Frustration at a loss and not the season is a new one. But there’s finally a case to remain optimistic about a Bills team with a losing record after eight games. This team looks halfway there in more ways than the schedule despite leaving Bourbon Street minus its wallet and with that split-skull feeling.
They weren’t habitually smooth on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints despite some slick instances of completing or stopping passes. Talk about a bad omen: the first play could only have been more of a disaster if a meteor had been involved. To be fair, it would be easier for Thad Lewis to remember to calm down and hold on to the ball if his blockers would afford him something resembling protection.
Regardless, he must focus on only releasing the ball in a throwing motion, and then only if, say, Steve Johnson has strained himself to get open. This week’s valiant player inspired by gaining 72 yards while hopping due to his persistently troubled groin. He’s not the only one, as there are only about 80 properly working pins on the active roster. It’s both depressing and inspiring to consider how many peg-legged Bills are gutting it out.
Those with working lower limbs, plural, need to play cleaner. The Bills endured crushing penalties by prominent players such as Mario Williams and Scott Chandler, who to be fair both had fine moments in their areas of expertise aside from their respective flaggings. At the same time, Chandler also didn’t act as much of an impediment when Lewis lost the football for a third dang time. Observers can blame the quarterback for not sensing the attack, tight end for not preventing it, or coaches for expecting someone other than a lineman to withhold the pass assault. Too many drives stopped no matter where the buck does.
On the other side, it’s nerve-wracking to rely on compensating for a dearth of points by stopping high-octane opponents. Hoping the defense will shut down every adversary is especially tough when turnovers go from being a helpful part of wins to indispensable. Team can never comfortably be in control until they’re setting the pace by scoring comfortably. Failing that, the safeties must either improve their reads or, oh, hope the scheme doesn’t expect Jerry Hughes to essentially play cornerback. Versatility is admirable, but Hughes should still be attacking passes at their commencement.
Yet credit should sometimes outweigh blame. Sometimes, it’s just hard to stop a future Hall of Famer. Whether picking apart a blown coverage or throwing it even when the secondary is doing its job, Drew Brees is earning his Tide.
The midseason report card is tough to bring home even if these grades were expected. There’s a huge difference between thinking in July about a young team losing a few tough games and it actually happening by October. Forecasting a 3-5 mark at the bend would have been understandable, but it’s different and difficult to actually endure it. Concluding on schedule release day that a loss in New Orleans was likely doesn’t make the actuality much easier to bear.
Part of maturing as a franchise is not blaming injuries or a few lapses for being two losses underwater. NFL rules don’t currently allow teams to qualify for the postseason if they only commit a handful of errors per game. Bad bounces are unlikely to become an official statistic.
And there’s no tiebreaker for a young team which has been hurt by some rookie coaching mistakes. For one, the offense could have leaned more on the indomitable Fred Jackson Sunday, at least until they figure how to pass block properly. The failed challenges are more understandable, as the murky rulings on the field stood despite Doug Marrone rightfully doubting the officially determined locations. Placing the ball is an art, not a science, and most NFL officials are painting on velvet.
Even losses that end up appearing uncompetitive can inspire confidence, presuming the team plays vigorously. Thankfully, the Bills haven’t quit in any game during this slate, which was a lamentable habit of this franchise as recently as last year. Bless those souls who endured the abominable Niners game to the end so they could warn others of the misery caused by not appearing in spirit.
By contrast, the Saints contest wasn’t one where the Bills Mafia could walk away in the fourth quarter even if their side lost by three scores, as getting outplayed differs from being uncompetitive. That seems to be the pattern. At the midway point, a flawed team may yet finally and mercifully have a foundation stronger than cardboard. There are enough promising players deployed cleverly to hope Buffalo can improve before the season ends despite an ultimately tough Sunday. A squad which has played 50 percent of its games doesn’t look over the hill.