The Buffalo Bills had a bunch of opportunities to overcome the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon. What they didn't have a chance to overcome were their own special teams.
Count the ways the "teams" betrayed their brethren:
Allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that wasn't even "Home Run Throwback."
Allowed a 19-yard punt return to the Buffalo 36-yard line, a prelude to the Jets' first touchdown from scrimmage.
Allowed a 43-yard field-goal attempt by Steve Christie to be blocked on the Bills' first possession of the second half, when they needed points desperately.
Two fumbled punt returns by Chris Watson.
A miserable day by punter Chris Mohr.
Rookie defensive back Raion Hill had to race out to line up at his spot on a coverage unit at the last second.
Before the Bills went to training camp, coach Wade Phillips said he intended "to become involved in the special teams." Wade wouldn't want to have his fingerprints discovered on this game.
That kickoff return by Kevin Williams (not the ex-Bill of the same name) changed the tenor of the entire game. The Buffalo offense had just worked its way 80 yards downfield, at times laboriously, for the game's opening touchdown. In fact, they had to score twice. The first, a 1-yard scramble by Rob Johnson, was nullified when Marcus Spriggs was penalized for not reporting to the officials that he was going to line up as an end.
It was that sort of a game. Johnson finally passed 3 yards to Eric Moulds for the touchdown that counted.
The most effective way Phillips could contribute to the Bills' special teams would be to have a plane ticket issued to Watson today, sending him home. He hasn't done a thing for the Bills since he was acquired from Denver last month. Not even a whisper of breaking a punt or kickoff return.
A published report said the Bills gave up a fourth-round draft choice to get Watson from the Broncos. The way the Buffalo drafters operate that is a valuable property. The report said further that it could grow to a third-rounder. That would make it the second-worst trade of the year.
Get this man out of here before he causes more damage. Could the Bills worsen themselves by playing a rookie like Avion Black or Drew Haddad? Phillips tried to defend Watson by saying that he didn't fumble all last season as a Bronco.
Uh, no. Watson not only lost a fumble last year, he also had a couple of muffs. It was no accident that Mike Shanahan used a first-round draft choice on a defensive back, Deltha O'Neal, who also had a reputation as a dependable return man.
The reports also said that Shanahan became disenchanted with Watson when he was a no-show for offseason training. If Watson wasn't dedicated in Denver, what made the Bills think he would be dedicated in Buffalo?
The worst trade of the year was Bruce DeHaven, the banished special teams coach, for Ronnie Jones, the new one.
What was Wade thinking when he hired Jones to coach his special teams? If he wanted to dump DeHaven he had every right. Bruce was here for 13 years and Phillips inherited him. All coaches should have the right to name their own assistants. But Jones never coached special teams before. The 2000 Bills are not the place for on-the-job training. There were experienced special teams coaches available when Phillips was looking for a replacement for DeHaven, who wound up with the San Francisco 49ers.
Special teams are an essential part of any winning team. Under Marv Levy the Bills had the most efficient special teams in the history of the franchise. At times they were as important as the no-huddle offense.
This is the salary cap era. No team has much depth, at least enough to field special teams full of veterans. The days of Steve Tasker and Mark Pike are likely over. Sunday the Bills used their third different kickoff coverage team in as many games.
There are all sorts of explanations. Yet explanations aren't the answer. Fixing the problem is the answer.