|Pretty emblematic of the day. If only I could photoshop Leodis McKelvin getting burned in there.|
Complacency is a dangerous feeling, especially for the Bills. To feel comfortable with your surroundings, to feel at ease- well, it creates opportunities to fall. Once you put your guard down, it's pretty obvious that it's easier to be struck. I don't know if the Bills got complacent Sunday; but I know I and most other Bills fans did. Watching that game, with the Bills up 17-3 at half, I actually believed that the Bengals had no chance of coming back. To that point, the Bills had played a pretty awful first half, only starting to look good by the end of the second quarter, and still had a fourteen point lead. In the previous two games, the Bills had shown a propensity to make brilliant halftime adjustments and ignite the offense and defense. During the first half, even, the Bills had completely harassed Andy Dalton into two picks, and the Bengals had no running game to speak of. This looked like signed, sealed, delivered, 4-0.
Unfortunately, the Bills looked as if they had the same thought process, like they took the second half easy and couldn't believe what was happening. They had no focus; they let the Bengals take control of the game. They got Buffalo Bills'd (from the past two weeks.) Once the Bengals hit the field goal to make it 17-6, I began to worry, because it was so clear to see how much momentum the Bengals had gained. The defense continued to put Leodis McKelvin on A.J. Green (I'm not sure how the coaching staff hasn't seen that HE IS THE WORST COVER CORNER WE HAVE AND HE CANNOT BE PUT ON ANY #1 OPTIONS), which predictably burned them, and also showed the maddening trait that the Bills have had for seemingly my whole life- they didn't cover the tight end. One thing a rookie QB like Andy Dalton loves is a tight end as a safety valve. Not only that, this is Jermaine Gresham, a talented, big tight end who serves as one of the top targets. The Bills, instead of adjusting the way they did last week (by doubling Ron Gronkowski against the Patriots), simply let him be single covered by linebackers or safeties and he burned us. Also maddening was the complete folding of the run defense- as the second half rolled on, the Bengals just decimated the Bills with huge chunks of yardage on the ground. The defense, as a whole, failed. No pressure, couldn't stop the run, couldn't stop the pass.
No less blame can be put on the offense, who were awful in the second half, mustering three points. When they got those three points to make it 20-13, well, then I was even more worried, because a touchdown could've sealed the game; but a field goal keeps them right in it, hanging around. They let the Bengals hang around. The run game was bad- Fred could not get it going due to interior penetration by the Bengals line, and the Bills never tried anything on the outside, it seemed. The line also failed to give Fitzpatrick time on a lot of throws- even in an offense predicated on quick drop backs and quick routes, the Bengals still made Fitzpatrick's life miserable. Fitzpatrick himself was the erratic quarterback we saw at times last season, with the main problem being inaccuracy and a propensity to wing it long on third and short. Fitzpatrick usually starts games slow, and then heats up; but this time, he couldn't get it going. (Good thing we haven't signed him to that big contract yet, right?)
There's a point to be made about the officiating. Yes, it was terrible for the Bills. That 3rd down completion to Stevie Johnson that was called off was one of the worst calls I've seen in an NFL game. The Bengals secondary looked to be mugging our receivers down field, with no calls. And there were some times our rush was stifled by clear holding. But here's the thing- we've been the beneficiary of good calls so far this year, and the pendulum swings both ways. Also, good teams win in spite of penalties, and the Bills had more chances to win this game. While it didn't help, the Bills are to blame most for this loss.
The game was a classic punch in the mouth to the fan's optimism and to the budding status of the Bills as contenders. The Bills fell right into the proverbial 'trap' game. It was a stern reminder that this season will not just be fourth quarter come backs and gaudy point totals. No season comes without lows. It's also a test. For this was a classic Bills loss- take the lead and then bumble it away; how the team responds will show the fans if this team is any different from the prototypical Bills team. For many past teams, this would be the beginning of a downward slope, one loss feeding into the next one, a self fulfilling prophecy of losing. But there's a chance to take this game, learn from the mistakes, get motivated by it, and use it to get to greater heights. Early returns have been favorable: the team is certainly acting like a team motivated to kill the Eagles next week and regain the respect they scratched and crawled their way towards. We've seen the talent this team has; it's playoff calibre. Now it's time to see whether, mentally, it's the same old disappointing Bills or something brand new.
(St. Vincent is awesome, and this song is a good summer-upper)