Controlling Destiny

Fans who believe they can’t escape ruts must learn to curse at their team’s play instead of citing curses as misery’s source. Two cities who seem to have doomed franchises should not feel weighed down by the past. Falling to the similarly oft-star-crossed Browns doesn’t mean this Bills edition will echo the mistakes of previous versions. But that means it’s up to them to grasp chances instead of expecting to be handed them.

Those on Buffalo’s side will long rue being so close to having the opportunity to go 4-2. But after losing their quarterback and neglecting to stay on the offensive, they have to fear the prospect of 2-4. This team must hustle to replace the memory of going from running downhill against Cleveland to just downhill.

Better coordination would help, as the play calling was as vanilla as the middle stripe in the Browns Neapolitan uniforms. The Bills could throw on first down just to blow some minds. Maybe Mike Pettine could call plays for the offense, too. E.J. Manuel’s stand-in Thad Lewis needs the blessing of unpredictability even if it means having to summon the nerviness to pass on first down. If coaches want the somewhat mysterious quarterback to do no more than inconspicuously play mistake-free football, a little variation will keep defenses from guessing his intentions.

Backers who have been fans longer than most of the roster has been alive remember different players wrecking similarly winnable games. Buffalo let the Browns catch up in a game where they looked like they were motivated to fold. The Bills are not a team capable of dominating from kickoff to kneel-down. They need more depth before they can get away with late hits by the suddenly pedestrian Aaron Williams and being aggressively out-returned.

Injuries can neither be used to justify a poor record or as a means of grumpily clouding the long-term outlook. Sure, a quarterback who has had approximately zero first-team snaps since the season began wasn’t the best candidate to lead a victory drive as time expired. But that means this loss began in August when management didn’t ensure someone reliable could step behind center in a game’s midst if needed.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Other starters seemingly couldn’t contribute as hoped: C.J. Spiller came in banged up while Stevie Johnson got dinged during it. But observers had to like the look of the former’s ankle as he covered more than half the field in one darting. And Robert Woods has impressed as the top receiver by default.

Buffalo may have had dreams of ruining Jim Brown Day when Brian Hoyer was felled by a legend. But nothing can be taken for granted when a team hasn’t mastered the art of kicking an adversary that’s down. The Browns had more time during the game to adjust to playing without the starter, if the competition is for which team found the brighter side of misery. Neither faction can use playing a backup as an excuse, as quarterbacks getting hurt by refusing to slide properly is not a matter of being doomed by the football gods.

While it was kind to not make Cleveland’s fans suffer even more after the Indians fell, it’s not really our worry. Fan bases who believe they are compelled to suffer need to get used to the sensation of coldly destroying their sports enemies.

People always look for patterns, as consistency makes it look as if events make sense. But expecting things to turn badly because it’s happened more than once before is the self-fulfilling prophecy of losing franchises.

The Bills now must overcome that haunted aura. Their primetime loss may have determined who is able to hang in for a playoff appearance, as head-to-head is the first wild-card tiebreaker for intra-conference teams in different divisions. Luck favors those who actively try to create it. Letting an offense get about 55 feet on a third and 18 is the passive path to woefulness.

A team as battered as it is demoralized is in the midst of getting a little extra time to heal. But a long space between games means more hours to stew about blown chances. Waiting over a week to get a shot against the Bengals isn’t tense just because they must overcome the inspiration provided by the almighty Bootsy Collins. Andy Dalton has been accurate but unspectacular, and Buffalo’s pass rush will have to dominate to keep him from managing another uninspiring victory. Lewis may as well have the name “QUARTERBACK” on his jersey, and the defense needs to be vicious enough to make sure that obscurely steady is the only standard their guy has to meet.

There’s no curse connected to unrecognizing a foe’s secondary alignment or a now-jobless punter out-kicking coverage. What’s frustrating about the specter of doom is realizing that it’s removable, as it’s not fate’s fault this team has to fight to get back to an even record.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.