By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — The Doug Marrone Era started off the same as the Chan Gailey Era, the Dick Jauron Era, the Mike Mularkey Era and the Greg Williams Era.
With Sunday’s heart-wrenching loss to the New England Patriots, Marrone continued the tradition of Buffalo Bills coaches losing their regular season openers — joining every head coach in franchise history.
For another franchise, that trend might be construed as coincidence. First-year coaches aren’t often expected to win, anyway. They usually aren’t hired by teams coming off successful seasons.
For Buffalo, an almost perennial loser, it might mean a little more. The cliche is that learning how to win is the most difficult thing in sports, but it holds true. That’s why Sunday’s loss was so discouraging.
Nobody was picking the Bills to win on Sunday, which was understandable with a new coach and rookie quarterback going up against the big, bad Pats. The Bills probably didn’t deserve to be in a competitive game, but three uncharacteristic turnovers by New England offset countless Buffalo errors — 10 penalties in all, totaling 75 yards, at least three of which negated third down conversions.
When Stevie Johnson dropped a short third down pass that would’ve kept a fourth quarter drive alive, unease undoubtedly swept over the Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd. When E.J. Manuel threw a dinky crossing pattern to Scott Chandler for 4 yards on third-and-10 on the team’s next possession, you could feel the energy level plummet.
Brady’s game-winning drive, the third down pass Danny Amendola somehow managed to hang on to despite a hard hit from Aaron Williams, Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning kick... that’s become the expectation of Buffalo fans.
They’ve seen it before, and the team’s veterans have more than their fair share of experience with disappointing losses.
“If I had a dollar for every tough one with (New England)...,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “It makes me vomit. You come down to 2-3 plays, and in a game like that one. That’s the reason they’ve been so successful. When it comes down to it (Brady) has made those plays. We had an opportunity to do it, but we couldn’t.”
Same team, same story.
“We’re not the same team,” C.J. Spiller said semi-sternly to a reporter.
But words aren’t enough. Until the Bills get a stop or convert a drive at a key moment and earn a win, the doubt of fans will remain. Hanging in a game against a good opponent that just happened to turn the ball over (Note: An interception off a tight end’s hands and two fumbles on plays without hits do not constitute ‘forced’ turnovers) isn’t enough.
“This is not a business where you get moral victories,” recent signee Jim Leonard said. “We played well enough to win, but we also played bad enough to lose.”
More than anything else — more than the progress of Manuel, the development of the defense, or the decisions of Marrone — Bills fans should be watching closely for signs that their team is learning how to win.
Losers lose, particularly in devastating fashion. Until they prove otherwise, the Buffalo Bills might as well be stamped with a giant “L.”
Respond to Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.