SEATTLE – The NFL has a big ratings problem, and critics point to the lack of entertaining games on prime-time TV. Well, I have a solution: The league should make the Bills a fixture on their night-time schedule.
How could anyone complain about boring football if the Bills were a regular nightly feature? Their pass defense is a perfect antidote for dull games. They turn every night game into a shootout, every quarterback into a superstar.
Back in Week Two, it was our old pal, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who carved up the secondary for 374 yards in a Thursday night win over the Bills. On Monday night, it was Russell Wilson's turn to audition for Canton.
Wilson, who has been hobbled by injuries all season, made quick work of the secondary, completing 20 of 26 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns as the Seahawks prevailed, 31-25, at rollicking CenturyLink Field.
Rex Ryan called this a must-win game, which leaves you to wonder how he'll characterize the remaining seven. But evidently, the head coach neglected to inform his defensive backs, who were clueless in Seattle.
It might have been worse, if the Seahawks' offense had spent more time on the field. The Bills led the time of possession by a staggering 40:17 to 19:43. Their offense was 12 of 17 on third downs. They had 425 total yards, including 162 on the ground. Tyrod Taylor was 27 for 38 for 289 yards.
But it wasn't enough. The Bills lost their third straight and head into the bye at 4-5, knowing they could have been the first AFC team to win here since 2011, if only the pass defense had arrived at the game on time.
"Look at the stats and what the offense did," said safety Corey Graham. "They did a great job tonight. It (stinks) when the defense doesn't hold up to their end of the bargain. We had too many penalties and gave up too many big plays, especially in the red zone. We pride ourselves on red-zone defense."
This had the makings of an inspiring upset win for the Bills, who had lost their last five Monday nighters. Jerry Hughes blocked a punt on the game's first possession, leading to a quick TD. The Bills became the first team in six years to score two TDs in the first quarter against the Seahawks and led, 17-14.
But the defense, playing without starting tackles Corbin Bryant and Marcell Dareus, wasn't equal to the task. Seattle, which had scored one offensive TD in its previous nine quarters, scored four TDs in the first half.
After their four-game winning streak, the Bills were first in the NFL in red-zone defense. But in the three losses, they've been dreadful inside their own 20-yard line.
"Yeah," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who had his 10th sack. "We're just not executing well. We see the stuff in practice. It's all about taking the stuff from practice and transitioning it to the game like we were doing when we were No. 1 in the red zone."
Wilson had a lot to do with it. Early in the week, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Wilson was getting healthier and close to his old, dynamic self. It showed. Wilson was sensational. He's still not running much, but he looked like the guy who threw 24 touchdown passes in his last seven games a year ago.
The Seahawks waited a long time for Wilson and tight end Jimmy Graham to click. The wait is over. Wilson found Graham (eight catches, 103 yards) for two first-half touchdowns, both of them remarkable one-handed grabs by the former Saint.
Wilson has been under the microscope here since signing a $87.6 million contract after the Seahawks' second Super Bowl appearance. He was surgical, completing 14 of 17 passes for 229 yards in the first half alone.
At that point, the Bills had allowed 603 yards passing to Fitzpatrick and Wilson over six halves in prime time this season. At times, it was amazing how open the receivers were, as was the case in the Jets debacle in September.
"Oh, it's very tough," Graham said. "You get a chance to show what you can do in front of the world and you go out there and you can't cover anybody. It was a tough day in the first half. In the second half, the guys picked it up and did a good job. Sometimes, it's too late."
With the defensive front compromised by injury, the Bills desperately needed their secondary to blanket the receivers. Ryan's defense relies on lock-down play by the cornerbacks. Second-year corner Ronald Darby was ill and played like it. He went to the bench after a miserable first half.
Stephon Gilmore wasn't much better. On one play, Gilmore made a half-hearted attempt at a tackle and Graham hurdled over him to gain more yards. Safety Robert Blanton, forced into a starting role because of the injury to Aaron Williams, had a miserable night.
It was a sad waste of offense, the kind of night you rarely see from a visiting team in Seattle. Overall, the Seahawks have won 11 straight Monday night games, often because of their defense.
They had trouble containing Taylor and the Bills, who put together a 10-minute, 17-play drive in the second quarter and went on another long march at the end of the third. Mike Gillislee scored on a 1-yard run and Taylor ran for the two-point conversion to draw within three, 28-25.
The Seahawks struck back for a 49-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka to make it 31-25. Considering the way the defense had been playing, it seemed like a moral victory. So the Bills' offense, which had played admirably for much of the night, had a chance to muster another drive.
They nearly pulled it off. After a Kyle Williams sack forced a punt, the Bills had one last chance. Taylor, who hasn't led a winning fourth-quarter comeback since the Tennessee win more than a year ago, found Robert Woods -- who had 10 catches for 162 yards -- for a first down on third-and-21.
An 8-yard Taylor scramble and an offsides gave the Bills a first-and-goal from the 10. But with the CenturyLink crowd in an uproar, Taylor got sacked twice, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 15. Then, given time to throw, he moved left and missed Woods badly on a throw to the back of the end zone.
It was a tough way to end it, another game that will go down as a failed comeback attempt by Taylor. But the blame for this one goes squarely on the backs of the defensive backs.