Four times consecutively, the Bills fell in the Super Bowl, and American Football fans had to strain to suppress their yawns. In the moment, the Bills resembled failures. But hindsight has proven undeniably kind to the likes of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Darryl Talley. Capturing four straight AFC Championships was a truly historic accomplishment, and fate has conspired to elevate the Bills’ past, at the expense of a pitiful present.
A highly regarded contemporary running back committee couldn’t hold a candle to the dynamic Thomas. Trent Edwards was worlds away from Kelly, and has actually been released, vaporized off the roster in a move challenging common sense, perhaps a symbolic gesture to a disgruntled fan-base. Indeed, these Bills, who will attempt protecting their home-field against an onrushing Jets team this Sunday, provide evidence that team cycles can provoke celestial comparison, bright and shining stars turned into black holes.
The Bills are many things, but they most definitely are not middling. From the late eighties to the mid-nineties, they stood at the apex of their Conference. A gradual slide degenerated into total collapse. Buffalo has not appeared in a playoff game since the famed Music City Miracle Wild Card Round loss to Tennessee in January of 2000. For perspective, this was the first year Tennessee adopted the moniker “Titans.”
Buffalo, behind the machinations of legendary executive Bill Polian and Head Coach Marv Levy, had reached dizzying heights at their peak, the burden of second place replaced by pride, in due time. Where are they now?
There’s an odd phenomenon occurring in football analysis, sometimes propagated by columnists and anchors, but usually belonging to fans. It’s a baffling; and almost always asinine tendency, to get unrealistically excited about a team’s close loss to superior competition. See, this observation really only applies to bottom feeding teams, overwhelmed rosters pitted against perfectly conceived machines and unfairly expected to compete. Because football players are, by and large, an extremely physically and mentally tough collection of humans, the outmatched team is sometimes able to lose with dignity, well deserving of compliments for a commendable effort. Their fans, however, usually take it a step too far. In a sport where only sixteen games comprise the schedule, there is almost always zero value to losing, aside from the aforementioned securing of pride. Any other optimism gleaned from a loss is usually junk; proliferated by coaches attempting to maintain morale. For some reason, though, if these types of defeats occur early in a campaign, fans are often guilty of whipping up some quality delusions and denial. Hey, the team can’t be this bad, can it? This season isn’t going to be a total disaster, will it? These are fair questions… that usually have highly inconvenient answers.
This trend has held true in 2010, as the San Francisco 49’ers hoodwinked an amazingly tolerant public for one last time, this season anyway, collecting a valueless moral victory against the Saints in week two. Because the game was on primetime, and the heavily hyped 49’ers kicked a win against the defending champions, there’s no doubt certain blinder sporting San Franciscans believed a big turnaround afoot. 0-2 was surely a small sample size illusion. Nope. The 49’ers took the road in week three, and retroactively reminded a nation that squandered home games are irrevocably toxic, perceived overachievement against a favorite be damned. The Chiefs squashed San Francisco, and an important lesson was revisited. Or was it?
Oh, the temptation is there, isn’t it? For bettors, for Bills fans, for those that flat out loathed the quality August programming on HBO. Didn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick riddle the Patriots secondary and nearly lead a stirring comeback? Didn’t a maligned Bills offense resurrect their reputation, against the ingenious tactics of Bill Belichick, no less? Could this team pull it together and salvage a season once thought to be spiraling into an abyss of disinterest? Has Marshawn Lynch been rejuvenated? Isn’t C.J. Spiller due to break-out? All the negativity is suddenly mitigated by another loss somehow more acceptable, strictly cosmetic satisfaction opening possibilities innumerable, overshadowing one simple fact. The Bills were beaten.
The Jets arrive into Buffalo with an opportunity to completely eradicate their own disappointment, still bubbling from week one. With an offense performing simply decently against Baltimore, the Jets would be undefeated. As it is, Mark Sanchez and company emerged from that quagmire to carry the team, rescuing a spiraling secondary against Miami last week. LaDainian Tomlinson has shockingly emerged as the number one running back, racking up impressive second half yardage in both of New York’s pivotal wins against divisional foes. The Jets pass rush, already a question mark assuming the health of its key components, has struggled mightily without sacks leader Calvin Pace. The secondary, meanwhile, has been routinely exploited by opponents; rookie Kyle Wilson displaying poor ball awareness. Those touting a successful Jets secondary in August, sans the services of all-pro corner Darrelle Revis, who was holding out at the time and has recently suffered a hamstring injury, have had their arguments proven patently absurd. After being complimented mightily throughout training camp, Wilson could be benched in favor of Drew Coleman. Antonio Cromartie has shined occasionally, but inconsistency mars his game, the corner often incurring penalties. Overall, the Jets may not play as originally designed, but they are finding success, largely due to Sanchez, who has shouldered his burden commendably, a second-year Quarterback playing like a fifth year Most Valuable Player candidate.
And that’s no losing delusion.
The Bills are pretty banged up. For a team without much proven talent behind its front-line starters, maladies to Marcus Stroud, Terrence McGee, Andra Davis, and Paul Posluszny can really ruin a Sunday. Fortunately for Buffalo, the talented Posluszny will probably suit up. The Jets are also dealing with their share of pain, with Pace unlikely to play, and Revis also sidelined. Ultimately, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be asked to throw the ball far too much, as David Harris, Bart Scott, and the other Jets linebackers assert themselves strongly against the run. And though Fitzpatrick is able to move the ball once again against a quality opponent, the Jets will tighten up their defense in the red-zone, win the time of possession battle handily, and ultimately dominate, slightly deceptively, on the scoreboard thanks to a big day on kick-offs from Brad Smith. He’s going to take one to the house.
Jets 35 Bills 17
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