Moments after the Bills third three-point loss in as many weeks, Chan Gailey told us he “didn’t have any new sayings or terms” to explain the pain of repeatedly coming up short on the scoreboard.
Neither do I.
And I make a living stringing words together.
The Bills traveled to Canada in search of their first win Sunday. But they continued to head south in the standings north of the border.
The Bills continue to be oh-for-the-2010 NFL season and oh-for-Canada, losing their third regular season game in Toronto’s Rogers Centre in three years. (Which begs the question: Do our neighbors to the north really want this football team? Haven’t they already suffered enough with the Maple Leafs?)
Following Sunday afternoon’s 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in what was designated a home game but continues to feel more like a neutral-site game, Gailey repeated a phrase about trying to find a way to get his team over the hump. Well, folks, at 0-8 that hump is beginning to resemble a mountain.
I’m a positive bloke by nature, but as I watched the Bills attempt to finish off this game, I knew deep down it wasn’t going to happen. My gut told me that they would find a way to not win this contest and they did. And I’m wondering if those negative thoughts aren’t beginning to penetrate the psyches of Buffalo’s players. I mean, how long can you go on like this without the losing becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?
This one turned on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s failure to get enough air under his pass to a streaking Stevie Johnson without about nine minutes to go and Buffalo nursing a 19-14 lead. Johnson, who was having a marvelous day, had gotten behind Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. But Jennings recovered nicely and intercepted the underthrown pass. It was a great play by Jennings, but if Fitz had just zipped the ball a tad higher Johnson would have been off to the races and Chicago would have had a difficult time coming back from 12 points down.
Instead, the Bears would cash this turnover – as they had done previously with a Fred Jackson fumble – in for a touchdown. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who played one of his best games in an otherwise challenging season, deftly led Chicago on a six-play drive that was capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett and a two-point conversion shovel pass to Matt Forte.
With 6:41 left in the game and the Bills now trailing by three, Fitz went to work again, driving Buffalo to the Bears 44. But the drive petered out, undermined by another underthrown pass that would have kept the chains moving.
The Bills managed to hold Chicago on its next possession, but the Bears downed their punt on the Buffalo 1-yard line. With 1:15 remaining and no timeouts left, Fitzgerald (31-for-51, 299 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions) furiously attempted to move the Bills into position for a game-tying field goal, but after two short completions, his throw down the middle was tipped and picked off by Chris Harris. Ballgame.
Johnson continued his breakout season, by catching a career-high 11 passes for 145 yards, giving him a team-leading 41 receptions for 554 yards to go along with six TDs in 2010. Not bad for a guy who looked as if he couldn’t catch a cold during training camp.
But his superlative effort was negated by three Buffalo turnovers, resulting in 14 Chicago points. That along with the Bills inability to run the football against a stifling Bears defense was a formula for failure. Buffalo managed just 46 yards rushing – roughly half what Brian Urlacher & Co. have been yielding per game.
If you are looking for Bills positives besides Johnson’s performance, here are two from Sunday’s game: Though their offensive line couldn’t open up many holes for their running backs, Buffalo’s pass protection was solid, allowing just one sack and far fewer pressures than in recent weeks; and the Bills’ league-worst run defense gave up just 105 yards on the ground, 83 below their average yield. And it should be noted that 40 of those rushing yards came on three scrambles by Cutler.
Those scrambles, though, were back-breakers, helping to keep drives alive and countering Buffalo’s blitzes. Cutler also bought time on several other plays to make big pass plays. He wound up completing 17-of-30 passes for 188 yards and two scores and was sacked just once. That latter stat was key because Cutler had been sacked 19 times in his previous four games. Another indication that the Bills aren’t getting the kind of heat on the quarterback you need to win in this league and another painful reminder that Aaron Maybin might wind up being the worst draft pick in Bills history. (Hey, at least Mike Williams, Perry Tuttle and Walt Patulski actually played in games.)
So the winless Bills return to the Ralph next Sunday for their first true home game in 35 days. How much of an advantage it will be is uncertain because the game reportedly is a long way from being sold-out.
Many Bills fans clearly have given up on this season. The trick now will be for Gailey to continue to make sure his players don’t do the same. That’s not going to be easy because that hump he keeps referring to is beginning to resemble a mountain.
One can only hope that recently signed linebacker Shawne Merriman somehow becomes the on-field terror he once was and makes the kind of plays that can turn some of these loses into victories.