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Against AFC East's best, Bills don't measure up

Well, if you were worried that the Bills would beat the Jets in the finale and jeopardize their chances of picking near the top of the draft, your fears were unfounded. They got the job done. They did it all too well.

The Bills couldn't have played any worse if they had lost on purpose. Once the NFL gets a look at this film, they might launch an investigation and institute a draft lottery. If guys were playing for their jobs Sunday, as Chan Gailey said early in the week, the jobless rate will be soaring in Buffalo this week.

The Jets, who had virtually nothing at stake, played like a team fighting for its playoff life. The Bills looked like a team that was scrambling to get on the bus in a 38-7 thrashing. All things considered, you figured this one would be close. It wasn't. It was an utter humiliation.

"It's pathetic," center Eric Wood said. "It's embarrassing. I mean, you could say anything. It's awful. It's not even an NFL-caliber offense."

The offense was dreadful for the second week in a row. Brian Brohm got his first snaps of the season because of Ryan Fitzpatrick's sore knee. Brohm, under constant siege from an inspired Jets front seven, threw three interceptions and played like a man who was eager to begin a career in sales or coaching.

The Bills turned the ball over six times. That makes 13 turnovers in two weeks, or more than the Patriots have given it away all season. The way things are going, they'll turn it over three or four times today at locker cleanout.

Two weeks ago, there was a sense of promise and progress after they beat Miami for their fourth win in six games. There was talk of measuring themselves against the Pats and Jets, the two AFC East powers, in the final two weeks.

The measurements are in, and the Bills are being fitted for an extra small. In the final two weeks, they were outscored, 72-10. They did not score an offensive TD in either game. The defense got run over by a parade of obscure running backs. This won't do much for the collective psyche as they head into the long offseason.

"It hurts," coach Chan Gailey said. "It does. It's not the way you want to finish. You play two division opponents to see if you made progress, and we did not make progress. At the end of the year, when we get to all the evaluations, I think maybe we have further to go than I thought we did."

You think? They had their moments, to be sure. The offense made big strides under Gailey and Fitzpatrick. They discovered a star receiver in Stevie Johnson. Kyle Williams performed at a high level. They played a lot of teams close in defeat.

Still, cut through all the happy talk and it comes out to 4-12, their worst finish since the 2001 season. They were 1-5 in the division. They finished in the bottom quarter of the NFL in total offense for the eighth straight year. They didn't score more than 17 points in any of their last six games. The run defense finished dead last in the league. They gave up 34 or more points in half of their games.

There was a lot to admire about them at times. Gailey and Fitz breathed life into a stale operation. But maybe when you've missed the playoffs for a decade, you start to accept a lower standard. You mistake occasional competence for real hope. It's hard to step back from 4-12 and spin it as genuine progress.

Sure, the Bills had injuries. They were down to three legitimate NFL wide receivers, and that's giving Naaman Roosevelt and Phil Hubbard the benefit of the doubt. Fitzpatrick was out. Gailey said Brohm wasn't ready for the speed of a real NFL game, which makes you wonder why he waited so long to play him.

"Yeah, but everyone's got injuries," Wood said. "We were playing against the backups today, and it's embarrassing."

Three members of the Jets' starting secondary were inactive. Mark Sanchez played one series. Three of their starting offensive linemen sat after the first series. Running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, who both went over 100 yards in the teams' first meeting, were inactive.

It didn't matter. I was looking for the Bills to play some of their backups. But soon enough, I realized it's hard to tell the difference with their run defense. Backup runners make a living against the Bills. Rookie Joe McKnight, bringing back bad memories of Willie Parker, carried 32 times for 158 yards. McKnight came in with 31 yards on the season. Brad Smith gained 40 yards on his first carry and 20 on his second, taking a direct snap from center and dashing around right end, like some high school stud playing against his JVs.

It was a harsh reminder of how desperate the Bills are for help in the defensive front seven (that, and the Shawne Merriman signing). Losing ensures they will pick third in the draft, which means they have a chance at the top defensive lineman or linebacker. Boy, do they need one. They need more than one.

They played the Jets twice this year. They gave up 273 rushing yards in September and 276 on Sunday. Last year, the Jets averaged 283.5 yards rushing in two games against them. I'm no George Halas, but I detect a trend here.

They can't compete with the Jets -- and they're the second-best team in the division. There's also the Pats to consider. Until the Bills address their serious deficiencies in the defensive front seven, they won't get a sniff of the playoffs. What can you say when opposing teams put their backups on the field and you can barely tell the difference? Sunday's game exposed the huge gap in depth between the Bills and a real contender like the Jets. Rex Ryan wanted to show off his entire roster and give his players confidence heading into the playoffs. He succeeded.

The Bills, meanwhile, limp into another offseason, wondering just how far they are from actual contention. Eleven years of no playoffs and counting, it doesn't look very promising. Gailey said it. They're not nearly as far along as they thought.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com