Niagara Gazette — It took 13 games, but that familiar feeling of hopelessness is finally starting to set in among Buffalo Bills faithful following Sunday’s lifeless loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Optimism lingered longer than usual in Western New York this year, thanks to a draft class that’s looked good, a first-year coach who’s looked confident and a team that felt like it was better than its 4-8 record heading into Sunday’s game.
Until Sunday’s debacle, each of Buffalo’s losses could be explained or even excused, at least in ways that logically made enough sense to accept.
The Bills were supposed to lose to the New England Patriots in Week One, so blowing a four-point fourth quarter lead didn’t matter. The New York Jets presented a winnable game in Week Three, but rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s terrible outing was okay because it was his first road game and he was facing Rex Ryan’s notoriously complicated defense.
The Bills likely would’ve won at Cleveland in Week Five if not for Manuel getting injured, and the ensuing losses to playoff-bound Cincinnati, New Orleans and Kansas City in Weeks Six, Eight and Nine while playing with a backup (and then third-string) quarterback were expected. Manuel returned too early at Pittsburgh in Week 10, rusty and too inexperienced to handle a Dick LeBeau defense. Even last week’s loss to Atlanta — while embarrassing and avoidable — was extremely flukey. Manuel played well enough to win, and when’s the last time a team fumbled away a game twice like that?
There are no such excuses for Sunday’s loss at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are a solid team, probably much better than the 3-9 record they entered with. But so were the Bills, or at least that was the thought.
Manuel took a huge step back following two straight solid outings, throwing four interceptions and getting sacked seven times. The offensive line was horrendous. The defense played well against an undermanned opponent, but still gave up too many big plays and points. And for the second straight week a veteran was careless with the ball, this time Leodis McKelvin muffing a punt deep in Buffalo territory.
Sunday couldn’t have gone much worse for the organization. With playoff hopes all but vanquished (Buffalo is only still mathematically alive because for the second straight week, the Bills got most of the help they would have needed to make the postseason if they took care of their own games), wins and losses are irrelevant. For lack of a better way of putting it, all that matters now is how the Bills play the game.
On Sunday, Buffalo looked leagues behind a 3-8 team. Manuel folded again on the road (third time), and his detractors suddenly seem louder. For this season to mean anything, one of Buffalo’s units — be it the offensive line, the defense front, either backfield, the receivers or Manuel — needs to establish itself over the last three games.
If that doesn’t happen, the Bills will enter the offseason with just as many questions as they did last season. And the year before that. And that...
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