Pitoniak: Bills open with a putrid loss

The Buffalo Bills first play from scrimmage this season was a false start call against tight end Scott Chandler.

Who knew that penalty would be an omen; that the 2012 season opener would wind up being one, big false start by Buffalo?

Turning the ball over four times, giving up a punt return for a touchdown and not putting any pressure on skittish New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in a 48-28 season-opening blowout loss clearly wasn't the beginning Bills fans and many national football experts were expecting.

This was supposed to be a game when Buffalo showed it was ready to leap-frog the Jets and became second dog to New England in the AFC East. That still may happen, but the chasm between the teams remains sizeable. And the Bills have much work to do between now and their regular season-ending game against these same Jets at the Ralph on Dec. 30.  

On a disappointing day in which Buffalo trailed by 34 points early in the third quarter, it was difficult to discern which was more discouraging - the scattershot flinging of Ryan Fitzpatrick or the invisible performance by defensive end Mario Williams, who was supposed to be the second coming of Bruce Smith and Reggie White.

Fitz looked like the guy who led the NFL in interceptions last season, throwing three in the first half, including a pick-six to Antonio Cromartie on an absolutely godawful pass. Super Mario, meanwhile, was credited with just one tackle. You read right. One tackle. Not exactly the kind of return you expect from your $100-million investment. I don't care if you are being blocked by half the island of Manhattan, if you are in Smith and White's league, you manage to fight through and make life miserable on the quarterback at least several times a game.
Williams was hardly the only Bills defender missing in action. His linemates - Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson - didn't put much heat on Sanchez. The Jets QB took advantage of the extra time to torch veteran Leodis McKelvin, rookie Stephon Gilmore, second-year corner Aaron Williams and the rest of the Bills secondary for 266 yards and three scores while converting 10-of-14 third downs.

The only bright spot was C.J. Spiller, who was superb in place of Fred Jackson, who left with a knee ligament injury that may sideline him for awhile. Spiller reeled off a 56-yard touchdown run and set up another score with a 49-yard burst. He finished with a career-high 167 yards on 14 carries.

But the performance was wasted, in large part, because of Fitzpatrick, whose first two interceptions resulted in Jet touchdown drives. On the Bills third possession, Fitz was unable to sustain the march, and Jeremy Kerley returned Brian Moorman's punt 68 yards to put the Jets up, 21-0.

Spiller broke free on his long touchdown run on Buffalo's next series to cut the gap to two touchdowns, but Spiller fumbled the ball on the Bills ensuing possession and New York turned it into three more points. When Fitz was picked by Cromartie early in the third quarter, the deficit became too big for Buffalo to overcome.

So, the Bills failed to measure up in this measuring stick of a game. The good news is that the schedule-makers have given Buffalo two very winnable games the next two weeks. The Bills host the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, then visit Cleveland to play a Browns team that's the worst in the NFL. Not only do the Chiefs and Browns lack the Jets, they also don't run the confusing array of blitz packages that have allowed Rex Ryan to befuddle Fitzpatrick and hold the former Harvard quarterback to a mediocre percent completion percentage.

I believe Fitz can bounce back these next two weeks - he better. The bigger concerns are the injuries to Jackson and wide receiver David Nelson, and the lackluster performance by the defense, which was supposed to be dramatically better.

These are pivotal games for Buffalo, which has lost nine of its last 10 and will host New England in Week Four before making trips to San Francisco and Arizona.

             OFFENSE: Fitz was awful early, putting the Bills in a hole they couldn't climb out of. His throws were consistently inconsistent. Stevie Johnson, still plagued by a nagging groin injury, managed four catches for 55 yards and a garbage-time TD. Spiller was the one highlight, and he may have to shoulder the lion's share of the workload for awhile if Jackson's knee injury is serious. Grade: D

               DEFENSE: The Bills got no pressure whatsoever on Sanchez and he made them pay, repeatedly picking on corners McKelvin and Gilmore. Mario Williams and his linemates were huge disappointments. No pressure whatsoever. Grade: D
               SPECIAL TEAMS: The 68-yard touchdown punt return by Jeremy Kerley early in the second quarter was a backbreaker. It gave the Jets a 21-0 lead and the rout was on. Grade: C-minus
               COACHING:  Chan didn't have the team ready and didn't have a good day calling plays against Rex Ryan's defenses. Dave Wannstadt's debut as the Bills defensive coordinator was lousy. And special teams coach Bruce DeHaven had to be pulling his hair out on that long punt return. Grade: F
              OVERALL: The Bills were hoping to show the football world that they've moved past the Jets in the division, but it's obvious they haven't. Mission not accomplished, and now Buffalo must regroup next Sunday against a Kansas City team that was pummeled by Atlanta, 40-24. Grade: F.

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