Four and a half hours after he left New Era Field a beaten man on a beaten team, a quitter who abandoned his team at halftime of their home opener, Vontae Davis suggested he was bowled over by an overwhelming need to retire, right then and there.
No disrespect to his teammates, he said later, via Twitter.
“But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard,” he said. “I shouldn’t be out there, anymore.”
OK, so he’s an honest quitter.
Right around the same time he was punching a one-way ticket out of town, something hit me fast and hard: The Bills don’t belong on the field with a majority of teams in the NFL. Buffalo might not win a game this season, which begs the question:
Are the Bills tanking?
It makes you wonder given the disparity in talent between them and their opponents in the first two games. They were blown out in the opener by the same Baltimore team that was dominated by Cincinnati for much of the game Thursday night.
Along came the game Sunday, which was hailed optimistically as the beginning of the Josh Allen Era. Buffalo was steamrolled again in the first half of a 31-20 loss that wasn’t that close, this time in its home opener by a Los Angeles team that missed the playoffs last season.
It wasn’t all bad Sunday.
Allen showed some promise in the passing game, completing 18 of 33 passes for 245 yards and a 3-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin with less than a minute remaining. He also threw two interceptions and was sacked six times, but he grew more comfortable in the second half.
Overall, Allen, the seventh pick overall, showed the mobility and arm strength you want in a franchise quarterback. He’ll learn from poor decisions and bad passes he threw against the Chargers in a season geared toward fostering his development.
Allen looks like the real deal, a source of hope for Buffalo’s long-term future. He might look back on his rookie season as one that most helped him develop into an NFL player. He showed enough in the first half Sunday to prove he’s more equipped than Nathan Peterman.
Still, there are numerous factors that suggest the Bills are indifferent about their record and are positioning themselves for the first pick overall in the draft. Players aren’t wired to quit, and the Bills certainly didn’t surrender Sunday after falling behind, 28-3, in the second quarter.
Well, nobody quit other than Davis.
Players are programmed to think about the next play, the next day, the next week. Management, on the other hand, tends to view the bigger picture, one that extends beyond any given Sunday, and any given season, and into two and three years down the road.
Remember, owners Kim and Terry Pegula presided over the Sabres’ tank in an effort to grab Connor McDavid with the first pick, knowing they would could do no worse than the second pick overall in the 2015 draft. They wound up taking Jack Eichel.
The biggest sign the Bills sacrificed this season for the greater good was the dead money created against the salary cap. The Bills have more than $53 million in dead money, nearly five times the league average and twice as much as the next team: Dallas.
GM Brandon Beane knew the ramifications of his decisions. It started with trading Marcell Dareus, a move that cost $13.5 million against the cap. But he traded Tyrod Taylor and Cordy Glenn, which added another $17.2 million. Add more than $7 million for trading AJ McCarron and waiving Corey Coleman. Eric Wood’s retirement was out of his control, but it cost another $10.3 million.
The decisions made sense for what the Bills were trying to accomplish in the coming years – building a perennial playoff team – but it also made this season more disposable. Beane and Sean McDermott have the job security needed to take their lumps this season.
Let’s not forget that the Bills will have some $65 million available next season. The Browns and Jets struggled through miserable seasons last year but came away with more flexibility. The Bills very well could be doing the same this year, even if it meant matching the Browns' 0-16 record last season.
After all, where are they going with this team?
Tanking made no sense in hockey based on simple math: The best forwards in hockey sit the bench for two-thirds of the game. One player makes little difference in hockey. But one player can make a big difference in the NFL, depending on the player.
The Bills are desperate for help at numerous positions. They need a dominant edge rusher. They need a game-breaking wide receiver, someone who would pass for a true No. 1 on other teams. They need upgrades across the offensive line. Clearly, they need help on pass defense after Rivers took them apart in the first half.
Beane and McDermott made a curious decision Saturday when waiving veteran receiver Jeremy Kerley one day before Allen was set to make his first start. Kerley isn’t a top receiver by any definition, but he added depth and dependability to a thin unit. He might have helped Sunday.
Why cut him Saturday?
Why cut him at all?
The Bills aren’t going to stop anybody if they continue playing defense the way they did in the first two games. Star Lotulelei has yet to make an impact. Trent Murphy was signed to get pressure on the passer after missing a full season.
And then there’s the offensive line, which was putrid in the first half Sunday before playing better over the final two quarters. Given the time to come together in a wasted year, they might find a few players who can grow into the job while Allen does the same.
The Bills have given up 78 points in two games. They’re 0-2 going into Minnesota, picked by many as one of the best teams in the NFL. The results so far were expected. Based on the first two games, it’s hard to imagine them winning a game this year.
It could have been the plan all along.