GREEN BAY, Wis. – Three duds in four weeks aren’t a fluke. They’re a trend.
After Sunday’s 22-0 loss against the Green Bay Packers, it’s safe to say the Buffalo Bills are trending toward a long, painful season of rebuilding with a rookie quarterback and holes everywhere else.
That shocking upset in Minnesota? Seems as if it happened a whole lot longer than a week ago, doesn’t it?
That ugly 0-2 start? It’s far more vivid, because what it established immediately – that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have a massive project – continues to ring true and there probably will be more games through the balance of the season like Sunday’s. Next Sunday, they face the Tennessee Titans, who knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in overtime.
Among the items on a long list of issues that the Bills need to resolve is the inability to handle the head-swelling praise that followed their 27-6 pounding of the Vikings, who were a preseason favorite to reach the Super Bowl. All it took was spending a few hours at Lambeau Field with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to be brought down to earth in resounding fashion.
“That’s a classic example that things can happen really fast,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said in a visitor’s dressing room that cleared out much faster than the one at U.S. Bank Stadium a week ago. “And it’s not about what happened last week or what’s coming up. It’s about that day and being in the present.”
McDermott and some players answered more questions from reporters with a variation of, “I have to look at the film,” than they did after the Minnesota game. But you didn’t need a second glance to see that the Bills unwisely put far too much on the shoulders of rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
Sure, Allen is drawing the largest criticism just as he drew most of the praise for what took place against the Vikings. This time, there was no jaw-dropping hurdle over a linebacker on the way to a first down. There was no sprinting toward the end zone and extending the ball over the pylon for a touchdown. There was no rolling out and firing a 55-yard completion on a broken play.
Mostly, there was Allen looking like he was making only his third NFL start. He was way off target on a bunch of throws. He made poor decision after poor decision, leading to a pair of interceptions on top of his fumble while being pressured.
And there was horrible pocket awareness that, in addition to awful pass protection, played a factor in his being sacked seven times. Allen finished 16-for-33 for 151 yards and a passer rating of 36.3. Take away some garbage-time completions he made, and his numbers wouldn’t have been even that respectable.
But it isn’t entirely fair to say that the Green Bay disaster was all his fault. The Bills did next to nothing to help him. They had virtually no running game, and that was largely because they abandoned it far too soon. LeSean McCoy had a mere five carries for 24 yards. McDermott said the rib injury that kept McCoy from playing last week and caused him to be listed as questionable Sunday did not limit the amount of time he touched the ball, which included three receptions for 13 yards on six targets.
So was Allen let down by the play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll?
“Look, anytime that you don’t put up any points, you are going to look at everything and you start making sure we are putting players in the proper positions,” McDermott said.
McCoy stopped short of openly criticizing the play-calling. However, he did say the plan was for him to get more involved.
"In a perfect world, you would want the running game to be 10 yards a carry, but that's football," Allen said. "They knew what we wanted to do. We have to be better at executing."
McDermott apparently didn’t need to watch any film to point a critical finger in the direction of the offensive line.
“We’ve got to make sure we establish a line of scrimmage and that sets up the running game and that sets up the pass game, whether it’s play-action or whatnot,” the coach said. “But you’ve got to make sure you’re winning your one-on-one, whatever it is ... and I don’t think we did that enough (Sunday) overall.”
As usual, Allen’s receivers gave him minimal help as well. They consistently struggled to gain separation, which largely took away the ability for him to either deliver quick throws or find anyone when his protection gave him sufficient time or he bought some of his own.
How Allen handles the extreme ups and downs of the past week will be something to watch.
“I think that Josh is a strong guy mentally, physically,” Williams said. “He's got good leadership around him. He's got good leadership at the top of our organization from Sean and guys like that. ... I think he’s going to respond fine.”
The rest of the players also bear watching. How long before McCoy starts being more pointed in his dissatisfaction in becoming an afterthought in an offense desperately needing balance?
Williams and other veterans will be looked upon to keep things from unraveling.
“I think if we can continue to be in the locker room promoting growth and saying, ‘Hey, we're going to continue to build, we're going to keep working and just go day by day,’ and then, at the end of the year, we look up and see where we are,” he said. “You can’t win the Super Bowl today, you can’t win 13 games today.”
At the moment, though, it looks like 13 has a better chance of being the season total for losses.