Why crush hopes without drama? The Bills kept us wondering even longer than usual against the Cincinnati Bengals in another winnable game that ultimately turned frustrating. While it’s vaguely thrilling to have an outcome in doubt, fans still wait for excitement generated through consistent execution. A dominating ground game and pass rush that put a game out of reach would ultimately be more fun than letting an opponent hang around in heart-stopping fashion. Dragging it longer than four quarters just made the result feel like that much more of a letdown.
It’s never healthy to blame injuries. Coaches can’t use having to check who’s on the bench this week as an excuse. The defense got Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd back even if they didn’t have them all the way back. It’s tough to make an impact the first game after using up sick days, especially for the cornerback reduced to wearing a club that would make a Marvel Comics villain jealous. But the league stubbornly refuses to delay kickoffs until everyone is healed.
At least those still-convalescing defenders made on-field appearances, unlike crucial missing passing game aspects such as, oh, the starting quarterback and top receiver. C.J. Spiller was clearly restrained by injury, too. But people should never plan on many windows where every circumstance is ideal, in football or anywhere else. Life isn’t like that, as both football players and everyone else have to make the best with what’s available in a world full of secondhand goods.
The Bills will be screened from the playoffs if they don’t adjust soon. The defense had no answer for the evasiveness of both Cincinnati’s ball carriers and blockers, and they must begin recognizing short passes before they’re set up for long gains. And failing to stop that fourth and forever midway through the third quarter should haunt this team considering it may as well have been their own coach who made the curious decision to go for it. Buffalo’s lackadaisical coverage made Marvin Lewis look smart.
The defense never imposed its will, and a passive tone during the game usually leads to a frustrated one in the locker room. Mario Williams playing twice is good for half the schedule doesn’t equal one satisfying season, as seen during a game where he was noticeable for not being so.
At least they got more verve than expected from the quarterback. Thad Lewis possesses both a jazz pianist’s name and instincts. His ability to flow with conditions was impressive for someone with fewer pro starts than EJ Manuel. Aside from one dissonant note with the ball on the second half’s first drive, Lewis impressed either while soloing or reading what his bandmates were doing. As for yet one more quarterback named Matt on the roster, Flynn may be an upgrade over Leinart, even if only by default. But the man who lost a job to Terrelle Pryor has done nothing to take snaps from Lewis, who impressed enough to maintain his interim starting role.
In addition to making use of the wideouts available, Sunday was a good time to remember Scott Chandler is on the roster. His uncanny elusiveness for someone of his size makes him the perfect player to use under any circumstances, especially with an inexperienced quarterback.
The game slipped away long before an overtime punt return where a Bengal sealed the game by finding far too much open territory. A devastating field position concession at the worst moment was not the only play that doomed the Bills: as always, they had opportunities before then, as defenders of Sunday’s flag-bearer Scott Norwood are quick to remind us.
Take a play that represented the gap between intentions and results. Going for it on fourth and one a stumble away from the goal line could have shown that this Bills team is ready to take over games. But poor tactics negated the bold strategy. Boomer Esiason is probably still moaning about the call, which is another reason to dodge his radio show this week. But we can can never assume that the ensuing game would play out as it did if they had meekly attempted a three-point shot.
Fans can like the nervy refusal to kick, if not the actual call. If the staff has faith that their offense can get them a touchdown instead of a field goal, they should also be willing to punch in the ball. A strange attempt to reach the end zone embodied another loss, and positive signs can’t conceal that they’ve fallen short twice as often as they’ve won.