Sadly, Sunday's game proved to be a microcosm of the Buffalo Bills season. A tease of a start was followed by a pathetic, demoralizing finish. One moment, they're playing like gang-busters and leading the Patriots 21-0 in Foxborough. And the next moment, they're trudging off the Gillette Stadium turf in a daze, asking themselves: "Did New England really just score 49 unanswered points on us?"
And just in case the final act of a season that began 5-2 and ended with eight losses in the final nine games wasn't painful enough, Buffalo was forced to deal with more drama from Stevie Johnson, the diva wide receiver whose selfishness once again trumped his talent and undermined his team.
Philosopher George Santayana warned that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Well, Stevie, for whatever reason, failed to learn from his transgressions and cost his team and himself big-time. Again.
Just 35 days ago, he was flagged for his insensitive touchdown celebration and admitted that the penalty cost the Bills a victory against the Jets.
Sunday, after scoring a touchdown, he couldn't resist unveiling a T-shirt reading: HAPPY NEW YEAR. Yeah, I know. That greeting seemed innocuous, but the National Football League has its rules, so why risk it? Especially, when you've been whistled once before and your coach has made it clear to you and your teammates following the Jets game that any one penalized for excessive TD celebrations will be benched.
So, when the flag flew after Stevie delivered his message in the first quarter, Buffalo coach Chan Gailey had no choice.
Johnson was done for the day.
And so were the Bills.
Yes, they scored another TD to go up 21-0 in the first quarter. But the absence of their best receiver for the final three quarters hampered their offense dramatically.
By no means am I intimating that the Bills would have pulled off an upset had Stevie not been tethered to the sidelines. Tom Brady & his offensive weapons are vastly more talented, and Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's four picks were game-changers.
But the Bills might have at least put up a better fight the rest of the way.
Stevie's stupidity overshadowed the fact that he had just become the first receiver in Bills history to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark in back-to-back seasons.
It also complicated the debate over whether the free agent should be re-signed.
"I've said this a hundred times - he's not a bad guy; he's a good guy," Gailey said after suffering his 22nd defeat in 32 games with the Bills. "But he used bad judgment at times. If you do that enough (so that) it hurts the team too much, you have to do something."
The coach refused to answer whether he wanted Johnson back, saying only, "Let's not talk about the future today."
Stevie apologized to his teammates for his latest self-centered act. But, remarkably, he said he wasn't embarrassed by his narcissistic actions.
"Not at all,'' he said. "I'm not embarrassed to the world. In this locker room, I felt like I let some people down. I'm not embarrassed about anything."
He should be.
For the life of me, I don't understand the need for receivers to have to perform these contrived acts after scoring a touchdown. I understand completely that you are excited you've scored. But why this need to draw additional attention to yourself with these foolish theatrics?
Stevie's obviously a very talented player and there aren't many of them on the Bills roster. But, over the next days and weeks, Bills management is going to need to determine if he is more trouble than he's worth.
Before Sunday's game, I was all for trying to re-sign him.
Now, I'm not so sure.
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 by Triumph Books and is available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott atwww.scottpitoniak.com .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Chan Gailey took some chances early on, successfully going for it on fourth down two times. But, just like the season, the game quickly got out of control and the Bills couldn't stop the onslaught. I do give Gailey credit for sticking to his guns and benching Stevie Johnson after he was flagged for his end zone message. That took some guts and sent the right message to his team. Grade: D
OFFENSE: Fitz was hot early, throwing for 246 yards and two scores in the first half, but managed just 61 yards and was picked off a season-high four times in the second half. One of the few bright spots was receiver Derek Hagan, who had seven receptions for 89 yards and drew a big pass-interference penalty to set up the first score. Grade: D-plus
DEFENSE: They played well early, but were torched in the second half. Tom Brady exploited the Bills by completing 15 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Brady, who supposedly has a sore non-throwing shoulder, is now 18-2 against Buffalo. Grade: D-minus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brandon Coutu, who was signed just last week because of injuries, missed a 45-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half. Justin Rogers had an off day returning kicks, resulting in Bills drive starts at their 16- and 15-yard lines. Brian Moorman was solid, with a 61-yard punt and two boots inside the Patriots 20. Grade: C-minus
OVERALL: A sweep of the perennial AFC East champs would have been a nice way to end the season, but the Bills remain light-years behind Bills Belichick and Tom Brady. Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix have a ton of work to do to make this team respectable. Grade: D