ORCHARD PARK – I began covering this team during the 2-14 days of the mid-1980s when there weren’t any stars on the roster and a sense of hopelessness hung over One Bills Drive like some ominous storm cloud.
After the Jets ran the Bills out of the Ralph in a 38-14 rout Sunday afternoon on a fittingly dank day, I was feeling nostalgic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good kind of nostalgia. It was as if I had climbed into a time machine and was transported back to those bad, old days when BRING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL BACK TO WESTERN NEW YORK bumper sticks were the rage and when a three-quarter-empty stadium was the norm for Buffalo home games.
It’s early October and we’re already evaluating Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett and Washington’s Jake Locker to see if they might be the quarterback the Bills have been desperately seeking since Jim Kelly retired 14 seasons ago. (Hey, Bills fans, take heart; only seven months till the 2011 draft. And there’s also a good chance of a lockout, so you might be able to take a year off from subjecting yourself to this poor imitation of pro football.)
A week after showing some life in a 38-30 loss at New England, the Bills returned home and to reality. As had been the case in Foxboro, Mass., their defense was terrible, yielding 273 yards rushing to a rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson and backup Shonn Greene. That makes a truly astounding 840 rushing yards by the Jets in their last three meetings against these defenseless Bills. The rejuvenated 31-year-old L.T. could play another 10 years if every game were against Buffalo.
The Bills offense was brought back to earth Sunday, too. Ryan Fitzpatrick did throw for two touchdowns and scrambled for 74 yards, but the Bills were 0-for-10 on third-down conversions and the Invisible Man – receiver Lee Evans – didn’t catch a pass until there were about 25 seconds remaining in the game.
A year after tying for second in the league in interceptions, the Bills “D” continues to look for its first pick and has all of one takeaway to go with just four sacks. (Of course, Aaron Maybin was supposed to remedy that problem, but the former Penn State star and Bills first-round pick is having problems just getting onto the field. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News had him unofficially in for a grand total of five plays vs. the Jets. The coaching staff couldn’t afford to play him much because he’s not strong enough to fend off blockers on the run and the Bills knew the Jets were going to attempt to run the ball down their throats, which they did. )
Exasperation clearly has taken hold among some players.
Consider this rant from Bills safety Donte Whitner:
“If you knew everything they were going to do, it’s not about Xs and Os. It’s about who wants to play football here and who doesn’t want to play football here. It’s about who wants to come out and play with some heart. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about Xs and Os right now.
“We understood what they were going to do,’’ he continued. “We understood what L.T. was going to do. We understood what Shonn Greene was going to do. We understood all of that. We talked about that all week with film studying and scouting. It’s not about that right now. Xs and Os cannot fix what’s going on right now. It’s going to have to come from each individual and wanting to win football games and beating a guy one-on-one.”
He’s right. I just hope the other 52 guys on the roster are similarly ticked off.
At 0-4, the Bills are well on their way to a season of historically bad proportions. Two-and-14 definitely is within reach. So is 1-and-15. I don’t think a win-less season is. Then, again . . .
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills since 1985 and has written five books about the team, including the recently published, Buffalo Bills Football Vault: The First 50 Seasons, which is available at any book store, the Bills team stores and Amazon.com. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .