Call it a Buffalo Bills thing, a classic case of perception supplanting reality.
With their fans, it's the fear of building up hopes only to see them crushed into dust. Better to protect the heart with a thick shield of skepticism than expose it to being broken, as has happened so many times through the years. So find every flaw imaginable in a 6-2 start and brace yourself for when they bring on the inevitable unraveling.
With the national media, it's the idea that, well, they're the Bills. When you've been mostly bad so long, it's hard for anyone to accept that you can actually be good, even if the record suggests otherwise. There's no star power. There's nothing all that dynamic about the coach or the ownership or the city. Even the idiotic tailgating behavior that draws attention similar to the kind a car wreck attracts has been toned down.
"You change our name with the majority of teams in this league, at 6-2, they're going to be up there in the top whatever in the rankings and all that stuff," Micah Hyde said Tuesday. "But we're the Buffalo Bills. We don't have the $30 million quarterback on our team and the high-profile players, so we've got to get it the hard way. And that's what we appreciate. The people here in Buffalo do the same thing, so we're going to have to try to fight it out and get the recognition somehow."
Hyde, the Bills' standout safety, became the team's perception spokesman of sorts when, after a mostly unconvincing victory against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, he declared that he was finished apologizing for ugly wins. On Tuesday, while at West Herr Automotive in Orchard Park promoting his second annual charity softball game May 31 at the Buffalo Bisons' stadium, Hyde sounded resigned that such victories might very well continue to be the norm.
That's OK with the man who has been strongly embraced by a fan base that has shown strong support for his IMagINe for Youth Foundation – which benefits from the softball game, tickets for which are on sale at Bisons.com – as well as Hyde's other charitable endeavors.
"I've been on some teams where we're not going to win by 30, you're not going to dominate each and every game," Hyde said. "But at the end of the day, if you slip up and get a win, that's what matters the most. Maybe that is our team this year. If we can win by a field goal each game, then it is what it is. We don't need to blow teams out. At the end of the day, a win's a win."
Part of the perception problem, he thinks, is also due to the messaging that he and his teammates have become conditioned to deliver, regardless of a game's outcome. That's a Sean McDermott thing.
"He preaches to us a lot about, 'We've got to win, but let's play better, let's play better, let's play better,' " Hyde said. "I think that we've been kind of saying that so much to the media that we're kind of drowning out the win part. At the end of the day, we're winning ballgames. I keep stressing that this time last year, we were 2-6. Come on, we're winning games and that's what everybody is asking us to do. And that's what we are doing."
Make no mistake. Hyde cares a great deal about how he and the rest of the Bills perform. He wants the Bills to look every bit the part of a winner and a legitimate contender when they face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and through the balance of their schedule. He wants the defense to dominate as it has for most of the first eight games and for the entire team to steer clear of another showing such as when it "laid an egg" in a 31-13 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hyde doesn't want the Bills to ever settle for just getting by, nor does he believe they're wired that way.
"It's obvious, we want to play better," Hyde said. "That's something that we strive to do each and every game. If we can play a perfect 60 minutes, we would do that. We're trying to do that. But these guys on the other team, they get paid a lot of money.
"I think we get so stuck on a 6-0 team playing a 1-5 team like it's college football. That's not how the NFL is. Every game is close, anybody can beat anybody. You're not going to have a 60-3 ballgame, like Oklahoma playing FAU. Nothing against FAU, but that stuff doesn't happen a lot.
"It's competitive each and every week, and if you can win, at the end of the day, that's all that matters."