DETROIT – Finally, the Bills will “host” the Jets here tonight at Ford Field. All the pertinent logistical issues have been resolved. There’s one lingering question, however: Will the guy with the laser show up again?
Let’s hope not. The Bills have enough troubles. I don’t imagine their emailed game plans had instructions on what to do if they had green lasers flashed in their eyes, as they did in their win here back on Oct. 5.
Word is, the Lions organization plans to do its best to make the Bills feel at home this time around. The NFL gave out free tickets. Maybe they’ll program the “Shout” song into their public address system, or show a video tribute to native son Ralph Wilson.
The snowstorm has generated sympathy for Buffalo around the NFL. In fact, there’s a school of thought that the disaster could become a crutch for Doug Marrone and Co. if they lose today and the season continues to unravel.
They could point to the snowstorm as a complicating event, one that damaged their chances to launch a late-season playoff run by taking away a game at The Ralph and compromising preparations for the following week’s home game against the Browns.
Yes, it was tough to miss all that practice. Football players are creatures of routine. History shows it’s generally difficult for teams to rise above these assaults of nature. It’ll be a convenient excuse if they lose to the Jets.
They’ll get no sympathy here. The Bills are the last NFL organization that deserves sympathy over a change of venue. Remember, they gave away a regular-season home game to Toronto six years in a row in the name of profit and regionalization.
That travesty was “postponed” after last year’s loss to the Falcons, which proved once and for all how foolish it was to give away home-field advantage. Terry Pegula wants to put an end to the Canada venture, and he has the financial wherewithal to do so.
It’s a tad ironic that Mother Nature has given them another seven-game home schedule. They have to rise above it, which wasn’t so easy when they were playing a game in Toronto. The Bills went 1-5 in their six largely forgettable games in the Rogers Centre.
It always seemed to me that the games in Toronto were harder on the Bills than road games, because the atmosphere was empty and hollow for the team that was supposed to have a home-field edge. So at least this will be a true neutral-site game.
Maybe the change of venue will be a good thing. The Bills are in desperate straits after losing two straight games and falling to 5-5. Being removed from their home confines could heighten the sense of desperation and give them a renewed sense of focus and fire.
And let’s face it, The Ralph hasn’t been much of a haven this season. The Bills are 2-3 at home and haven’t played a good game in Orchard Park since the emotional home opener against the Dolphins on Sept. 14.
Over the last four home games, the Bills are averaging 16 points a game. They have 33 penalties for 309 yards in those games. They’ve turned the ball over 10 times and taken it away three times. In the other six games, they have a takeaway-giveaway of plus-14.
You call that a home-field advantage? There’s something to be said for the comforts of home, even if it’s buried under 5 feet of snow, but it might be an advantage to play this one out of town.
They haven’t scored a touchdown in seven quarters, or managed a red-zone TD since the last time they played the Jets. Just think how it would have sounded in The Ralph if the offense got off to another horrendous start at home against the Jets.
This could be a unifying moment for a desperate team. OK, their practice routine was disrupted. All that precious practice didn’t do them much good against the Chiefs and Vikings. Maybe they needed a good rest to clear their heads and allow their bodies to recuperate.
“We want to see how we can respond to this,” said tight end Scott Chandler. “It’s a little adversity. It can either bring us together, or we can use it as an excuse. We want it to bring us together. Extreme circumstances bring out the best or the worst in you. Hopefully, it brings out the best in us.”
It’s Marrone’s job to bring out the best in his team. The best coaches lift their teams in times of crisis. I saw signs of discouragement in the Bills late in the Miami game in Week 11. Marrone needs to instill a renewed sense of belief, however faint, that they’re still alive in the AFC playoff race.
Rex Ryan will give him his best shot. You can bet that the Jets won’t be the same team the Bills embarrassed by 20 points in MetLife Stadium a few weeks ago. Given two weeks and a day to prepare, Ryan will have them ready.
Michael Vick, who took over at quarterback when Geno Smith melted down in the first quarter against the Bills, is the No. 1 guy now. He’ll cause problems for a Bills defense that struggled to contain Ryan Tannehill, a mobile QB, in the loss to the Dolphins.
It’s a tough spot for the Buffalo offense. Ryan is among the best in the game at getting a defense ready. This is a coach, remember, who won road playoff games against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning early in his career.
Two weeks ago, the Jets were 1-8 and facing Ben Roethlisberger, who had thrown for six touchdowns in consecutive games. The Jets shut the Steelers down and prevailed, 20-13, in one of the biggest upsets of the season.
Kyle Orton is no Roethlisberger. He’s coming off two bad performances. But Marrone is sticking with him, confident that Orton still gives him the best chance to win. Ryan will have some special treats in store for Orton. He’ll probably load up against the run and dare Orton to beat him.
So we’re back where we were when Marrone yanked EJ Manuel in early October. The Bills are .500 and desperate for Orton to lift them in a crisis in Detroit. This is where Orton began his run as the Bills quarterback. It could end here, too, if the Bills don’t snap out of their offensive funk in a hurry.
Oh, the kid who flashed the laser at the Bills has been banned from Ford Field. Unlike the Bills, he’ll actually be at home tonight.