LOS ANGELES −Leger Douzable, the Bills’ backup defensive tackle, has settled in nicely in his brief time here in Buffalo. Douzable, who played for Rex Ryan with the Jets, even has a regular gig on the radio. So on Wednesday, I asked him if he knew the last time the Bills won three games in a row.
He paused to reflect. “Ninety-four?”
“It’s not that bad!” I said, laughing.
“Well, the way you asked it made it seem like a real long time ago!” he said.
The Bills haven’t won three straight since the start of the 2011 season. They went to 3-0 with a 34-31 victory over the Pats at the old Ralph. That was the day the late Van Miller shouted “Take that, New England” in the press box after Rian Lindell’s last-second field-goal attempt went through to snap a 15-game losing streak against the Pats.
Actually, it does seem like a very long time ago. The Ryan Fitzpatrick magic, which earned him a big contract extension a few weeks later, was at its height. The Bills lost seven in a row later in that 2011 season and haven’t won three in a row since.
Sunday at venerable Los Angeles Coliseum, the Bills have a chance to win their third in a row and continue their recovery from an 0-2 start. Three weeks after being given up for dead, they can move above .500 for the first time since they won at the Jets on Thursday night last November.
Rex Ryan hasn’t won three straight since 2011, either. That year, his Jets won three in a row to reach 8-5, then lost out and missed the playoffs. That should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone getting overly giddy over recent events.
Fortunes can change rapidly in today’s NFL, and it’s foolish to attach too much significance to a single game or two. I’ve been guilty, I know. Remember how the Jets game was a “must-win” in Week Two? If they lost that and went to 0-2 in the division, they were destined to go to 0-4, right? Rex was as good as fired.
From here on, I vow not to declare any game a must-win, unless a loss means actual elimination. Marv Levy was once asked if a game was a must-win. He said, “This is not a must-win. World War II was a must-win.”
So it’s not imperative for the Bills to win today. It’s a West Coast trip. They’re always tough. Ryan had the team leave on Saturday after reading an Olympic study that said you should either leave a week early or a day early for long trips. If they lose, I imagine he’ll seek another expert travel opinion.
Still, it’s a game that could propel them toward bigger things. They’re playing a Rams team that, like the Bills, is looking to end a prolonged run of incompetence and reach the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
As recent NFL history goes, this is like two drunks stumbling toward one another in a dark alley. The Bills have missed the playoffs in 16 straight seasons, the longest drought in any of the four major American professional sports. The Rams have missed the playoffs 11 years in a row, the seventh-longest such drought.
You think it’s tough being a Bills fan? Since the Rams lost to the Patriots in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Bills have a better record by 10 more wins. It’s not cause for a parade, but it’s nice to know someone has it worse.
They fled St. Louis for sunny Los Angeles this season, too, which has to bring a belated surge of joy to fans who feared that their beloved Bills might wind up in La-La Land when the team was up for sale after Ralph Wilson’s death in 2014.
Regardless of location, these are two similar franchises, chronic losers who have struggled to build a competitive roster through the draft while searching vainly for a quarterback who can transform them into legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
The Rams have won seven games four times in the last six seasons. That’s the sort of numbing mediocrity that stirs memories of Dick Jauron for Bills fans. That’s despite the fact that the Rams have made some bold, creative moves in the draft.
They got defensive end Robert Quinn, a two-time Pro Bowler, in the 2011 draft. In 2012, the got a pile of picks by trading the No. 2 overall pick to Washington, which used it on Robert Griffin III. They used one of those picks on defensive tackle Michael Brockers, another on wide receiver Brian Quick.
The Rams have done a good job building a strong defense through the draft. They took linebacker Alec Ogletree in 2013 and stole tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th pick of the 2014 draft. If Bills fans want to feel any worse, Donald is another stud − some feel he’s the best player in the NFL today − who went after Doug Whaley overpaid for Sammy Watkins.
Of course, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get the quarterback right. The Rams took Sam Bradford first overall in 2010, assuming they would surround him with top young talent and return to the ranks of the contender. Bradford couldn’t stay healthy and never worked out. He’s not playing QB for the unbeaten Vikings.
Desperate for a franchise QB who could put them over the top, the Rams traded two first-rounders, two seconds and a third to the Titans for the first pick to move up for Jared Goff in the 2016 draft. Goff hasn’t seen the field for coach Jeff Fisher, presumably because he’s not ready for L.A.’s complex NFL offense.
With Case Keenum under center, that heady Rams attack didn’t score a touchdown until their third game. They’re last in the league in offense, last in first downs, 30th in passing (the Bills are last), 31st in yards per rush.
Tailback Todd Gurley, who became the first rookie to rush for 125 yards in each of his first four games as a rookie a year ago − averaging 6.4 yards a carry − has 216 yards in four games. How much worse could they be with Goff at quarterback?
Well, the Rams are 3-1 for the first time in a decade, tied for the NFC West lead with Seattle, whom they’ve beaten. A win today would give them their first four-game winning streak since − catch this, Leger − the ’03 season, the last time they finished above .500.
So something has to give today. One of these teams is bound to find its level. The Bills’ defense, which has been terrific in three of its four games, cannot allow Keenum and the league’s worst offense to have their way. A run defense that shut down LeGarrette Blount has to keep Todd Gurley in his curious sophomore slump.
Above all, Tyrod Taylor has to be the best quarterback on the field again. He has to outplay a backup, just as he did in New England a week earlier against a third-stringer. That Rams defense will be out to stop LeSean McCoy and the running game, which means Taylor will likely need another strong, efficient passing day.
The Bills and Rams have been dysfunctional teams for well over a decade for one main reason: No franchise quarterback. Time will tell on Goff. But Taylor must show that if there’s a franchise QB on the field today, he plays for the Bills.