The Buffalo Bills are a quarter of the way through the regular season and no less confounding now than they were going into the opener. Last week, they looked like a playoff team. On Sunday, they reverted back to the bumbling, fumbling team many expected.
Let’s recap the first four games in an attempt to find the pulse of the Bills, assuming they had one while getting shut out for the first time since the dreary days of 2008 under Dick Jauron, back when Trent Edwards was quarterbacking Buffalo during one of its forgettable 7-9 finishes.
The Bills were absolutely, positively atrocious in the first six quarters of this season while getting outscored, 75-9, by the Ravens and Chargers. Never mind winning a game. They couldn’t score a touchdown before waking up halfway through the Chargers’ game.
Buffalo responded with 14 points in the second half against Los Angeles and shut down the Chargers’ offense. It was the start of six impressive quarters, including a shocking blowout over Minnesota, that made you wonder if the Bills could actually contend for the playoffs.
If they played sound defense ... and Josh Allen continued trending in the right direction … and they created turnovers the way they did against the Vikings … and enough fell their way in an even league … you never know what can happen.
Along came Sunday, when the Bills re-emerged as a troubled and fragile team with a rookie quarterback, not enough talent on offense, a shaky defense that buckled when tested on the road and the inconsistency that comes with a lost team looking for its identity.
The Packers beat the Bills, 22-0, but it felt like 42-0. The Bills were beaten soundly and severely on the road by a Green Bay team that showed up ready to play, unlike Minnesota last Sunday. The Bills’ win over the Vikings, who were caught napping, now looks like a mirage.
OK, who are the Bills?
If Sunday’s game was an indication, the Bills are closer to the team that was abused in the first two games of the season than the team that built a 27-0 lead and cruised in Minnesota. If we learned anything, it was that the Vikings, now 1-2-1, were grossly overrated.
The Packers controlled the game from start to finish, dominated the line of scrimmage, shut down the Bills’ running game, exploited Allen’s inexperience and took apart Buffalo’s defense in the first half. Aaron Rodgers threw for 298 yards only because Green Bay sat on a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter.
For the first time, Allen was thrust into a situation in which he needed to prove himself as an NFL passer for the Bills to stay in a game. He played like Nathan Peterman in the first half. Allen was 5 of 19 for 58 yards and a ghastly interception just before halftime. He finished 16 of 33 for 151 yards and two picks.
So we're back to the beginning of the season, before fans and media fawned over Allen and threw a cape over his shoulders.
The Bills will need to live with decisions like the one he made in the final minute of the second quarter, when Allen rolled right before uncorking a desperation heave toward, well, toward the goal line. The floater landed in the lucky hands of rookie Jaire Alexander for an easy pick.
And that’s the thing with rookies. They make bold decisions based on inflated opinions of their natural ability. They’re inconsistent. They haven’t made enough mistakes to understand the safe play is usually the right play. Allen’s inexperience was exposed Sunday.
Allen has a cannon arm, obviously, but there’s far more to playing quarterback in the NFL than throwing down the field. It comes down to making intelligent decisions, like Aaron Rodgers did for years while evolving into an all-time great.
Rodgers needed 43 seconds to capitalize on Allen’s blunder, steering the Pack down the field for a field goal just before the half. It was a six-point swing born from experience – and a lack thereof – that can make a big difference on a given Sunday.
It was hardly the reason Buffalo lost Sunday, but it certainly didn’t help. The same was true for Allen’s fumble late in the game. It looked like a bogus call, but he shouldn’t have put himself in that position. In the best interests of the Bills, and himself, and his bank account, he should have been sliding when tacklers converged. He dived and was stripped.
Let the game Sunday serve as a learning experience. Allen needs a tutor, certainly, but he also could use some talent around him. Buffalo can do little over the final dozen games but continue to throw him out there with his sorry collection of wide receivers.
Allen looked like lost soul Sunday, discouraged and in need of direction. He took some big hits, too, while getting sacked seven times. Even Dion Dawkins, his own left tackle, dropped him for a sack. Allen seemed relieved when the game ended, like many Bills fans out there.
This isn’t to solely blame Allen, not by any means. There was enough to pass around Sunday. The Bills’ running game was putrid once again, forcing their young QB into unenviable situations. The receivers combined for three receptions before garbage time.
Does Zay Jones still play in this team? Buffalo traded up for Jones, who had a few obligatory catches with less than six minutes remaining Sunday with game all but decided. He has been mostly invisible for two years. The Bills must be running out of patience.
The Bills’ defense has been equally mystifying. The ‘D’ answered a challenge from coach Sean McDermott halfway through the Chargers’ game and was terrific last week against the Vikings. Rodgers took them apart in the first half Sunday and managed the game in the second half.
Who are these guys? It looks like the Bills are who you thought they were, a team that will spend the season grooming young players on their way to a few wins while preparing for the future. The Bills are on pace for four victories this season.
It sounds about right.