24-28 – If this was hand grenades, boy, we would have been just fine.

Photo property of AP / Julio Cortez

 

Injuries sure stink, huh? Today, it’s been a month since we’ve won a game. I bet back in October you never would have thought that would be the case – never would have thought we could drop five of a six with four of those in a row. It’s a shame, but really, what can you do? It’s on the front office – on Nix and Whaley, on Wilson and Gailey – to bring in players that can step up and fill in when a starter goes down. So far this year, we’ve placed seven opening day starters on injured reserve : receivers Roscoe Parrish and Donald Jones, runningback Fred Jackson, linebacker Shawne Merriman, center Eric Wood, cornerback Terrence McGee, and nose tackle Kyle Williams. On top of that, another seven reserves found themselves on the shelf for the remainder of 2011. It’s a terrible problem that depletes not just the talent levels across the board, but the camaraderie and leadership that these guys develop from playing around one another.

That said, it’s hard for me to look at this skid and really have that “same old Bills” attitude that so many of you have adopted. Please, kindly, back away from my team and go find one that doesn’t have hardships if you’re going to flip your gourd at every sign of decline. If you’re like this now, you haven’t been with us in the past, so good riddance. I’ll admit, it’s been hard. Just last week, during the Miami game, I turned a Bills game off before it was over for the first time in somewhere around a decade. Once I saw the decorated veteran JP Losman come into the game for the Fish, it was curtains for me. The loss infuriated me so much, the team played so bad, that I didn’t even drop my customary block of text onto this site for you all to pick through. Why bother? I couldn’t have drawn a single positive from the game, and the negatives are generally understandable and can be drawn back, mostly, to the injuries.

It may be incredibly difficult to fathom, considering it was still a loss (to a division rival at that), but that was the most promise that this team has shown in weeks. I’m still not sure that there’s a winnable game left on this schedule for this banged up army of misfits, but it was good to see us get as close as we did to toppling the re-surging Jets.

Close, though, is never as good as actually winning. Close doesn’t win you divisions or put you in the playoffs. Spencer Johnson (pictured above) was close to a safety in the second quarter, but he didn’t get one so does anyone but myself remember? Exactly my point. Johnson, by the way, has been consistently horrendous since the team moved him to outside linebacker a few weeks ago. I keep saying it because it keeps being true – the Jets took major advantage of it this weekend and ran right at him a few times. He can’t contain the edge and certainly can’t pursue, and now that the secret’s out I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get abused more in the waning weeks of the season. Two uncommon and extremely disappointing bad performances put in on Sunday came from two of our five rookies starting. Marcell Dareus only managed a single tackle this week amidst a bucketful of rookie mistakes. He was drawn off, missed tackles, took bad angles.. mostly a non-factor all game, definitely not the norm for him. The other sad showing came from linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who was absolutely terrible in this one. He showed that he’s still very new to the big game, taking action late on most rushing plays, attempting to arm tackle everyone, and at one point completely ignoring his coverage assignment in Dustin Keller as he walked his route and stood in the back of the endzone to catch the first of his two touchdowns. Thankfully, fellow rookie Da’Norris Searcy played well down in Jersey in relief of the injured George Wilson – he only recorded three tackles but was very active, showing incredible range and a definite nose for the ball. Just in the few showings we’ve had of him, I’ve been impressed and excited for what the future will bring from him. Also showing out on defense were corners Drayton Florence and Justin Rogers, who’s seeing plenty of nickel duty with Leodis McKelvin’s recent demotion. Florence was taking great angles against the Jets top wideouts throughout and undercut a Santonio Holmes route to make an interception that Buffalo scored off of.  Rogers is coming along nicely, as well, looking much better than what you’d expect out of a seventh round pick. I’ve got a feeling that between him, AJ Williams, and Searcy we’ve got the makings of a quality secondary corps in the next few years.

Brian Moorman of the early 2000’s showed up, dropping his punts with great placement and even putting one out at the one-yard-line in the second quarter. Helping out the punt game was Leodis McKelvin, manning the gunner role and making some key tackles deep before injuring his ribs in the third quarter. Outside of those two, however, special teams looked pretty sad. Dave Rayner completed a 53 yard field goal try but also whiffed on a terrible attempt at a squib kick, and noone handling return duties (split between McKelvin, CJ Spiller, and Brad Smith) could do anything.

