The defense, once the signature of the Buffalo Bills, has crumbled.
It's left the players and staff rubbing their temples as if they are trying to massage an answer for what went wrong. Everyone is scrambling to figure out why a defense that was so good last season now ranks near the bottom of the NFL.
"This," said Bills cornerback Terrence McGee, "isn't the season we expected to have."
Most of the key components that were part of the Bills' defensive rise the last two seasons are still intact. They're now part of the demise. The Bills ranked 29th in the league in total defense following Saturday's 28-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Saturday at Cincinnati, the Bills face an offense that ranks in the league's top five.
Saturday night was more evidence on why the Bills are 4-10 in a season in which they were expected to be playoff contenders. The Broncos took to the air in the first half and to the ground in the second to produce 437 yards of total offense.
The Bills' name-brand players have been generic labels on a defense that has clearly fallen on hard times. Last year, it was Drew Bledsoe and the offense that was pelted with criticism and the defense held everything together. Now it's the defense.
"I'm going to tell you the tale of the year for us," said veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy. "Once we give up something, we don't know how to stick our heels in the dirt and get it stopped. It's always a snowball effect, and for that reason, we're in the position that we're in defensively."
Buffalo came into the game last in the league on third-down conversions allowed at 47.3 percent, and Denver converted 7 of 14. The Bills were last in league in touchdown percentage allowed in the red zone at 65.9 percent (27 of 41), and the Broncos were 4 for 5.
The Bills allowed more than 400 yards in the past three games, four of the past five games and six overall. They allowed more than 300 yards in just four games last year.
"For whatever reason, we go into the tank," Milloy said. "We're giving teams that confidence that even if we're up on them, they have confidence that if they hang in the game and get a big play on us, we'll fold, and that's what they've been doing. It's not a good thing."
It's not hard to figure the Bills' defensive problems. Defensive tackle Pat Williams' value was underestimated and he left via free agent for Minnesota. His replacement, Ron Edwards, is out for the season with an injury. The heart of the unit, linebacker Takeo Spikes, has missed most of the season with an Achilles tendon injury.
Missing Williams and Spikes helps explain why the Bills are next to last in the league in run defense at 144.3 yards a game. It also explains why Denver's Mike Anderson nearly recorded his first 100-yard outing in three weeks (97 yards and two touchdowns).
But it doesn't explain why the secondary was gashed once again. On the heels of Chris Chambers' 15-reception, 238-yard game in the Miami Dolphins' come-from-behind win over the Bills three weeks ago, Denver's Rod Smith enjoyed an 11-catch, 137-yard performance on Saturday.
Some of the wounds are self-inflicted like when cornerback Eric King was hit with a roughing the passer penalty in the second quarter on third-and-14 from the Bills' 14. It gave the Broncos new life -- first-and-goal from the 7 -- and the Broncos scored two plays later on a Jake Plummer pass to Smith to tie the game at 7. The ball was tipped by linebacker London Fletcher before Smith cradled it in the back of the end zone.
"That's why we're losing," said defensive tackle Sam Adams. "Mental mistakes, not being in your right gap, not catching the ball. That's how you go from being a good football team to the situation we're in now."