Dear Genny Cream Ale,
Thanks for making this game bearable.
Seriously though, what the hell? I didn’t buy into the hype. I didn’t expect them to wow us. I did expect – unrealistically, apparently – them to at least keep it respectable, though. Such is life for a Bills fan, and here, as in the real world, it goes on.
Make no mistake, 28-48 is a lot closer than that game actually was, scoreboard be damned. From the Wild Tebow or the Fitzycat or whatever you want to call it to the horrendous play by Buffalo’s exposed secondary, it became crystal clear early on that the Bills weren’t going to be the dominant force that they were predicted to be by so many faithful.
Speaking of that secondary, can we get a corner that doesn’t look lost out there? I’ll give Gilmore his credit – he didn’t look half bad in his first ever real NFL action, but McKelvin and Williams looked just as raw, if not more, than I ever could have expected the first-round rookie to be today. It’s a Buffalo trademark nowadays to give up points to middling slot receivers and tight ends you’ve never heard of, and today was no exception, though it should have been. When you hear things about a new defense, you see the new players, and you finally get to see the finished product, it shouldn’t be more of the same.
It wasn’t all the same, though. The run defense looked great compared to the past handful of years, holding Shonne Green to just 94 yards and, yeah, that’s progress. Gilmore, though he let up a score, showed early on that he’ll be a physical force on the edge, something that the defensive backfield in Buffalo has been lacking since Terrence McGee started spending his twilight years on the injured reserved. The last bit of positivity that I can spew about this defensive unit is that the ‘new and improved’ pass rush looked legitimately impressive… on the first drive. They didn’t get any sacks, but they were getting pressure. That’s about all I can say on that, though, because once that drive ended, Mario Williams spent the rest of the game getting manhandled by an undrafted scout team blocker making his first career start. Turns out the Jets didn’t need to make any of those failed trades after all, because the pass rush was completely negated. It would have been a totally different story if those pesky scab refs were actually watching the game though, if you ask Mario. Sure, blame the refs. That’s what someone who makes more money than any defensive player in league history should do, definitely not closing your mouth and moving on. Who does that?
I don’t want to spend the entirety of this thing harping on the defense. That’s not fair. I mean, come on, the offense was just as bad. Remember when we heard all of the great things that David Lee was doing to improve Fitzpatrick’s game – all the little upgrades to his footwork and vision and release and all that? There was a group of folks who brought up that, under pressure, it’s not unfathomable to think that Ryan would revert to his old ways of launching the ball weakly without being planted and misfiring – and they were ridiculed because good news is the only news in a Buffalo offseason nowadays. Lo and behold, Fitzpatrick was feeling Jets defenders breathing down his neck all throughout and routinely went back to the good old gunslingin’ ways that plagued his second half last year. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work out, as we saw him launch three throws into the hands of Jet defenders and a handful more over and past guys who got plenty open for him.
He may have had a better time out there if he had a little more reliability in his weapons, something that we’ll hopefully get an answer to as the season goes on. Steve Johnson came into the game nursing an injury, Donald Jones gave the number two job a crack again after an up-and-down partial campaign before he hit IR in 2011, both David Nelson and Fred Jackson left the game with leg injuries, and the rookie TJ Graham didn’t even suit up. From the sounds of things, Nelson’s injury is pretty serious so it’s probably a safe assumption that not only will Graham be active from here on out, but the team will likely be on the lookout for help at receiver. The hit that put Jackson out seemed devastating at full speed, but once slowed down it looked less severe. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, however, since CJ Spiller stepped in and is (as of the time of my writing this) leading the league in rushing with 169 yards against a much ballyhooed Jets defense.
Most of those yards came off of a couple of big carries, and I don’t want to hear anyone knock him for that, because that is the exact same way that Jackson broke out last year. He got blocks at every level and made the most of them, and that is just what Spiller did today. As an aside, Fitzpatrick looked his best on one of those long gains doing his best job Flutie-ing a Jets defender to open another lane for the young tailback. Hey, it’s a crazy day where a quarterback can’t just be a quarterback. Sometimes he’s a blocker, sometimes he’s a deity.
Still, there is hope yet for this 2012 Buffalo team. Don’t burn that jersey just yet. Though it means next to nothing when they don’t win, adjustments were made (albeit way too late) in the second half. The team actually started to come back from a 41-7 deficit, and they actually started to jell once they cut down on the penalties, focusing on moving the ball. Once again, an injured Johnson pulled off a decent game against Darrelle Revis even while hobbled and tasked with catching passes from Mr. Erratic, pulling in four of ten targets for 55 yards and a score. You might look at that and think four of ten isn’t a good number, and you’d be right. It’s not all Johnson’s fault, though, as half of those that he snagged weren’t anywhere close enough to grab and the other half he had to transform into a defender on the fly to keep Revis Island from receiving a hot, fresh shipment of touchdowns. All of the receivers did that today, and it bailed out Fitzpatrick often. It’s sad when your receivers are getting more pass breakups than your defensive backs.
Besides Spiller’s stellar performance, the only real positive to grab hold of at this point is that they can now work out and sign vested veterans without guaranteeing their contracts. If today was any sort of litmus test, I’d imagine they check into some secondary help and absolutely chase down anyone who’s ever run a route and can close their hands around a football.
Moving forward, they’ll need to find ways to make that multi-million dollar pass rush work for them and cover up some of those downfield woes. Whatever that entails, it needs to happen. You’ve spent the money; now show us why. Ryan Fitzpatrick has to calm down and control his throws, which is easier said than done, and the line in front of him needs to give him a better chance to let plays develop. Though Fitzpatrick wasn’t sacked a single time, he felt the heat too often and too early all throughout the game and it affected his composure greatly. Those are their keys. Figure those things out and keep on doing everything else as well as you have and success shouldn’t be far off.
It’s a long season, and this was just the first game. Plenty of road left to travel. Breathe, Bills fans – this one’s not over quite yet.