Seconds after New Orleans Saints running back Trey Edmunds put the exclamation point on a 47-10 nuking of the Bills with a long touchdown run, a naked fan hopped out of the stands and zig-zagged down the field. After the streaker’s touchdown dance, he was blanketed – literally and figuratively – by security guards near the tunnel end zone at New Era Field and escorted away. It was a fitting ending to an X-rated performance by the liquored-up fan and the despondent Bills.
Following back-to-back losses in which Buffalo has given up 81 points and 494 rushing yards, it’s becoming more difficult to trust the process.
The Bills dropped to 5-4 and face an uphill, but not impossible battle to end their 17-year playoff famine this season. The best thing they have going for them is that the AFC is mired in mediocrity. Nine wins might be good enough to earn a wildcard berth. Heck, a .500 record might do it if all these teams keep playing as inconsistently as they have.
Of course, projecting more wins for the Bills is a perilous proposition if they don’t fix what ails them in a hurry. A team that won five of its first seven on the backs of its opportunistic defense has played matador defense in recent weeks. Ole!
If I were to tell you before Sunday’s game that Buffalo would hold Drew Brees to under 200 passing yards and zero passing touchdowns, you probably would have told me the Bills had an excellent chance to win. Well, they did in fact do that. And they still lost by 37 points.
As was the case in their 34-21 loss to the New York Jets two Thursdays ago, the Bills were bowled over. Mark Ingram ran for three touchdowns and 131 yards on 21 carries. Alvin Kamara had 106 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. Even Brees got into the act, scrambling for a seven-yard touchdown run. The Saints rushed for 298 yards (it would have been an even 300 were it not for two victory-formation kneel downs) and six touchdowns. At one point, the Saints ran the ball for 24 consecutive plays. That’s what you call imposing your will.
“We got off to a bad start,’’ said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “And it snow-balled into a nightmare.”
This Nightmare on One Bills Drive was somewhat of a mystery, considering the Bills were at home, where they had successfully “protected their dirt” four times this season. And they had 10 days to heal physically and mentally from their embarrassing performance against the Jets and prep for the Saints. Plus, they were adding two dynamic offensive playmakers, with the welcoming of recently acquired wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and the return of tight end Charles Clay.
At the very least, one was expecting a better showing. Instead, the Bills looked worse than they had against the Jets.
Yes, the Saints came to town riding a six-game win streak, and featured a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in Brees. And yes they boasted a dynamic running back duo and, for the first time in a long time, a legitimate defense. This was a very good opponent. But they aren’t THAT good. Buffalo defenders often put up about as much resistance as a bunch of bowling pins.
The tackling woes that first surfaced in the Jets loss continued in this game. The Bills were out-muscled and out-smarted. They often were out of position, and therefore out of luck. There were occasions when I swore Rex Ryan had pulled a coup and had replaced Sean McDermott on the sideline. That’s how bad it looked.
And Brees, the best quarterback of this generation not named Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, was as efficient as he needed to be. He kept drives alive with his throws, especially the 10 he directed at wide receiver Michael Thomas, who hauled nine of them in for 117 yards and seven first downs.
Other than an opening drive that resulted in a Stephen Hauschka 37-yard field goal and a garbage-time seven-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Peterman to tight end Nick O’Leary, the Bills did nothing offensively. Their eight other possessions resulted in six punts, an interception and a failed fourth-down conversion. Tyrod Taylor completed nine-of-18 passes for 56 yards and a 33.6 passer rating. His longest completion was a nine-yarder to Patrick DiMarco. Taylor also was credited with an interception, though the fault belonged to Clay, who let a perfectly thrown pass slip off his fingers and into the hands of Sheldon Rankins.
Benjamin finished with three catches for 42 yards, his long of 21 coming shortly after Peterman entered the game to a smattering of cheers from the few thousand fans who remained till the bitter end. The rookie quarterback from Pitt did complete seven-of-10 for 79 yards and a touchdown, but let’s not get carried away with his 126.7 passer rating. It came long, long after the game was decided against the Saints prevent defense.
“There’s no excuses,’’ said Bills linebacker Preston Brown. “We weren’t good. They killed us in every single stat, everything you could talk about. We have to find a way to get better, or we’ll have five wins at the end of the year. We have to make a change or we’ll be 5-11. It’s that simple.”
It doesn’t get any easier the next three weeks, with road games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, before returning home to play the New England Patriots. They’ll be facing three more accomplished quarterbacks in a row – Phillip Rivers, Alex Smith and the guy who owns them, Tom Brady. The blueprint for beating the Bills the past two games, though, focuses more on running backs than quarterbacks. Expect that to continue unless Buffalo responds.
“Teams are going to try to keep running it down our throats,’’ said Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “And I don’t blame them. I’d do like the Saints did and run it 24 straight times, too. Until we can show them we can stop them it’s not going to change. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
McDermott’s team clearly is at a crossroads. How the rookie coach’s squad responds will determine if this playoff famine continues.
“I’m still confident we can right the ship,’’ Alexander said. “We were good enough to win five of our first seven. That wasn’t a fluke. Now, we have to get our confidence back and stop making the mental and physical mistakes we’ve been making. It’s not going to be easy. We got a lot of stuff we need to fix in a hurry, but we can’t afford to panic. We got to get back to playing tough and playing smart.’’
Or else they’ll continue streaking in the wrong direction.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is in his seventh season as a Bills analyst for WROC-TV and in his 33rd season covering the team.