Niagara Gazette

October 11, 2012

MENDOLA: Reality awaits Bills on Sunday

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The New England Patriots just took the lead from the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium and the crowd was bewildered. No joke: the song played over the public address system belted out, "Back to life, back to reality."

Surely they had seen this movie before, or felt some misery akin to it, but to where had their heroes disappeared?

With their record down to 2-2, Bills fans regrouped for a road trip to San Francisco with eyes on progress only to have it snuffed again by a good 49ers club.

Why was this happening? This was the year their beloved Bills would become the shark a decade after jumping it. Instead there's the eerie surroundings of smaller fish, plankton and Quint.

If Buffalo wants to stop the 2013 season from being just another sequel to "Jaws," they'll need to encounter an NFL truth in a hurry. This is reality. A team can have as many good story lines and subplots as "The Wire," but without good acting it's just another after school special.

Call it: "We Can Play Football, Too"

Reality is here and that reality involves the death of the good effort merit badges. It's cool that the starting running back went to a super small college, the quarterback has a great beard and the star receiver has a knack for clever touchdown dances. After three years of these stories, however, they aren't enough.

If Stevie Johnson is an elite receiver, he comes back for passes and makes difficult catches. If Ryan Fitzpatrick is to be a true NFL starting quarterback, he has to overcome his defense's woes and pull several rabbits out of his helmet. Fans have to leave the game saying, "I'm glad we have that guy."

The season is far from over, but forgive the over-the-top Bills fans decrying Mark Anderson's injury as a season-killer or crediting an assistant coach most have never heard of as the team's demise. No one wanted this (not even the NFL).

It's time for the story lines to go prime time. Bills owner Ralph Wilson allowed the splashing of cash on the retention of old players and the signing of big names like Mario Williams. This was to be the year the Bills pass rush made their green secondary better; Their secondary's play would allow their adequate at best linebacking corps to play more aggressive. Instead, the pass rush has stalled, the secondary is being burnt and the linebackers may or may not have played in a few weeks (I'm sure someone's watching "the tape").

Perhaps most troubling were the words of Fitzpatrick after Sunday's onslaught in San Francisco when asked — I'm paraphrasing here — how San Francisco was able to make the Bills offense look Pop Warner?

"They didn't do anything that fooled us defensively," Fitzpatrick said. "There was no fancy stuff out there. They are who they are and they played better than us today."

Well, then the offense isn't good enough. The playoffs would be a great step for the Bills, but a spot in the postseason would just be one move in the right direction. Buffalo needs to be a team worth fearing. Given the money they've spent on their players, they need to be a team that can do some damage, and not to themselves.

So far this year, the Bills have done what a computer would've predicted: beat the bad teams and get slaughtered by better teams. Well, Sunday in Arizona brings a chance to beat a Cardinals team trying to make the same claims as Buffalo, that they are for real.

So what is reality, boys?

Respond to contributor Nick Mendola via or follow him on Twitter @NicholasMendola