The hole has been dug.
It’s deep. Deeper than it might look to the naked eye in mid-September.
Daunting fact One: NFL teams that start the season 0-2 have a 12 percent chance of reaching the playoffs.
Daunting fact Two: NFL teams that start the season 0-3 have a three percent chance of reaching the postseason.
So, no, it is not too early to start coming to grips with the Buffalo Bills missing the postseason for the 17th year in a row. Thursday night’s 37-31 loss against the New York Jets at New Era Field – coming four days after their 13-7 season-opening defeat at Baltimore – might very well have sealed their fate, even with 14 games remaining on the schedule.
How shocked are the Bills to find themselves in this position after only 11 days?
“Shocked,” outside linebacker Jerry Hughes said. “You can definitely say that.”
You can also definitely say that the Bills have major problems on both sides of the ball.
In their season-opener, their offense was horrific, producing only 160 yards and a single touchdown.
On Thursday night, their defense, which had held up well last Sunday, fell off a cliff. Ryan Fitzpatrick, the former Bills quarterback whose three interceptions killed the Jets’ playoff chances in last year’s season-finale in Orchard Park, was made to look like Tom Brady.
He shredded the Bills for 374 yards and a touchdown, while throwing no interceptions. Jets offensive coordinator and former Bills coach Chan Gailey attacked Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby with an assault on the middle of the field that the supposed standout cornerback duo couldn’t handle.
The Jets kept firing away and receivers kept winning jump balls. It was about as ugly a display as the Bills’ defense has had in a long time.
And it left coach Rex Ryan stunned.
“Obviously, I never expected this,” Ryan said. “The Jets were a much better team than we were today, especially their offense against our defense looked like a mismatch today. You look for a difference in the game, that was the difference in the game.
“We thought we could cover them. Obviously, they have a great group of receivers, (Eric) Decker and Brandon Marshall … but everybody showed up.”
Decker and Marshall each had six receptions for 126 and 101 yards, respectively. Decker also had a 5-yard touchdown catch. Quincy Enunwa also caught six passes for 92 yards.
“Marshall told me before the game he was going to kick my butt and he was right,” Ryan said.
“Damn, it feels great to be 1-1 instead of 0-2,” Enunwa said as he walked up the tunnel after the game. The Jets had opened the season with a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
They understood, as the Bills did, how damaging a winless start can be.
In the Bills’ case, it has the very real chance of getting much worse, with their next two games against two of the NFL’s powerhouses: Arizona at home on Sept. 25 and New England on the road in Week Four.
“Ah, it is what it is,” Hughes said. “We’ve just got to pick back up. We’ve got to get back to the winning column some way. So we’ve got to fight, we’ve got to scratch to figure out how we’re going to start counting some wins. We’ve got to figure out something.”
The Bills’ offense rebounded from its terrible debut, although Tyrod Taylor’s play remained uneven. He did not seem at all comfortable in the pocket, too often running when there was no reason to bail. He did have three touchdown passes, including an 84-yarder to Marquise Goodwin and a 71-yarder to Greg Salas while making an impressive escape from pressure to buy time.
But he was easily outplayed by Fitzpatrick, who is supposed to be a hold-the-fort journeyman while Taylor is allegedly a rising star who just received a big contract extension.
The two losses raise all sorts of questions about the Bills.
What happened to the Taylor who seemed to have such a great offseason and was ready to take the next step?
What happened to Sammy Watkins, who played despite reports that his surgically repaired foot is giving him problems? He caught only two passes for 20 yards and was out of the game at the end. When asked what was wrong with Watkins, Ryan said, “You’ll have to ask him.”
What happened to LeSean McCoy, who ran for only 59 yards on 15 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per rush?
What happened to the offensive line, which isn’t consistently opening the kind of gaping holes for the run it did last season?
What happened to the defense, which sacked Joe Flacco four times and had nine hits on him last Sunday yet only sacked Fitzpatrick once and had two hits on him? Ryan said the Bills eventually backed off with blitzing Fitz, because he saw his cornerbacks couldn’t hold up in one-on-one coverage. Preston Brown made a nice play to force a fumble that Nickell Robey-Coleman returned 36 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, but that was really the only defensive highlight.
And how about Gilmore and Darby? Gilmore has been seeking a contract extension that would make him the NFL’s highest-paid player at his position. After Thursday night’s game, the Bills have to be seriously reconsidering even giving him a lesser deal.
“They had a good game plan,” Gilmore said. “We were in the position. We didn’t make the plays. We’ve been in that position a lot since I’ve been here and we’ve made the plays. And we didn’t make the play.”
Coaching was an issue as well. Once again, the Bills’ offense did a bad job of poor clock management, burning a timeout on a fourth-down play while having EJ Manuel at quarterback to attempt to draw the Jets offside. The Bills then put Taylor back in and still fell short of the first down.
The Bills closed the margin to six points with 1:17 left, but didn’t have enough time to stage a rally that ended with a failed onside kick.
Asked about how daunting it was to be facing the Cardinals and Patriots in the next two games, Ryan said, “Right now, it’s a little daunting against anybody. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to look at the tape and realize it starts with us. We have to get better. Before we look at a specific opponent, we have to get better.”