Bills Have Home Field Disadvantage

Away games should be scary, especially for teams based on that other coast America has. Players are confined to strange hotels in a baffling time zone where curious locals eat lunch at breakfast time. The transients fly thousands of miles for work, so ticket-holders can yell mean things at them. Coming to Buffalo should suck so bad for visitors despite the area’s attractions and attractive people. But there was no comeback for Frank Reich to ironically appreciate, as his exotic team from a foreign state made themselves at home.

Sean M. Haffey U-T San Diego
The Bills didn’t play inspired football on Sunday against the Chargers. (Sean M. Haffey/ U-T San Diego)

At least there’s a new standard for precisely how the Bills don’t want to compete in front of a crowd jazzed about a new era and consecutive wins. San Diego exploited coverage lapses, poor tackling, and undisciplined play all the way to an easy triumph. Their defenders swarmed to the ball and suffocated pass routes like the guys who play half their games in that venue should. Meanwhile, the team that ate dinner at home looked uninspired.

Specifically, the defense needs a higher number of stops from two first-round cornerbacks. Leodis McKelvin didn’t just have a tough day in coverage: fielding a punt when you can see the coverage man’s eye color is the action of someone with nothing to lose except a game. The excessively daring player hopefully doesn’t wait to cross the street until the light’s red.

Even many of the few bright moments were negated by asterisks. There was dread at every flag on the few plays that weren’t defined by sluggishness. A sloppy, spastic, and tentative team somehow didn’t win. Were the Bills intimidated by the crowd? Conventional wisdom suggests that’s only supposed to happen to visitors.

If EJ Manuel is motivated by his haters, then this game will keep him going for awhile. For one, he owes Marquise Goodwin a bouquet after making a hospital pass to him.  Admitting he’s had better passing days is the first step. Manuel has hit targets with regularity in previous games, so his focus should be accuracy with consistency.

It’s easier to list the Bills who impressed. The indomitable Fred Jackson wasn’t content with his club’s lethargy, while the defensive line disrupted as much as possible without assistance. And Nickel City native Corey Graham played like he knows the importance of upholding Buffalo’s honor. But it’s hard to win when defending turf seemed like an intermittent responsibility.

Splitting their games at the Ralph won’t cut it. Their home record during the playoff drought shows just why the same dry spell has lasted so long. The Bills went an uninspiring 53-59 as hosts from 2000 to 2013. To be fair, that tally includes a few international affairs. But they’re still two games below .500 during the exile even if one subtracts the unfortunate Sundays when they pretended Toronto’s sterile concrete shell was their home and native land.

Six more losses than wins over 14 years would be an okay road record, but it’s hard to get invited to the playoff party if you’re celebrating after less than half your home games. Their best mark at the Ralph was an unimpressive 5-3 during four of the famine’s seasons. The Bills will remain hungry until they consistently keep barbarians from breaking in and raiding their kitchen.

Buffalo has to win in Orchard Park if they’re serious about overcoming irrelevancy. The presumption of home dominance is an obvious but crucial aspect of any successful club’s personality. They can’t rely on marvelous special teams plays every outing no matter how exciting such moments may be. Fans try to keep cheering, but their side spent the last game yawning.

The inability to aggressively set the tone to guests is the difference between heading to Houston undefeated and in danger of falling to even. As has happened too frequently since Sam Gash left, this franchise has been guilty of meekly permitting opponents to come over and dictate terms.

Contenders make life uncomfortable for visitors. The Bills should be feeding off the electricity in the style of a Marvel Comics villain. Instead, the Chargers played like their logo.

Don’t blame the crowd. Western New Yorkers are nice for 165 hours of home game weeks. They only put a hiatus on courtesy to hurt the feelings of Bills foes. Locals are famously hospitable outside the ticketed area, presuming visitors aren’t wearing opposing team jackets. Hostility is strictly business. The Bills should take criticism of their passive effort in their house personally.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.