The offense was a fresh and welcome change from weeks past, even considering everyone playing out of place. While Andy Levitre was terrible handling center duties (especially out of the shotgun) last week, Kraig Urbik abandoned his right guard spot and did a wonderful job snapping the ball against the Jets. Urbik, told by his quarterback that he’s the “Fattest center in the league” stands at six-foot-five and 329 pounds, which actually does make him the largest. He got good pop off the snap and handled the ball out of the shotgun well, even though Gailey dialed down the frequency of those plays. Less than twenty percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps came out of the shotgun this week to accommodate Urbik’s unfamiliarity with the position compared to a number closer to fifty percent, sometimes more. Making his first start of the season behind both Urbik and Ryan Fitzpatrick was runningback CJ Spiller, playing in the absence of injured starter Fred Jackson, who went on IR this week. Spiller looked to be developing well out of the backfield, at least compared to how he was the last time he really took a quality amount of touches. He only rushed for 55 yards and caught passes for 15, but simply looked better than he has in the past. He didn’t get put in many situations to pass protect, which was the area of his game that kept him off of the field throughout most of his rookie campaign, but when he was in to block, it wasn’t noticeable which usually means he was decent enough.

Also finally being utilized, albeit due to injuries across the board, was gadget man Brad Smith. Smith, to this point, has been a waste of an investment – terrible returning kicks and pointless out of the wildcat. He got forced into the number two wideout role with injuries to Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt and performed very well, hauling in passes for a team-high 77 yards and a touchdown. On that touchdown play, Smith was trying to bat the ball away from Jets defender Antonio Cromartie and ended up with another shot at it, which he capitalized on and took it for 36 yards for the score. Smith’s never really been a full-time receiver but Gailey and Fitzpatrick liked what they saw out of him this week, and he’s been confirmed to be the starter on the outside going forward, with Johnson as the top target and David Nelson in the slot. In regards to Nelson (47 yards, touchdown), it was another day at the park for him. His downfield blocking was great, and he had a great show of class when he deliberately handed the ball off to an official after he made it into the endzone. Maybe some guys around him could learn from that. Not to say that I have an issue directly with Steve Johnson’s touchdown celebration. Sure, he looked like a fool, but so do most of the young guys trying to have some fun when they cross the pylons. My issue comes with him taking it too far, going to the ground and costing us fifteen yards on the ensuing kickoff. Still, after he mouthed off to fans about the whole ordeal, someone must have talked some sense in to him because he says he’s done with the celebrations. Amidst the whining about the dance, he told the fans that the entire final drive was a misunderstanding between him and Fitzpatrick. Not quite. The one pass that everyone ragged on him for dropping, around the twenty yard line of the Jets, would have gone to at least the ten, maybe more depending on the angle the safety took. It hit him in the mitts in full stride and he let it go, then blamed everyone else. Later in the drive, on the third-to-last play of the game, Johnson worked Revis to the outside right corner of the endzone before breaking in to the middle of the field, but Fitz threw as if 13 would be breaking to the deep corner, which caused another drop that you can’t fault Johnson for. That may be what he was clamoring about, or it could have been the last play of the game, where he was (again) open on a slant across the middle of the field, right on the goalline, and Fitzpatrick overshot him by about five feet. Johnson had to stretch out entirely and put himself in danger to even attempt for a shot at it. This continues to be a problem with Ryan, and on his drives with high completion percentages, it was mostly due to his guys bailing him out. I just hope that this is something that gets worked on in the offseason.

Not one to end things on a down note, the discovery of Scott Chandler is becoming an even better one. From the injury issues the team has incurred, Chandler has emerged from solely a red zone (or red area, if you’re Mark Kelso) target in the first quarter of the season into a well-rounded tight end. When he came here, Chandler was seen primarily as a blocker, but he has developed good hands and takes advantage of the mismatches created by David Nelson’s size in the slot to be able to open the offense up and work the seams to give his quarterback another quality target. He caught six passes for fifty yards in this game after a 71 yard showing last week in Miami. He’s what you’re looking for out of a waiver wire pickup, and is one of the few feel-good stories left for a young Buffalo team this year.

This weekend, the team will play host to the 6-5 Tennessee Titans which, if there’s still a wildcard on the schedule, this is it. A win against the Titans keeps Buffalo in the hunt for the wildcard, though after four consecutive losses it’s not as solid a shot as it once was. Even with a win, and a few more at that, it’s an outside shot at best. Currently, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati hold the two AFC Wildcard spots and we still have the Jets, Titans, and Broncos in contention with us – along with those two North clubs. New England, Baltimore, Houston, and Oakland all hold the leads in their respective divisions though none of them have a strong foothold by any means, so the playoff picture is still wide open. I don’t know that Fitzpatrick and his crew can overcome the losses both on the field and in the locker room to keep themselves in the hunt, but if this week’s effort was any indication, they’ll sure as hell keep trying.
Until next time, Bills fans.

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