ORCHARD PARK - A white-out turned into a wipe-out at the sold-out Ralph.
Cerebral quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and play-calling mastermind Chan Gailey appeared flummoxed much of the day, unable to find a rhythm because of the mental and physical havoc caused by Gang Green.
The result was three turnovers and an uninspired performance by the Bills here-to-for high-efficiency offense in a 27-11 loss to a New York Jets team that definitely has Buffalo's number.
The J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! have now outscored the Bills 132-45 the last four meetings, all New York wins. Buffalo, in its biggest home game in many a year, laid an egg, mustering 19 fewer points than its average per-game output.
"We just didn't show up," said Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson. "We didn't show up how we usually do."
As Sunday's loss, in front of 70,000 fans waving white pom pons indicated, the Bills remain a work in progress. There are lessons still to be learned. Lessons that more experienced teams like the Jets already have mastered. Lessons learned the hard way.
Jets linebacker Bart Scott says he admires Buffalo's feistiness and was impressed by the comeback victories they have accumulated this year against quality opponents. He sees a little of the old Jets in these new Bills.
"They're still evolving,'' he said. "They're definitely headed in the right direction. But they might not quite be there yet."
No they're not.
A statement was waiting to be made Sunday.
A statement that told the football world the Bills have really turned the corner.
Despite the loss, the Bills still are very much in the thick of it, tied atop the AFC East with the Jets and New England Patriots at 5-3 (though the Jets technically are ahead of Buffalo because they own a tie-breaker with Sunday's victory).
The defeat does make the Bills playoff quest all the more difficult. Had they won, they would have maintained sole possession of first place in the division and would have set themselves up for an easier second-half.
Assuming it will take at least 10 wins to earn a wildcard, they will have to go 5-3 down the stretch, and that won't be easy. Their next three games - Dallas, Miami and the Jets - are on the road. Then, they'll be back in the Ralph to play Tennessee, followed by a visit to San Diego, home games against Miami and Denver, and a season-finale in New England on New Year's Day.
My original playoff scenario counted on a split with the Jets, a sweep of the Dolphins and wins vs. the Titans and Broncos. Still, doable. But it won't be easy because, in figuring the split with the Jets, I counted on a victory at home. Now, they're going to have to steal one from the Jets in the Meadowlands. Or maybe the Chargers in San Diego.
After being out-coached by his Jets counterpart, Rex Ryan, Gailey must see if he can work his magic and convince this team to bounce back next Sunday in Dallas.
"The one thing about it is you've got half a football season left,'' he said. "It starts this week and you get a chance to do something about it. If you don't like it, do something about it."
Last year, Gailey was able to rally his team to a 4-4 finish after a 0-8 start. Only, 4-4 isn't going to get the job done this time around. Four-and-four will get you a 9-7 season, which is a nice improvement over last year's 4-12 record. But it won't get you into the playoffs. It won't put an end to a post-season famine that's 11 years and counting.
"We've raised the bar for ourselves,'' Bills safety George Wilson said. "Anything short of the playoffs will be a disappointment."
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, has just been published and is available in both print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Chan Gailey and his staff were out-coached by Jets coach Rex Ryan. The Bills never found an offensive rhythm and the defense wore down in the second half. Flat performance at home on a day when they should have been sky-high. Grade: C-minus
OFFENSE:.Ryan Fitzpatrick had his worst game of the year, throwing two picks and recording a 51.9 passer rating, nearly 47 points below his average. Fred Jackson rushed for 82 yards and caught three passes for an additional 38 yards, but he had a crucial fumble. Stevie Johnson did have some success vs. shut-down corner Derrelle Revis, catching three passed for 84 yards and drawing one pass interference flag. Grade: C-minus
DEFENSE: Played decently in the first half as Jairus Burd came up with an end zone interception and they limited the Jets to just three points. But New York came out and scored three TDs and a field goal on its first four second-half possessions. Grade: C-minus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brian Moorman had a 66-yard punt and two boots inside the 20. But Joe McKnight torched them for a 59-yard kickoff return that would have been a touchdown had kicker Rian Lindell not made a saving tackle. Moorman had to handle the kickoff details after that because Lindell injured his shoulder on the tackle. Grade: C
OVERALL: Disappointing showing by the Bills overall on a day when they had so many things going in their favor. They now face a tough road to the playoffs. Two wins during this three-game road trip would get them back on the right track. Gailey has gotten them to bounce back before, and it's not likely that they will face as many matchup problems as they did against the Jets (except, of course, when they play the Jets again in three weeks.) Grade: C-minus