INDIANAPOLIS – Sean McDermott acknowledged why he was hearing questions about the Buffalo Bills’ effort after Sunday’s 37-5 loss against the Indianapolis Colts.
The performance was as clear an indication as any of the depths the Bills have reached in a season moving ever closer to the disaster many prognosticators expected. It was the exclamation point to a humiliating six-day stretch that began with the desperate move to make a quarterback who probably should be retired their starter for the game.
After that, things figured to go downhill quickly, something oddsmakers clearly considered when they made the Bills, who began the day with two wins, a touchdown underdog against a team that had only one victory. The Bills weren’t competitive in any respect. They looked disinterested and disengaged.
This had all the makings of the kind of football that could turn a 2-5 start into a 2-14 finish.
So McDermott understood a significant part of where the media were taking his postgame news conference. Just how much do his players care? Have they essentially packed it in even before Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots get their first crack at them a week from Monday in prime time at New Era Field?
“It’s got to hurt,” McDermott said. “The minute losing gets easy and easy to take is not what I’m looking for. It’s got to hurt. And that’s where it starts.”
Of course, players were saying the right things afterward. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, for one, insisted that “no one’s happy. We show up to win football games, so if things don't go our way you’ve got to excuse us if we’re a little bit upset after the game.”
What about during the game? Where was the passion and desire for success then?
That topic prompted McDermott’s go-to response after a loss. “You’ve got to go look at the tape and make sure we got the right personnel on the field and, fundamentally, we’re doing things right,” he said.
We’ll save you the trouble, Coach. So much is wrong with your lineup that fixing it – or as McDermott said, hitting "the reset button" – will likely take even more overhauling than the extensive amount already done with the roster.
As for fundamentals, the tape will probably confirm the obvious: Your guys are doing pretty much everything wrong.
The offense is averaging a league-worst 11.6 points per game. They failed to score in the first half for the third time in the last four games. The Bills had five turnovers Sunday (eight in the last two games). Granted, four against the Colts were by Derek Anderson, who threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. Still, little else that happened offensively provided even the tiniest hope of allowing the Bills to compete with an opponent that has a franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, but is also heavily transitioning under new coach and former Bills quarterback Frank Reich.
Anderson performed about the way one would expect from a 35-year-old journeyman who hasn’t played a regular-season game since 2016. The guy hadn’t been involved in football activity for about nine months before joining the Bills less than two weeks ago, and it showed.
He did his best to bail out a team that had left itself without any credible quarterbacking answer after rookie Josh Allen, who had mostly struggled through five starts, suffered an elbow injury last week. Nathan Peterman had pretty much single-handedly cost the Bills a victory at Houston, so he wasn’t an option. But Anderson hardly appeared qualified to be anything more than what the Bills had signed him to be, which was a mentor for Allen.
“I’ve got to be better, that’s just the fact,” Anderson said. “Can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win a football game.”
LeSean McCoy suffered a head injury on the Bills’ first drive and never returned, but that hardly seemed like it made any difference. The offense had pretty much gone nowhere with him for most of the five games he played.
It doesn’t seem as if there is any reason to believe things will get better anytime soon. If the Bills stick with Anderson, they’ll continue to be limited in many ways. Most of his completions came when his receivers managed to get wide open. He lacks the athleticism to buy time and find those rare secondary targets who get open.
Anderson was sacked twice and took four hits, and that caused some lingering pain for a body that hadn’t been exposed to contact for so long.
“I don’t feel great right now, I’m not going to lie to you,” Anderson said. “Physically, I got a little banged up, that’s part of the game.”
The Bills’ anemic offensive showing clearly impacted the defense, which not only was fatigued due to all of the time it was forced to be on the field (the Colts held the ball 33:19 to the Bills’ 26:41), but also seemed mentally exhausted as well. Luck threw for only 156 yards, but had four touchdown passes.
He didn’t have to carry the Colts’ offense, because their running game dominated the Bills for 220 yards and an average of 5.9 yards per carry. The Bills gave up rushing yards in large chunks, such as the 23-yard gain Marlon Mack had on the way to 126 yards on 19 carries, an average of 6.6 yards per attempt.
“We were playing some good ball (defensively) as of late, and we weren’t able to stop the run, we weren’t able to stop anything,” safety Micah Hyde said. “I wish I had an answer. I really don’t, I really don’t.”
McDermott doesn’t, either. That’s why, after a game that reflected so poorly on his leadership, he was focused on the impact losing in such embarrassing fashion had on his players.
“I’ve been in different locker rooms over the course my NFL career and the good ones, it hurts,” he said. “The good teams – the teams that are driving towards their goal and have the vision, whether it's near or far. And when you try and get things moving in the right direction, one of the first steps, in my opinion, is that losing has to matter. It has to hurt, and you go from there.”
So far, what hurts the most about the Bills is watching them play.