’t think it’s the players. It’s the men who are responsible for getting these players ready to win. Granted, playing with JP is playing with one hand tied behind your back, but well-prepared players don’t:

Let the safety get a free run at JP when he fumbled.
Hold on the kickoff return.
Hold on the final punt return.
Give up opening-drive touchdowns every week.
Give up 40+ yard runs almost every week.
Congratualate themselves when they complete an 11-yard pass. The coaches need to explain to the players that the rules permit pass plays to go for more than 20 yards.

10. I have to say it again: I really like Leodis McKelvin. There weren’t many balls thrown at him, so that says something about him. Favre wasn’t picking on him (why should he? he had Whitner to pick on.) I loved Leodis’s pursuit on the Leon Washington TD run. Simpson couldn’t close the gap, but Leodis coming across the field could.

Nice kick returns. Too bad about the hold; maybe without the hold he could have made the run any way. (Can’t really blame Corto – that was one of those plays where he had to make the block, got locked up with the defender, and held. It happens.)

Leodis can play.

The Bills played pretty well against a quality opponent. Just well enough to allow us to see, again, that this team COULD be good, and just bad enough let us down, hard, one more time this season.

It is very, very hard to be an excited Buffalo Bill fan right now. The only guy who feels worse than all of us is the guy who has to sell new season tickets in 2009. How would like THAT job?