Alarms sounded Sunday with about four minutes remaining in the first quarter, groaned louder in the second quarter after the Patriots scored on their third straight possession, were deafening when they took a 37-13 lead into the fourth and continued wailing for two days afterward.
Rex Ryan confirmed Monday what most already knew, that the Bills’ 40-32 loss to the Pats was more gruesome than he initially suspected. The Bills were a collection of cheap toys in the Patriots’ playroom, a source of amusement for a few minutes before they fell apart and were quickly discarded.
Getting swept up in the hoopla, especially after the win over Indianapolis, was a lapse in judgment. People let down their guard and once again suffered the consequences. But the answer now isn’t compounding one mistake with another by overreacting in defeat to a New England team that won the Super Bowl.
Within 24 hours, it was as if the Bills morphed from exciting up-and-comers with a dynamic quarterback and brazen head coach to a collection of frauds that again was doomed for failure. And while that might become true eventually, it certainly wasn’t true after the first two games.
The wise would subscribe to Bill Belichick’s way of thinking. In theory, it states the NFL schedule comprises 16 separate tests, each mutually exclusive from one another, to be tallied after the season. Final results determine success or failure, defined by the Hoodie as winning the Super Bowl and nothing less.
Another option is pulling out your hair.
For the sake of your scalp, your loved ones, your dog and your sanity, take a deep breath and put the game into football perspective, if not real-life perspective. We all know that what happens on Sundays sets the mood on Mondays in Buffalo, but nobody died on the field against the Pats. Here’s another viewpoint: Football season is like a round of match play in golf. It allows for wayward shots and blowup holes. You can afford to take a few quadruple bogeys along the way. You can shoot 85 and still beat a scratch handicapper by getting your swing in order on the other holes.
My goal today isn’t to soothe Bills fans or come off like some delusional, apologetic homer. You should know better by now. But there’s no discounting a few facts that should be encouraging for the Bills as they prepare for the Dolphins this weekend.
The Bills are 1-1 after two games against teams that played for the AFC championship seven months ago. Based on last season’s records, Buffalo had the toughest schedule in the NFL in the first two weeks. The Pats and Colts were 23-9 combined last year while the Bills won nine games for the first time in a decade.
Seattle, Indianapolis, Detroit and Baltimore already are embattled in crisis. All four made the playoffs last year and lost the first two games this season. The Seahawks came within a whisker of winning their second straight Super Bowl. The Colts were expected to be a superpower this season.
Indy also lost its first two games last season and finished 11-5. The Patriots were 2-2 through four games last year, finished 12-4 and won the Super Bowl. The Panthers were 3-8-1 and ended up winning the division. In 2011, the Giants lost four straight games and fell to 6-6 before winning the Super Bowl.
Even though the Bills would have had the same record, the tone across the community would be more optimistic this week if Buffalo lost to Indianapolis but beat New England. They didn’t miss the playoffs when they lost Sunday. They missed an opportunity to beat the Pats at home. It was one loss, nothing more.
That’s not to say everything is fine along One Bills Drive. In fact, it’s not.
The Bills need to make numerous adjustments after getting humbled Sunday. It starts with the head coach or, more specifically, his attitude. Rex can talk tough all he wants, but it sounds like noise when his defense plays the passive scheme on display Sunday. If his team is going down, it better go down swinging.
Tom Brady threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns because the Bills allowed him to turn a regular-season game into a seven-on-seven clinic. Buffalo rushed four defensive linemen, failed to play pressure defense against the Patriots’ receivers and dialed up – what? – maybe a handful of blitzes.
It was a departure from the aggressive style they played against Andrew Luck, when they shot first and asked questions later. Ryan showed too much deference to Brady and the genius on the opposite sideline. The Bills might have been burned deep if they blitzed with single coverage, but they never found out.
Rex looked like a pushover.
Buffalo rushed for 58 yards on its opening drive and scored a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman inexplicably called three straight pass plays after New England tied the game. Roman panicked before the Pats pulled away. Buffalo’s backs carried the ball only 15 times over the final 55 minutes.
The Bills have a multidimensional threat in Taylor given his strong arm and running ability, but he’s the since-departed Matt Cassel or worse when he’s confined to the pocket. He had receivers open all game Sunday, but he looked uncomfortable and indecisive. He didn’t start throwing with conviction until it was too late.
You want bold? Turn this dude loose.
Call running plays designed specifically for Taylor. It doesn’t always need to be the read option. There are numerous ways to get him in space. He’s not a conventional quarterback, so the Bills shouldn’t treat him like one. They should embrace his strengths rather than work around his limitations.
For the most part, we’re talking about easy fixes, problems that can be solved if they tweak their mindset and make minor adjustments before their first road game. Miami looked vulnerable while losing to Jacksonville last weekend. The Dolphins are banged up and apparently have chemistry problems.
The Bills have seven games before they play New England again, seven games to quiet the alarms that sounded Sunday. How they played against the Patriots is no longer important. What matters now is how they answer the bell.