Column as I see 'em, Week Eight:
The Bills have two major financial decisions to make after this season: Whether to give huge contract extensions to quarterback Tyrod Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore is being paid $11 million in the last year of his original deal. Taylor has a conditional five-year, $90 million contract with an out clause for the team.
Maybe that's why those two seem so unwilling to accept any blame for their shortcomings on the football field. In the aftermath of Sunday's 41-25 loss to the Patriots, both Gilmore and Taylor offered weak, self-serving explanations for their subpar play in the biggest game of the year.
Taylor has excuses, to be sure. He was playing without his star running back, LeSean McCoy, and with three of his top receivers sidelined. No one expected him to beat Tom Brady in a shootout. But it doesn't matter if he was throwing to the Four Tops. Some of Taylor's passes were alarmingly off-target.
Regardless of the circumstances, accuracy is an ongoing issue with Taylor. The Bills need to decide whether to activate the rest of his contract, so he should be judged by the highest standard. When he continues to sail passes high, throw them at the feet of receivers, or lead them into head-knocking hits, it's a problem.
So I asked Taylor after the game if he felt he needed to be more accurate with his throws.
"What particular throw are you talking about?" he said.
In general, I said.
"We need to be better at executing sometimes," was Taylor's reply.
We? He acts as if someone else is throwing the ball. That's pretty weak, coming from a guy who is supposed to be a leader. The best quarterbacks often point to themselves after losses, even when it's to deflect the heat from teammates and coaches. It comes with playing the most important position on the team.
Gilmore was even more disappointing after another dreadful effort. He offered 38 words in his post-game chat. He also took the "we" approach and didn't say "I" once. He said Brady "didn't ever beat us one-on-one," and that the Bills gave him everything.
"It just happened," Gilmore said. That's the classic response when a pro athlete encounters any difficulty, be it on or off the field. It's not something they're responsible for, but something that happened to them.
Gee, Gilmore had no problem speaking in the first person when he talked about his eagerness to test the rising free-agent market. He expects to be paid like the elite NFL corners, which could mean somewhere between Washington's Josh Norman ($15 million a year) and the Giants' Janoris Jenkins ($12.5 million).
There's no way Gilmore is worth elite money after his sorry play in the first half. He was brutal in the two home losses to the Jets and Patriots, getting multiple holding calls and struggling badly in coverage. His performance against Ryan Fitzpatrick was as bad as I've ever seen by a Bills cornerback.
Gilmore got beat deep on a 53-yard TD by Chris Hogan on Sunday. As Hogan strolled into the end zone, Gilmore turned and began yelling at safety Jonathan Meeks. Maybe Meeks was guilty of miscommunication -- it's always "miscommunication" or "execution" , right? -- but it wasn't the reaction of a true team player.
Every time Gilmore opens his mouth, he seems to be negotiating. Taylor is also eager to dodge blame. Rex Ryan is a willing enabler. It just shows you that, for all the talk about team bonding and selflessness, it's the pursuit of those big free-agent dollars that really drives today's NFL athletes.
* * *
Rex Ryan vowed that his defense would improve this season, and it looked like a formidable unit during a four-game winning streak. But overall, the stats look pretty much the same halfway through the season.
True, they're tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 26 after accumulating just 21 a year ago. Ryan has clearly gotten his players to buy into his pass rushing scheme. But most of the other numbers are pretty similar to last season.
Overall, they're 16th in the NFL in total defense, yielding 360.2 a game. A year ago, they were 19th, allowing 356.4 yards a game. The yards per play is identical at 5.6. First down allowed are up (to 21 a game from 20) They're a little better against the run (4.1 a carry as opposed to 4.4), and a little worse in yards per pass attempt (6.7 to 6.4).
Heading into Sunday, they had allowed just four TD passes. Brady doubled that in the Pats' win. A year ago, they allowed 30 TD passes, so that's a major improvement. In the most important stat, points allowed, they've improved to 21.5 points a game, down from 22.4. Over the last two weeks, however, the Bills have allowed 69 points and 811 yards, which makes you wonder if they're really much better.
They also haven't forced a turnover in two straight games. Neither team has turned the ball over in the last two weeks, which is the first time that happened twice in one Bills season, never mind consecutive games.
* * *
The Raiders, historically the most penalized team in the league, proved you can pile up the flags and still prevail. They committed an NFL-record 23 penalties for 200 yards and still won at Tampa Bay in overtime, 30-24.
It helped that Oakland had 626 yards of offense, including a team-record 513 yards passing from Derek Carr. The Raiders are tied for first in the AFC West at 6-2 and are 4-1 in the AFC. Oddly, they are 5-0 on the road and 1-2 at home. Maybe there's hope for the Bills when they travel to Oakland on Dec. 4.
And when history occurs, there's generally a Bills connection. Since 1944, the only other NFL team to commit 22 penalties in a game was the 49ers in a 26-21 loss at the Ralph in 1998. That was the Bills' first win after an 0-3 start, in the year Doug Flutie took over and led them to the playoffs.
* * *
This week's edition of "Is He Owned?" features Washington rookie tailback Robert Kelley, who ran 21 times for 87 yards and a TD in a 27-27 tie with the Bengals in London. Kelley, who was undrafted out of Tulane, had played only 32 snaps all year before Sunday. An injury to Matt Jones opened the door.
I checked four ESPN fantasy leagues and Kelley, who is 5-10, 227 pounds, was still available in two of them. You know how it goes with running backs in fantasy. Don't hesitate. He'll be gone soon enough.
* * *
Tom Brady now has nine 300-yard passing days against the Bills in the last 10 seasons. The Bills have 10 300-yard passing days -- total -- during that time. Ryan Fitzpatrick had seven as a Bill, Kyle Orton three. In Brady's defense, he did miss three games against Buffalo during that stretch.
* * *
Julio Jones is one of the great receivers in the game. But on Sunday, Atlanta won for the third time this season with three other players having more catches than Jones. It shows you how a true franchise quarterback -- Matt Ryan -- can make average players into productive weapons.