The more I listen to it, the more times I read back over Dick Jauron's explanation, the more weak and outrageous it becomes.
Once again, here's what Jauron said Sunday about punting on fourth-and-1 from his 29 with 7:30 to play and the Bills trailing, 17-7:
"It's a 10-point game. We're not going to give them the game. They've got to earn the game. That's not to say we might not have made it. But it's not a good gamble at that point, in my opinion, to give them a short field in a tight football game. We had fought the whole time to get it there, to keep it there."
Translation: Jauron wanted to lose respectably. The Bills had performed admirably against Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans offense, and the coach didn't think it was right to take a calculated gamble that might easily inflate the Saints' winning margin.
A tight game? They were down by 10. The Bills' best hope was to convert the first down, drive the field, get a quick score and trust their defense to get a stop so they could have one last chance to tie the game. Even then, it was a long shot. Sure, the Saints might have fumbled the punt. Or the defense might have forced a turnover. But keep in mind, the Saints had just driven 66 yards in 1:16 to take the 10-point lead. The defense was wearing down.
So what does Jauron do? He puts his defense back on the field. Instead of making the reasonable, courageous gamble that might win the game, he decided it was more important to keep it close.
Jauron is a man who coaches not to lose. But he took it to a new extreme here on Sunday. He coached not to lose by more than 10 points.
If it seems unfair, so be it. It's entirely plausible that Jauron was trying to keep the score down. If the Bills held the Saints to 17 points, NFL types might say, "Jauron figured out a way, like he did in the opener against New England."
Speaking of the Pats, they went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 24 late in the third quarter Sunday, with a 16-10 lead. And made it.
I don't imagine the Jauron coaching manual advocates going on fourth down at your 24 with a six-point lead. But you know what? I'll take my chances with the Bill Belichick manual, which says a winner sometimes has to toss away the book and trust his gut -- and his team.
That was the real problem with Jauron's call. It took the life right out of his team. The Bills played like a team that had surrendered. They acted like a demoralized bunch that couldn't wait to get to the locker room.
Players know when their coach has given up on them. In 1990, the Bills were getting blown out in Miami. Bruce Smith got into Marv Levy's face when he pulled the starters with the game out of reach.
It's too bad a current Bill (Trent Edwards, perhaps, or T.O.) didn't have the nerve to stand up to Jauron and say, "Coach, show a little confidence in us."
Belichick said he went for it because he was confident, not because he wanted to send any message to his team. But players get the message, and what they heard from Jauron was that his guys aren't good enough.
Things keep getting worse, too. Leodis McKelvin has a fractured lower leg. Donte Whitner had thumb surgery. Bryan Scott has a bad ankle. Demetrius Bell hurt his groin.
This season could go spiraling downward in a hurry. The Bills continue to lose players and replace them with rookies and marginal talents. At some point, management has to take the blame for filling out the roster on the cheap and calling it a youth movement.
Jauron stands by and lets it happen, willing to think small. He sees a 10-point deficit as something to be protected. The thing about losing respectably, of course, is you're still a loser.