Niagara Gazette

November 7, 2011

Fans waive white flag, Bills surrender division lead

COMMENTARY

By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette

ORCHARD PARK — Simple symbolism. That's all it was. An intangible undertone that no football mind would consider to be a contributing factor in Sunday's sobering disrobing, but still, a striking image, one we've never seen before and may never see again.

 
The Buffalo Bills' faithful, 70,000-strong, waving white flags.
 
Next time there is a "whiteout" at The Ralph, it really should be nature's doing. I'm sure it sold some extra jerseys and looked neat on TV, but out at the stadium, the artificial atmosphere set the tone for a weak, dispassionate, lazy Sunday effort in the most meaningful game played here in years. Before long, the Bills had surrendered their status as the team to beat in the AFC East.
 
The New York Jets sent discarded Bills Aaron Maybin and Jim Leonhard out for the coin toss and held the emotional edge from there on out. How does that happen in a game of this magnitude, when homefield advantage was so paramount to the Bills' chances for victory?
 
From first down to fourth, the Bills played with trepidation. They threw a quick slant to Stevie Johnson on the first series and he got buried into the turf. They stayed far away from Revis Island for the rest of the half. Ground and pound was the game plan, but Chan Gailey quickly strayed from his strategy. Wary of the Jets' pass rush, Ryan Fitzpatrick started making anticipatory throws to imagined openings. The result was 24 passing yards, two interceptions, and no points in the first two quarters.
 
When the Bills were embarrassed at home by the Jets last year, Gailey marched into the postgame press conference red-faced and angry, declaring he had learned something about his team and that changes were coming. It was a different scene Sunday. He came into the interview room with his head down, an ashen expression, beaten by a better team and accepting of that reality.
 
"They played well, we played poorly," Gailey said. "It's my responsiblity to get our team ready to play each week. I didn't get these guys ready to play well enough to win this ballgame. It's a big ballgame. We hadn't had this happen at home this year and we've got to get better."
 
The Bills are better than they've been, but certainly no juggernaut. With injuries taking their tool, they were bound to play a bad game sooner or later. It's just surprising to see the home crowd sit back and watch it happen. This isn't Toronto where the fans need a good reason to cheer. The Bills came out slugglish on Sunday. The 12th Man followed suit. Maybe daylight savings threw everyone off their game. To their credit, the Bills players are too proud to admit they needed a little help from their friends to beat a team like the Jets.
 
"We have to make our own excitement," an indignant Drayton Florence said. "We don't come into this stadium expecting the fans to pump us up to play good. Once we start doing that we need to go to another business, another profession. We just didn't score enough on offense, didn't take the ball away enough on defense. That's the bottom line."
 
The bottom line is the Bills are 5-3 at the midway point. That sure beats 0-8. A winning record is probable, a playoff run still possible. They've come back strong after their two previous losses. But they took two steps back with this loss, and the second half will be tougher than the first. They still have to visit the Jets, as well as New England. Five of their final eight games are on the road, starting with the next three.
 
"You've got half a football season left," Gailey said. "It starts this week and you get a chance to go do something about it. If you don't like it, do something about it."
 
For what it's worth, the Bills will be wearing their home blues in Dallas next week.
 
Contact sports editor Jonah Bronstein at jonah.bronstein@niagara-gazette.com.