Earlier in the season, when the Bills were shocking the world, it became fashionable to talk about how things felt somehow "different" about this year's team in the new regime of GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott.
But over the last two games, there has been a more familiar, ominous feel about them. It was the creeping sense of calamity and dread that often surged over you during the 17-year drought, the feeling of a team in free fall.
Sunday's home 47-10 loss to the Saints was a harsh awakening, a reminder of how far the Bills have to go to be a true competitor. They're still 5-4, in the thick of the playoff race, but this humiliation leaves you wondering if they're destined for another of those late-season collapses.
It wasn't so much that they lost, but the manner in which it happened. It was their worst home loss since a 56-10 drubbing against the Patriots in a national night game in 2007. They got embarrassed, punched in the mouth, manhandled at both lines of scrimmage for the second game in a row. They lost their first game at home, getting booed repeatedly by the home fans at New Era Field.
When the Bills were rolling early in the season, I suspected their shortcomings would eventually catch up to them. Their flaws came crashing down on them Sunday against a very good New Orleans team that looked like the best team in the league.
The great Drew Brees was essentially ornamentation as the Saints ran the ball for 298 yards and six TDs, a record against the Bills. They also became the first opponent with two 100-yard rushers (Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara) in a game against the Bills since the Pats did it here five years ago. The Pats did it with Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden, if you're wondering.
That makes two games in a row when the run defense got trampled. The Jets on a Thursday was one thing. But when it happens 10 days later, it qualifies as a trend and a mini-crisis. Seeing McDermott's defense get undressed at home left you wondering just how serious they should be taken as a playoff contender.
At some point, an NFL season becomes a war of attrition. Over a long year, a lack of physical talent and roster depth will catch up to a team. We've seen it time and again during the drought. Age becomes a factor, too. The 34-year-old veterans — Kyle Williams, Lorenzo Alexander and Richie Incognito — are suddenly seeming very old.
Tyrod Taylor wasn't the cause for the loss, but he wasn't a real answer, either. The Bills played conservatively on offense in the early going, as if they expected a low-scoring game. When the Saints began rolling up the points, the Bills' shortcomings as a comeback team were evident.
Taylor completed his first throw to new wideout Kelvin Benjamin for 9 yards. It was his last completion to a wide receiver all day. The Bills played a soft, safe game early, settling for throws to the flats. Taylor had two of them deflected at the line of scrimmage.
When someone named Trey Edmonds ran 41 yards for a TD — virtually untouched — with 3:04, the Saints were at exactly 300 yards rushing on the day. At about the moment Edmonds went into the end zone, a naked streaker ran on the field toward the same end zone.
It was an ugly finish, and only too fitting for one of the worst home games in recent Bills history. A "different" feeling, indeed.
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