ORCHARD PARK – It’s extremely difficult to go 0-16 in the NFL. So difficult that the 2008 Detroit Lions were the only team in history able to achieve that ignominious fete. I still don’t believe the Buffalo Bills will go winless this season, but they may give it a good run.
I thought Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the far from packed Ralph was going to be an ideal time for the Bills to remove that zero from the win column. And after making a spirited stop on a fourth-and-one late in the third and then driving down the field for the tying score on a 5-yard touchdown toss from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Steve Johnson, Buffalo looked primed to stop the misery of a four-game losing skid.
But these Bad News Bills once again weren’t up to the task. Or, more accurately their defense and special teams weren’t up to the task.
The touchdown by Johnson was followed by four straight scores by the Jags – a TD toss from David Garrard to Mike Sims-Walker and field goals of 34, 40 and 46 by Josh Scobee. Buffalo answered with another scoring pass from Fitz to Johnson with 1:34 remaining. But after the Bills pass for two points was batted down, the issue was settled. Jacksonville had a 36-26 victory and the Bills quest for imperfection remains alive.
For the first time since 1985, when Buffalo went 2-14 and finished with the worst record in the league, the Bills are 0-5. More disheartening is that for the first time in the 51-season history of the franchise, Buffalo has yielded 30 or more points for four consecutive games. The Bills porous run defense entered the game dead last in the league, and only solidified that standing by yielding another 216 yards on the ground. Their pass defense wasn’t much better, as Garrard completed 80 percent of his passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Jacksonville scored on eight-of-10 possessions.
“It’s terrible,’’ said Bills safety Donte Whitner, who called his team the laughing stock of the National Football League. “I think we are losing fans by the minute.”
Try by the second.
So, what went right?
Well, the Bills recorded their first pick of the season when linebacker Andra Davis plucked off a Garrard pass. And that interception along with a fumble recovery on Brian Moorman’s first punt of the game contributed to a 10-0 lead – the first time since the 2009 opener, 20 games ago, that Buffalo had that much of a cushion at the start of a game.
Fred Jackson also looked good, but still needs more touches, after rushing for 73 yards in just 12 attempts. Fitzpatrick was solid throwing for three scores, including a 45-yarder to Lee Evans (remember him?) a second shy of two minutes into the game.
It might have meant something had the defense made a few more stops and the Bills coverage teams not allowed rookie Deji Karim average 36.3 yards on his four kickoff returns to give the Jags an average drive-start from their 39-yard line.
“Twenty-six points by our offense is plenty enough to win,’’ said linebacker Paul Posluszny after Buffalo yielded more than 200 yards three games in a row for the first time since 1972. “The offense did their job and the defense didn’t. I wish I had an answer for how we could stop being so generous. The coaches definitely have us prepared, but we players just aren’t getting the job done.”
The bye week now awaits, which means, of course, we’ll be hearing all those obvious jokes about how the Bills won’t lose next Sunday. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
It doesn’t get any easier when they return to action. Buffalo has away games at Baltimore and Kansas City, then a home-away-from-home game against the Chicago Bears in Toronto. Can you say 0-8?
That will be followed by a Nov. 14 home game against an improving Detroit Lions team that just put 44 on the board against the Rams, a road game at Cincinnati, a home game vs. Pittsburgh and a road game against the Minnesota Vikings. That could make them 0-12 going into a winnable game on Dec. 12 at home vs. Cleveland.
If they don’t beat the Browns, a winless season could be in reach, because they finish the season with game at Miami, at home against New England and on the road against the New York Jets.
I still don’t think that’s going to happen because it’s difficult to go 0-for-the-season in the NFL. Then, again, it’s awfully difficult to go zero-for-the-decade as far as the playoffs are concerned, and the Bills managed to do that.
““We work hard all year,’’ sighed Davis, who finally broke the defense’s interception-less streak. “From training camp, we work hard every day and you’re looking for the fruits of your labor, but every week it seems like the same thing.”
Adam Podlesh, the former Pittsford Sutherland and University of Maryland star punter, was hoping to show his stuff in his first football game in New York State since high school.
But his Jaguars offensive teammates and the Bills defenders weren’t accommodating.
The Jags wound up scoring on eight of 10 possessions, so the only punting Podlesh did was during warm-ups before the opening kickoff and the second half.
“I did really well in warm-ups,’’ Podlesh joked. “I had some good holds, too.”
That he did, holding for teammate Josh Scobee’s five field goals and three extra points.
“I’m glad that we won – that’s the number one thing,’’ said Podlesh, who had a group of about 15 relatives and friends at the game. “But it would have been nice to get out there and show my stuff.”
Podlesh grew up a big Bills fan. He believes the team he once rooted for will be heard from before the end of the season.
“The one thing they’ll probably end up doing is bucking down and playing desperate – in a good way,’’ he said.
SCOTT’S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Good bounce back from Jets debacle, particularly on offense. But staff was unable to get defense to shore up. Grade: C
OFFENSE: Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid, throwing three TDs, including two to Steve Johnson and a 45-yard streak to Lee Evans. Twenty-six points is a good output. Grade: B
DEFENSE: Had two takeaways but yielded three touchdown passes, more than 200 yards rushing and scores on 8-of-10 possessions. Grade: D-minus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Forced fumble on first punt of the game, setting up Bills first TD and Brian Moorman boomed a 61-yarder late in the first half. But kickoff coverage was horrendous and fake punt blew up in their face. Grade: C-minus.
OVERALL: Chan Gailey has tied Lou Saban for second worst start by a Bills head coach. Only Jim Ringo’s 0-9 start in 1976 was worse. Grade: C-minus.
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 .