While it would be fun to raffle the chance to quarterback the Bills next week, team doctors might be better off exposing EJ Manuel’s wonky knee to gamma rays or a radioactive spider. Or maybe have Kiko Alonso touch it. Life would be less stressful for fans if his joint is indeed infused with mutant healing power by Sunday afternoon. As seen against the Chiefs, picking a signal-caller just slightly before the opening kickoff was another emblematic moment for a franchise which seems to have picked up a cursed tiki idol.
At least those wondering if the unimpressive assessment of Jeff Tuel after the Browns game was fair have their answer, I’m afraid. Touching the ball in practice more than incidentally last week helped him a little. But the Bills have understandably struggled to overcome their third or fourth choice leading the offense. It’s not fair to deal with that many injuries, which is a complaint with existence and not the league.
Pro teams can only play so much Big Ten football. Buffalo’s staff made adjustments for this week’s passer, specifically by not making him pass much. But even teams committed to ground transportation must occasionally air it out, which caused just enough trouble to doom them.
This game could have been symbolized by C.J. Spiller disregarding the pain in his ankle while dodging maybe half the Chiefs on the field as he went from one 20 to past the other. Instead, the thrill provided by his noble gallup just caused a more dramatic plunge into disappointment, which fans surprisingly aren’t used to by now.
Those who come across the score years from now will be jolted by memories of football’s greatest momentum swing, namely a defender taking an unfortunately-passed ball as far as possible. Tuel played like an undrafted rookie backup at the worst moment. A bizarre choice for a throw resulted from limited options for the coaching staff.
By intercepting a pass after blowing coverage, Sean Smith became the luckiest guy in the secondary since Larry Brown. Regardless, coaches could have trusted one of their indomitable backs to punch in the ball. Or they could have figured that even the most inexperienced of quarterbacks wouldn’t make that pass after seeing how many Chiefs were near the target.
Any quarterback needs more help than was received from players that are more accurately called intended receivers. The group sabotaged themselves by drops even when Tuel hit their hands. It got to the point where fans hoped they’d put Fred Jackson in at quarterback and let him either run or hand off to C.J., maybe. A single-wing setup was almost tempting, and not just as an ironic hipster throwback to simpler times.
With a relatively small number of games, a single play can affect a football season more than in almost any other sport. Yet Buffalo still had a chance to ensure the field-flipping interception wasn’t a dispiritingly defining incident. Instead, a second massive error finished the job. Fans have to be careful to phrase wishes specifically. T.J. Graham showed why he hasn’t gotten many chances to display his speed by failing to secure what he manages to catch. He’s literally going backward. It’s hard to score enough points to compensate for those you directly concede, as the Chiefs’ defense outscored Buffalo’s offense.
Like the run game, Buffalo’s defense can only contribute so much. Keeping the unspectacularly competent Alex Smith from throwing a touchdown pass was helpful if not remarkable, as it’s now happened in a majority of his games this season. Kyle Williams defies science by moving as quickly as he does for a man of his size. But even a defensive tackle who confounds physicists couldn’t overcome his Kansas City counterparts scoring two touchdowns.
As much scheming is involved, football comes down to responding to circumstances. And the Bills doubled down on carelessness. Winning teams don’t hand away more points after the first devastating turnover.
Nobody expects mistake-free football. But this team still isn’t rebounding from self-created adversity, both during games and over the schedule in its entirety. Stalling in Pittsburgh until Manuel can bend his knee all the way might be a better strategy than figuring how to throw even less. Salvage Buffalo’s season by hiding the footballs.