By Tim Schmitt>
NIAGARA FALLS —
As easy as it is to get caught up in an electrifying offensive performance against a Baltimore defense which long held the title of most feared, something kept rubbing me the wrong way during Sunday’s 37-34 overtime thriller.
Steve Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, even the oft-maligned Demetrius Bell played tremendous roles in the explosive showing. And all three were seventh-round draft choices, meaning if just a few more picks would have slipped by, they’d have gone undrafted.
We’ve said this before, but it deserves repeating — the biggest reason the Bills have mired in sub-mediocrity for the past decade has been a propensity to blow their top draft choices.
There have been some late-round successes (Fitzpatrick, for the record, was drafted by St. Louis and not Buffalo), but I’m not certain if that’s comforting or more frustrating. For example, Johnson displayed legitimate National Football League aptitude on Sunday, making tough big catches in tight quarters, then exploding to open spaces after hauling the ball in.
Bell, too, didn’t look like the bumbling goof he has in previous starts, and might be a genuine option on the left side of the line.
So what if — and let your mind get crazy here — at least 75 percent of the Bills’ first- and second-round selections from the past decade became quality pieces of the franchise’s foundation? What if they didn’t need to draft the same position (running back) thrice in their last 10 first-round picks?
What if they had any clue what they were doing each draft day?
They’d be a perennial playoff team, that’s what. And the diehards from this area wouldn’t be watching games like Sunday’s half wanting to cheer for victory, and half afraid the team will fritter away its chance to get a No. 1 overall pick.
Good teams need many things — solid coaching, a little luck, even a frenetic fan base can play a part. But the most important component is talent, and since everyone gets a crack at those deemed the cream of the crop, the road to the top is paved by late-round or undrafted finds sprinkled around the top picks. The current Bills roster has a number of the long shots — undrafted players Fred Jackson, Corey McIntyre and Spencer Johnson should be added to the previous list — but they’ve missed so badly on their top picks, it’s all for naught.
Here’s hoping they don’t screw up the next draft — which could be the franchise’s most pivotal.
Explain to me again why Reggie Corner’s interception was ruled out of bounds, even though his foot came down on a receiver’s foot that was touching the ground. If that’s not the intent of the rule, it certainly should be. I realize the rule was changed that receivers had to get two feet in without the option of a referee’s judgement, but if the receiver comes down on something that’s also inbounds, doesn’t that count?
If it doesn’t, it certainly should. An incredible effort by Corner was negated on what might have been one of the game’s three deciding plays.
Three and four or four and three — either way you add them up, the front seven of the Bills is one of the worst they’ve ever had.
Forget guys like the overpaid Chris Kelsay having trouble getting to the quarterback, let’s talk about one-time Pro Bowler Marcus Stroud, who can’t even plug his run gap any longer, let alone disrupt plays in the backfield. The linebackers are awful, yes, but the Bills’ defensive line was equally as atrocious on Sunday, and that’s with an extra member in the revisited 4-3 scheme.
Finally, adding onto the last tidbit (and wrapping in some from the first), we can assume that Aaron Maybin’s healthy scratch on Sunday was the end of the line for the former first-rounder, right? Like we just said, the Bills’ front seven is awful, yet Maybin can’t crack the lineup. With the swiftness in sweeping old rubbish to the curb the Chan Gailey/Buddy Nix tandem has shown far, expect Maybin to be looking for work soon.