The Buffalo Destroyers have only five days to prepare for the Nashville Kats, but perhaps a short week isn't such a bad thing.
The team is still fuming following last Sunday's 53-44 home loss to Carolina, which knocked the Destroyers out of first place in the Arena Football League's Eastern Division. Now Buffalo (6-4) takes the road tonight (8:30, Empire, Radio 550) to face Nashville (6-4) at Gaylord Entertainment Center with both teams fighting for high postseason stakes.
But first, the Destroyers have to get Sunday's loss out of their system and maybe returning to the field quickly is best.
"Nobody within the organization is happy about what we did Sunday against Carolina," said Destroyers coach Ray Bentley. "I felt that overall, start to finish, it was our most disappointing performance of the season. . . . Just about every play we had seven doing the right thing and one doing the wrong thing."
Bentley even criticized the coaching.
"I don't think our play calling was anywhere as sharp as it had been or needed to be," he said. "Same with the defensive calls. If ever there was an organization loss, that was it. We didn't do well."
Among the most notable errors was a bad snap in the third quarter that led to a sack and safety, and lineman Jerry Crafts jumping offsides on a fourth-and-2 play with the team still in position to put together a dramatic finish. So instead of Buffalo moving ahead of Carolina and New York in the Eastern Division race, the Cobras now lead the division by a half game.
If the season were to end today, the Destroyers would be seeded ninth and would have to play eighth-seeded Nashville on the road because the Kats hold the strength-of-schedule advantage over Buffalo. The Destroyers' objective with four games remaining, however, is to push their way to a top four seed, which would secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Kats need a victory to stay within striking distance in the Southern Division.
"This is important in regards to where we're going to stand in the postseason tournament," Bentley said. "If we run the table, we have an excellent chance of being a top four seed."
So this week, Bentley focused on the mental aspects of the game. On Wednesday, the held two walk-through sessions and four hours worth of meetings and film work.
"I feel that if there's a deficiency in the football team it's not physical, it's mental," Bentley said. "It's guys making mental errors. Individual breakdowns within the scheme has been the cause of our problems. We have to sharpen things up."
Bentley pared down the Destroyers' offense, cutting a third of the offensive plays with the anticipation being that the execution will improve. That doesn't mean the plays have been removed from the offensive system for good, Bentley said, as the package changes from week to week.
"We don't have a lot of thinking that's going to go on," Bentley said. "The problem with the football team is that maybe things have been a little too complicated, too many different things thrown at them. Under the pressure of game speed, we don't know it well enough to just do it."
Meanwhile, the Kats' problems stem from fourth-quarter collapses. In three of their four losses, Nashville led late in the game only to have it slip away. On Saturday, Nashville led San Jose by 17 points with 6:31 remaining, but the SaberCats rallied for a 58-57 victory in overtime. Two weeks ago the Kats led Grand Rapids by 10 with 13:36 left, but the Rampage came back for a 60-54 victory.
The Destroyers placed defensive specialist Keven Jackson on injured reserve and activated wide receiver defensive back Reggie Allen. The Destroyers also activated lineman Desmon Baker in place of Scottie Nicholson.