Sunday was a new low for Bills fans. After suffering humiliating defeats against the Patriots and 49ers in the beginning of the season, it seemed the worst was behind us for what was quickly becoming an all to familiar Buffalo football season. Then the 5th annual Toronto series against a Seahawk team on the rise happened. Coming off a 58-0 drubbing of the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle came into Toronto red hot. Buffalo was coming in off a disappointing loss to the Rams, down but not quite out. The Bills defense would revert to it’s early season form, out of place and unprepared, and the offense would continue to regress under the failing Chan Gailey system. 50-17 represents an uninspiring and rather difficult-to-swallow season.
Thus begs the question, “Where do we go from here”? The faithful die-hards of the Western NY area are left scratching their heads, as we witness our 8th straight losing season, and 13th year without a playoff appearance. Suddenly we are looking back at interviews with GM and HC at spring camps, the statements of “No excuses” come to mind. Someone has to be held accountable. There are many people to point to finger at, players not being in the right position, not knowing assignments, and not playing sound fundamental football. You could blame the coaches, and with merit. Players appear unprepared for situational football, unsure of their assignments, and the communication seems almost non existent. You could blame GM Buddy Nix and CEO Russ Brandon, who many feel have used publicity stunts and player signings just to sell false hope to fans. Many are critical of the Toronto series, and with a 1-4 record north of the border, that feeling is not only understandable but statistically justified.
Last but not least you could put the blame on the owner, Mr. Ralph Wilson. In failing health, no one knows just how involved Ralph really is, there have been no public appearances, no interviews, statements of any kind. Buddy Nix does claim to have contact with him at least weekly, but as far as what is discussed is kept quiet. With just one year on the lease, there is a high level of uncertainty in Buffalo.
Our stadium is one of the oldest, and largest in the league, with one of the smallest markets in the league as well. This, paired with the losing culture that has developed in the proud city, has led to frequent blackouts, unless a local business man buys out the remaining tickets to give the community their Bills. There seems to be no plan in place, no thought to the future. As it stands, The Wilson family has no interest in keeping the team. Once Ralph passes, the team would be up for sale, and likely sold to the highest bidder. Mr. Wilson can change that obviously by leaving the team in the hands of someone he knows and trusts (we all dream of a Jim Kelly owned Buffalo Bills).
Coming into the season, we thought we had filled just about every positional need we had, and now were focused on building depth behind our starters. It turned out that we were wrong, more than most imagined. There are the obvious needed upgrades, a true starting quarterback, a dependable group of linebackers, and a true #2 WR. Donald Jones was picking up nicely before his injury, and losing David Nelson early leaves some questions unanswered for the WR group, but need a big physical guy that can go up and catch a pass when covered, that true redzone threat, go to guy. Nigel Bradham has shown he can play, but needs some time to learn. Kelvin Sheppard has been up and down all season, but I have not given up on him just yet. Nick Barnett remains solid, but is not getting any younger, and did regress this season. We need a linebacker than can cover, and we need a defensive leader. Manti T’eo comes to mind as a strong candidate for our #1 pick this upcoming season. A true field general, and a player many see as the next Ray Lewis. Of course after recent comments made by Buddy Nix, we are all expecting an aggressive move up in the draft for a QB, but do not be surprised if it doesn’t happen. There is no RG3, Andrew Luck, or even Russel Wilson in the upcoming draft class. There will be a franchise QB to be had I am sure, but it is no where near as clear cut as last years draft. Many teams will reach for QB, and many will be disappointed. Ryan Nassib is an interesting 2nd round candidate, and if the Bills do pursue a defensive player in the first, I think has a chance at being drafted by Buffalo.
The obvious needs aside, some new concerns have arisen. With Fred Jackson landing on IR for the second year in a row, and suffering three injuries this season, his future and durability are in question. How effective will a 32 year old back be coming off yet another leg injury? Can CJ truly handle being a feature back? And will he ever actually be given a chance to prove he can? (17 carries in a game he was the starting and feature back) I would not be surprised in the least to see Buffalo draft a running back in the first three rounds come April.
With Eric Woods injury, it raises some serious concern as to how dependable he can be for the rest of his career. He has yet to finish a season, although when healthy is one of the best centers in the league. With Aaron Williams not playing up to expectations, our secondary is in need of some help as well, although rookies Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks to give hope for the future. SS is also an area of concern. George Wilson has seen his playing time cut in half, and Da’Norris Searcy has not impressed many thus far. He is young, does posses a lot of physical talent, and is a solid tackler, but needs to work on his ball skills. With so many needs, uncertainty in many player and coaching positions, and very few answers coming from 1 Bills Drive, it leaves us with many more questions than answers.
It is uncertain times we as fans are in. It is now more than ever we must remain strong, through trying times, and support our team. I’m not telling you to run out and buy tickets to the jets game, I’ll admit I’m on the fence about going myself (make me an offer for my tickets…), but don’t give up. As hard as it is to watch the product put on the field, I would much rather be angry and screaming at my team then have nothing. Ask yourself, could you really ever love another football team as much as the Bills? If your like me, and regardless of the record always watch the game, check the websites for updates, and can never seem to put the jersey away until the season really is over, the answer is no. The community is every bit as important as the team, but it is the team that unites the community. The Thursday night game against Miami comes to mind, 80,000 of my closest friends smiling, laughing, singing, and cheering together in the national spotlight, our proud moment to shine, and shine we did. It’s moments like that that will always keep me coming back for more Bills football.
So where do we go from here? We go forward. We have reached an all time low. Many other teams and fans have been here. Think of the 0-16 Lions making a playoff berth just a few short years later. Look at where the Patriots franchise was before Tom Brady came to town. Look at how one man (Harbough) took a struggling 49ers team and turned them into one of the most feared teams in the league in one season. Something in Buffalo obviously has to change. After Sundays debacle many of us expected to wake up to the news that Chan and Dave W. were off applying to footlockers around the country this morning. That news may still come, and it should. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. The front office would be INSANE to retain both coaches for next year. You can start over and see success in one year. I point to Harbough and the 9ers again. They were one play from the super bowl, one year after not even hitting .500. Do not lose faith fellow fanatics! Remain vocal about your team, continue to support our players through these tough times, they are even less happy than you about where they are. We don’t lose a job when we lose a game, they might. Continue to show the country that we deserve the title of best fan base in the league (As NFL.com listed us earlier this season). Here’s to next season! 😉