Jerry Sullivan: Suddenly, Bills have that old, ominous feel - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: Suddenly, Bills have that old, ominous feel

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Many of the players had already left, eager to leave this debacle behind them. Backup defensive lineman Ryan Davis sat on a stool in the very far corner of the locker room, his head in his hands, trying to make sense of it all.

"I take it personal," Davis said. "That's why I'm taking my time. I'm trying to process everything. It hurts when you put so much work in, with the city behind you, to go out and lay an egg like that. It's really mind-boggling. I'm having a hard time understanding what's going on.

"Everything was fine," he said. "You know what I'm saying?"

Oh, I'm sure Bills fans can sympathize. Two weeks ago, the Bills were flying high after crushing the Raiders at home. They were 5-2, tied for first in the loss column in the AFC, looking good for the playoffs. It was fashionable to talk about how "different" things felt under new coach Sean McDermott.

But these last two games have a familiar, ominous feel about them. It's the creeping sense of calamity and dread that has often settled in during the 17-year drought, of a team in free fall.

Sunday's 47-10 loss at home to the Saints was a harsh awakening, a reminder of how far the Bills have to go to be a true competitor. They're still 5-4, in the thick of the playoff race, but this one leaves you wondering if they're destined for another of those late-season collapses.

It wasn't so much that they lost, but the manner in which it happened. It was their worst home defeat in 10 years, since a 56-10 loss to the Patriots in a national night game. But that New England team was unbeaten, a heavy favorite. This felt like an impostor being exposed.

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The Bills got punched in the face, manhandled on both lines of scrimmage for the second game in a row. The defense was woeful. Tyrod Taylor and the offense were over their heads. They lost their first home game of the season, getting repeatedly booed by the home fans at New Era Field.

Two weeks ago, they were third in the league in run defense. They gave up 298 yards to New Orleans. They allowed two backs (Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara) to gain 100 yards in the same game for the first time since 2012 (yeah, it was the Patriots again, in a 52-28 rout at The Ralph.)

Rookie Trey Edmunds, who didn't have an NFL carry until Sunday, ran untouched for a 41-yard score late in the game. That inspired a naked streaker to run on the field and into the end zone before he was taken down by security. Given time, he might have run for 100, too.

"That's a tough loss," said safety Jordan Poyer. "That wasn't us, man."

They said the same thing after the Jets. It wasn't them. But who are the real Bills? When the defense gets trampled twice in a row, it qualifies as a trend, a mini-crisis. McDermott's calling card is defense. If it gets abused this badly, how seriously can you take them as a contender?

"It starts up front," McDermott said. "It starts up front, winning the line of scrimmage. That's where this game's won, up front, and we've got to do a better job of it."

McDermott threw out the usual coaching buzz words: Gap integrity, hand violence, technique, run fits. In laymen's terms, they got their butts kicked. The Saints ran the ball on 24 straight plays in one stretch.

"That's physically getting whupped," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "It's not really scheme, cause they ran the same plays over and over and over. They won the one-on-one matchups and that's what football is all about. We overcomplicate things; they just came out and smacked us in the mouth and we weren't able to recover."

Bucky Gleason: What do Taylor, naked Bills' fan have in common? Both were exposed

The good news is that they're still one of six teams above .500 in the wretched AFC, pending Miami's game on Monday. This wasn't a conference game, which minimizes its importance. The Saints, who won their seventh straight, might be the best team in the league.

But it's still troubling. Playoff race aside, the Bills look like a team with a heap of rebuilding to do. Every NFL season becomes a war of attrition. A lack of physical talent and roster depth will catch up to a team. We've seen it time and again during the drought.

Age creeps up on you, too. The 30-plus vets on this team — Alexander, Kyle Williams, Richie Incognito, Mike Tolbert, Eric Wood — have all seemed old lately. Will any of them still be here two years from now?

Then there's Taylor. You can't pin this loss on him (isn't it pathetic how we feel compelled to say that?). But watching him play from behind against a high-powered offense, you were reminded of the vast difference between Taylor and a real NFL franchise quarterback.

It's laughable to hear national "experts" say Taylor is unappreciated in Buffalo. Taylor completed his first throw to newcomer Kelvin Benjamin for 9 yards and didn't complete another to a wideout. On a day that begged for boldness and daring, Tyrod settled for safe dump-offs to the flats.

McDermott said during the week that yards weren't all that important. Points are what matters. Well, his 26th-rated offense put up 10 points and his No. 22 defense gave up 47. The yardage numbers certainly mean something when you're losing physical battles and not getting turnovers.

Watch: Our Team's Takeaway from Bills' blowout defeat to Saints

Call it the law of averages or regression to the mean, but you had to figure this Bills team would find its level. In almost every year of the drought, there came a time when I thought they were among the half-dozen worst teams in the NFL. They looked that bad the last two games.

The question is how they bounce back. Are they capable of finishing over .500 and making a run? Or are they another fraud that got off to a good start and faded? To recap: 2002, started 5-3, lost the next three; 2008, started 5-1, lost four; 2011, got to 5-2, then lost seven in a row; 2014, 5-3, lost two straight.

The Bills have not been 6-4 after 10 games since the 2000 season. That's amazing, even more so than the drought itself. At 5-2, it looked promising. Now they need a win at the Chargers next week to reach the elusive 6-4 mark.

Early in the season, the Bills got high marks for their character and resiliency, how a bunch of underestimated players bonded together and showed the world what a real team could be. Now reality is setting in, and they face their biggest test so far.

"Yeah, you're right," McDermott said. "This is not easy to take, not easy to swallow, especially at home. Our fans deserve more. So we go back hard at work to give them more. We're building, and we've got to continue to be honest with ourselves when we look at the tape."

The tape of this game will not be kind. As Ryan Davis said, it'll be positively mind-boggling.

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