LONDON — Jim Kelly is one of you. He cringed just as much through those three straight lashings at home. He too is dumbfounded. He too expected this Buffalo Bills defense to be mean, aggressive, one of the best in the NFL.
So before this "Play 60" event at the Tottenham Hotspur training facility, the Pro Football Hall of Famer is brutally honest.
“I’m speaking from the heart," Kelly said, "I don’t know what the heck’s wrong. I know injuries, for sure, on offense doesn’t help. ... But on the defensive side, I don’t know. I was excited like everybody was to see what our defense can do. And so far, we haven’t done very well. And I hope that gets changed, fixed, whatever needs to happen."
With Rex Ryan MIA at the community event, Kelly was a de facto team spokesman. He's the team icon forever with his pulse on the franchise.
It wasn't all gloom and doom. Kelly was very, very high on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, calling him the best quarterback Buffalo has had “in years.”
But Kelly lamented the baffling number of injuries. Those flags? "We just continue to make stupid penalties and play dumb football." And the passive plan on defense has him scratching his head, too.
He's with defensive end Mario Williams, unsure why Ryan is dropping his best pass rusher into coverage.
“Didn’t we pay a lot of money for him to hit the quarterback?” Kelly said. “If I’m the opposing quarterback and I see him dropping into coverage — and Hughes? — oh that’s a big plus. I’d definitely have a smile on my face."
Of course, six months ago, Kelly posed with Ryan and Thurman Thomas on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Hope was renewed in Western New York and Ryan was the reason why. A Top 5 defense would now blend with an elite defensive mind. There's still plenty of time to right the ship, but the Bills currently rank 16th in points, 24th in sacks and 15th in total yards.
Andy Dalton carved up the Bills "D" like Tom Brady and Eli Manning before him, surprised himself that Ryan didn't blitz more often.
It's not too late. Here in London, the game plan can change.
“If something’s not working, you have to do something,” Kelly said. “I don’t care if it’s offense or defense. If you cannot stop anybody, you have to find ways to change. I’m sure Rex is right at the top of the list of wanting to make sure things get better. We all did a lot of talking before the season — including me — and what we wanted to see and so far, we haven’t been able to see the defense we all hoped for.
“Hopefully, they tweak it a little bit and hopefully start winning games by what our defense is doing and giving our offense better field position all around.”
If the attack on defense has Kelly confused, the injuries on offense are mind-boggling. Since training camp, the Bills have been missing quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers week after week after week.
“When you have your main weapons — or all of them — on the sideline or in the training room,” Kelly said, “you can’t win football games that way.”
All frustrating considering Kelly is a Taylor believer. Asked how often he's been asked about quarterbacks since retiring, he chuckled. The most important position in sports has been a turnstile since he retired 19 years ago.
But when Kelly watched Taylor up close in training camp, he was surprised by how strong his arm was. Combined with the athletic ability, he views Taylor as the best quarterback Buffalo has had in at least a decade, back to Drew Bledsoe and Doug Flutie.
“Tyrod’s just a great athlete,” Kelly said. “Look at what he’s able to do running the football. Defenses have to totally have a different game plan. EJ" Manuel "is a good athlete, too. But Tyrod has that ‘it’ factor being able to make things happen. The more you see him, the more reps he gets, the more playing time he gets, the better he will get. There’s no doubt.
“I have a lot of confidence in him. It’s the best I’ve seen in years here.”
Kelly added that Taylor can “definitely” be the Bills’ answer long term under center.
“I think we will learn a lot more if he stays healthy,” Kelly said. “When you are a great athlete like that, being able to get down and being able to play smart — we need to keep him healthy. ... You can still do it. You just have to be smart in knowing when to get down."
Since Kelly left, it's been one long, brutal search for a winner in Buffalo. He's witnessed it all firsthand, every single time hope gave way to mediocrity. Playoff dreams giving way to Top 10 draft picks. So no wonder, he was so pointed with his words. Ryan was, by far, the most high-profile coaching hire the Bills have had since Marv Levy and Kelly worked together in the 1990's. At 3-3, it's been a wild ride so far.
Above all, Kelly feels for the 70,000 fans who watched three losses in a row. Kelly even referred to Ralph Wilson Stadium as “Rich Stadium.” In his day, such a rough stretch was unheard of.
Be it health or the defensive scheme, he knows things must change.
“The way it’s been going,” Kelly said, “nobody likes losing.”