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DEFENSIVE PLAY LEAVES BILLS' COORDINATOR SPEECHLESS

Jerry Gray had one word to say, and one word only, as he bolted from the Buffalo Bills' locker room after the Bills' 42-26 loss here Sunday.

"No," Gray said, giving a cursory look over his shoulder as he walked out the door.

"No," he repeated, barely missing stride, as I followed him down the corridor, seeking a few words of explanation for the local daily.

"No," he said one more time, before disappearing into the Indiana night.

And that was that, football fans. No comment. Nothing to add, no words of illumination from Buffalo's new defensive coordinator. Nothing to say. Which, by my rough calculations, was precisely the number of answers he had for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis offense Sunday.

None. Zero. No answers at all.

It's funny, Gray had done a lot of talking during the week leading up to the game. He said you couldn't be afraid to blitz Manning. You had to be aggressive and get pressure on him. You couldn't sit back and play conservatively. You couldn't let him establish a rhythm or he'd eat you alive.

Well, the Bills went at Manning, and he had them for lunch, anyway. He made Buffalo's "attack" defense look silly. He was 23 of 29 for 421 yards and four touchdowns. He led the Colts to TDs on six consecutive possessions. During one very rhythmic interlude, he threw three TD passes on six offensive plays.

It was an utter embarrassment for the Bills and their defensive coaches, whose aggressive schemes were picked to pieces by the NFL's smartest quarterback and his talented supporting cast. The Colts were ready for everything the Bills threw at them. The Bills acted as if they'd never seen play-action passes.

When the Bills blitzed, Manning found the one-on-one matchup he wanted. Often, it was Marvin Harrison, running untroubled through the Buffalo secondary. On a couple of his TD catches, the nearest defensive back was somewhere in Iowa. Knowing the Bills were crowding eight men near the line on first downs, the Colts called a flea-flicker and Manning found Jerome Pathon wide open for a 60-yard touchdown.

It was like an Arena League game out there, or a touch football game in the street. The Colts piled up 555 yards and had 11 plays of 20 yards or more. The 555 yards were the third-highest ever allowed by a Buffalo defense. We knew the new, aggressive defense would give up big plays, but this was absurd.

No doubt, there are a lot of fans thinking back fondly to the Ted Cottrell days, when the Bills were accused of being too passive but rarely gave up the big play.

"I think we had a good game plan," said free safety Keion Carpenter. "We just didn't execute it, starting with myself. This is one of the worst games I ever played. Being one of the leaders on this team, I look at myself first. I can't speak for everybody else. I can speak for me. I made some major mistakes and cost us some points."

Carpenter said he was responsible for Pathon being open on the flea-flicker. Keith Newman said it was his fault that tight end Ken Dilger was left open for a 44-yard catch that set up the first Indy TD. Players stood up and took the blame after the debacle. It's too bad you couldn't say the same about the defensive coordinator.

There's an arrogance to the defense Gray and Gregg Williams have installed in Buffalo. They're going to do it their way, regardless of the talent or experience on the roster. They're going to play an attacking style, and critics be damned. It worked in Tennessee, didn't it? It'll work here.

Then, when it blew up in his face, Gray couldn't be troubled to stand up and take the heat, the way his players did. It's OK for the coaches to treat the players like little kids in training camp. It's OK for the general manager to publicly challenge John Fina (who could barely walk after the game, by the way).

But when the defense lays a massive egg, the coordinator runs out the door without standing up to face the tough questions.

Williams talks about his coaches as "teachers." But most of them are new to their positions, or to the NFL. What lesson, exactly, is a player supposed to take away when one of the top teachers has a bad day and can't face the world like a man?

And boy, did Jerry Gray have a bad day Sunday. The Colts made him look like a Pee Wee coach, like the rookie coordinator that he is.

"I don't want to say the Bills' defense was predictable," Pathon said, "but we thought we could take advantage of them being so aggressive. They bit off our play action and Marvin and I were able to run by them and make big plays."

The worst is behind them, anyway. They have two home games now and the schedule gets easier from here. But this is a young team and the injuries are mounting. Williams has to keep his players' spirits up. He and his coaches have a lot of teaching to do.

And judging from Gray's postgame act, a lot to learn, too.
e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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