Buffalo Bills Winners and Losers: Bills/Titans Edition
Seven hours. I woke up at an obscene time to make the seven-hour drive home. Why you ask? To watch my favorite sports team, the Buffalo Bills.
My weekend has been incredible and nothing can change that. I experienced my first Notre Dame game in person and took part in many of the Fighting Irish's traditions. At Notre Dame, I met "Digger" Phelps, the greatest basketball head coach in the school's history. Most importantly, I was able to see the fifth-ranked team in the nation improve to 7-0.
Now that I'm home and witnessed another Buffalo Bills game, I wish I had slept in and missed the entire game.
Perhaps the biggest loser in this week's article should be yours truly. I've been a Bills fan long enough to know better than to believe in this franchise.
Winner: Dave Wannstedt
Entering the bye week, the Bills defense is last in rush defense, second to last in points, and second to last in total defense.
Against the Titans, the Bills gave up 195 yards on 18 rushes to Chris Johnson. Entering today's game Johnson averaged a little over 50 yards per game.
The Bills also found a way to give up 35 points to a team that averaged 19 points per game.
So why exactly did I list Dave Wannstedt as a winner? It's simple. Sal Capaccio of WGR550.com tweeted this from the Bills post-game presser:
When asked if he would consider coaching changes on defense in bye week, Chan Gailey had a one-word response: "no." #Bills
—Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) October 21, 2012
In other words, Wannstedt is safe for the season. The bye week was a chance for the Bills to make a change on defense and perhaps light a fire under the team. Instead, Wannstedt's job is safe regardless of how poorly the defense plays.
Failing in every aspect of your job and not having to worry about losing it? That alone makes Wannstedt a big winner.
Loser: Ryan Fitzpatrick
At one point late in the third quarter, I was about to write about how this was the best game Ryan Fitzpatrick had played all year. His passes had more velocity on them than in any other game this season, and he was unusually accurate for most of the game.
Then the interception happened. The Bills were clinging to a six-point lead and the run game was helping the Bills control the clock. Suddenly, it was 3rd-and-7 and there were three minutes remaining. Instead of playing conservatively, Gailey dialed up a pass play. From that point on, the Fitzpatrick we've grown to loathe this season reared his ugly head.
The first mistake Fitzpatrick made was staring down Donald Jones. Once he threw the ball that way, I saw Jason McCourty jump the route. Interception.
With just under three minutes to go, the Titans now had the ball near midfield and they ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining.
Fitzpatrick had a chance to redeem himself after the costly interception. Instead, he was only able to move the ball down the field eight yards before throwing an ugly pass to Stevie Johnson on fourth down.
With Jim Kelly in attendance to witness Bill Polian's induction into the Bills' Wall of Fame, the Bills would have been better off to bring their legendary quarterback onto the field to show Fitzpatrick how a real quarterback moves the ball downfield.
Winner: Brad Smith
Chris Johnson had just run the ball 83 yards for his second touchdown of the day. Not only that, but after four carries, CJ2K had run for 103 yards on four carries. The crowd was dejected at the Ralph and needed a pick-me-up.
Out of everyone on the 53-man roster, perhaps the person you'd expect to come through did just that.
Brad Smith fielded a kickoff at his own 11-yard line and returned the ball 89 yards for a Bills touchdown. Smith was able to break a few tackles along the way, and his return brought the Buffalo crowd back to its feet.
While Smith's return didn't help the Bills win against the Titans, he can at least say that he earned his paycheck this week.
That's more than many on the Bills roster can say.
Loser: Chan Gailey
While the Bills running backs don't get a slide today, both were winners.
Fred Jackson was averaging 7.89 yards per carry.
C.J. Spiller? A solid 5.83 yards per carry.
So on 3rd-and-7 with three minutes to go, you'd think Gailey would hand off the ball and hope that one of his two running backs would have one more big carry in them, right?
At worst, the Bills don't, convert and the Titans are forced to call a timeout or watch the clock tick down close to the two-minute warning.
Instead, Gailey put the ball in Ryan Fitzpatrick's hands and an interception occurred.
I know, Fitzpatrick was having a good game. And I know, running would have been conservative, but it would have been the right call.
My other problem with Chan Gailey today? Not going for the two-point conversion.
In terms of coaching, Gailey didn't do anything out of the ordinary. Generally, teams don't go for two-point conversions until late in the game. But I've never agreed with this philosophy—especially since I know that anything that can go wrong for the Bills, generally does.
By going for two in the third quarter and converting, the Bills would have had a seven point-lead late, not six. Is it a guarantee that the Bills would have converted the two-point conversion? Absolutely not.
However, by not going for it, the Bills left themselves vulnerable to losing to a late-game touchdown.
As I stated earlier, anything that can go wrong for the Bills, generally will.
Winner: Stevie Johnson
Stevie Johnson was coming off his best game of the season in which he had six receptions for 82 yards.
Today, he had another strong performance catching five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Johnson was targeted seven times against the Titans and brought in every pass that was actually thrown near him.
On Johnson's touchdown reception, his excellent footwork was on display. He fooled Jason McCourty into thinking he was running a route to the outside of the field. When Johnson made his cut to the inside, McCourty was left in his dust.
The play made me wonder what kind of numbers Johnson would put up if he had a reliable quarterback. No one will ever confuse Stevie Johnson with Calvin Johnson, but the former Johnson's talents are going to be wasted in Buffalo until the team has a franchise quarterback.
Loser: Shawn Powell
The Buffalo Bills only punted one time against the Titans. After watching Shawn Powell punt, I'm wishing they had not punted at all.
There was a little less than six minutes remaining in the game when Powell came on. The result? A 22-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Buffalo 46-yard line.
Powell's second poor punt in consecutive weeks did not cost the Bills any points; Buffalo's defense actually stopped the Titans and caused a turnover on downs.
That said, Powell's ineffective punts eventually will catch up to Buffalo.
With the Bills entering their bye week, they'd be wise to bring in punters to try out. If one of the punters shows any consistency, the Bills should cut ties with Powell.
He just isn't cutting it as an NFL punter.
Losers: The Bills Defense
I've already listed the team defense stats in this article. The numbers and ratings are putrid.
Against a very average Titans offense, the Bills were thoroughly embarrassed. They gave up 35 points to a team averaging 19 points. Another rusher had his best game of the season against Buffalo. In fact, it only took Chris Johnson four carries to eclipse 100 yards.
The bottom line is simple. The Bills defense is no where near as talented as anyone believed it would be entering the season.
"You're not very talented if you're doing what we've been doing, OK?," he (Williams) continued. "I've said it from the very beginning when we were at training camp. Talent doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what things look like on paper, what you say. 'We're going to be good because look at this sheet of paper.' That doesn't matter."
Williams, one of the few defensive players who has been doing their job consistently, states what we all know. The team simply isn't playing like a talented group.