Tickets on the secondary market were going for $6 before the Bills-Browns game on Sunday, leaving fans with a difficult decision: Do they skip the game and grab a few draft beers at the Big Tree Inn or a foot-long sandwich at Subway or drag themselves into freezing New Era Field.
In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when the Bills made the playoffs 10 times in a 12-year span, it was a no-brainer. Buffalo fans couldn’t get enough. They once had 32 no-shows for a regular-season game, against New England in 1990s. Fans cheered and danced and sang from morning till night while rejoicing in victory.
The weather wasn’t an issue years ago, back when everything was right with the football team. Fans didn’t care about cold and snow. Most took pride in braving the elements and stuck around until the final seconds ticked off the clock. They didn’t consider leaving early when the Bills were winning.
Attitudes changed with the team. Fans must have been kicking themselves Sunday for attending the game. They would have been better off throwing six bucks onto a burning table in the parking lot. The game Sunday wasn’t worth the time and energy and certainly not the money, no matter how low the price.
The Bills beat the hapless Browns, 33-13, sparing themselves the indignity that would have come with losing to a terrible Cleveland team. Good for them, but they weren’t kidding anyone. You didn’t see many fans soaking up the win in the final minutes because, well, you didn’t see many fans in the final minutes.
Many left at halftime, more after the third quarter. Who could blame them?
The game Sunday was an unsightly affair, the kind of performance that makes people feel like they were ripped off. You can’t help but believe many attended the game purely out of habit or because they wanted to keep their streak intact. I don’t know, but I would imagine Lou Gehrig would have skipped this one.
Rex Ryan figured fans left because it was a blowout. There was an element of truth, for a change, in his assessment. Browns tackle Joe Thomas said he probably wouldn’t sit in the cold for that long. Jerry Hughes and Jerome Felton took the approach of taking a win any way they can get one. It all made sense.
Winning ugly is still winning, after all. I’m not taking anything away from a Bills team that had been flailing. It’s not their fault the Browns, 3-32 since Johnny Manziel threw his first NFL touchdown pass in Buffalo, remain dreadful. But it’s also another lost season for the Bills. They have an infinitesimal chance of making the playoffs.
Cleveland hasn’t played for anything but pride all season, and that was lost two months ago. The Bills are going nowhere with their 7-7 record, which falls in line of their 16-year stretch of mediocrity. It was another win against a bad team they should beat, which has been the pattern.
LeSean McCoy had 153 yards rushing and provided most of the entertainment for Bills fans unless you get your jollies from watching Tyrod Taylor throw errant passes or miss open receivers down the field. The Browns can bring out the worst in any game, but the Bills contributed their share in this one.
The game fell short of a sellout, and many who attended the game didn’t bother to stick around after the third quarter with the Bills winning. The lower bowl was two-thirds full while the upper decks were half-empty. Apparently, they didn’t find two teams passing into the flat quite so gripping.
Now, the game wasn’t 8-0 bad, or 6-3 bad, two other games against the Browns remembered mostly for their horror, but that was a bad football game Sunday. Too many games across the NFL in recent years lacked entertainment value to justify spending $60 on a ticket – or $6.
The Browns could actually be worse than their winless 0-14 record suggests, if that’s possible. They’re 2-12 against the spread, so even the Las Vegas odds makers have had a difficult time believing just how horrible Cleveland has played. Goodness gracious, people. Take a look at Robert Griffin III.
You could have anticipated what was to come from RG3 when he dropped back on the first series and missed Duke Johnson, who didn’t have a defender in the same ZIP code, on an easy pass. Griffin ran out of bounds on another play and took a sack when all he had to do was throw the ball away.
Another time, he stepped out of bounds while attempting to throw the ball away. Yet another time, he threw away a pass that landed behind the Bills’ bench. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 196 yards and led the Browns with 48 rushing yards. He made one great pass all afternoon and had an 18-yard touchdown run.
Taylor wasn’t much better. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 174 yards and one of the worst touchdown passes in recent memory. He had Charles Clay open in the end zone and threw the ball behind his tight end. Clay made a terrific catch after sliding to the ground and reaching back, giving the Bills a 17-3 lead.
Sammy Watkins bailed out on a pass over the middle. Gary Barnidge bobbled a pass out of bounds for the Browns. Dan Carpenter missed an extra point. Both teams had miscommunications and missed tackles. The game ended with Johnson fumbling out of bounds. It was entertaining only in its comedy.
What did we learn from the game? Not much.
Rex Ryan is headed for the unemployment line unless Terry and Kim Pegula make a 180-degree turn after deciding to fire him. Doug Whaley appeared to be safe a week ago, but you never know. He could be in trouble. Taylor showed he’s not worth $90 million for the next five years.
The only difference is the Bills beat a terrible team in an ugly game. Fans knew what they were watching and didn’t like what they were watching, so they stopped watching. Back in the day, fans vowed never to miss another game. On Sunday, I suspect a few vowed never to come back.