Buffalo Bills and 5 Teams Who Blew Golden Chances in 2011
It was hard to believe. The Buffalo Bills—the AFC East doormats for so long—were in command of the division for the first time since 1995. Eight weeks into the season, the Bills were 5-2, in first place, and causing everyone in western New York to think maybe this was the year Buffalo finally returned to glory.
Six weeks later, the Bills were eliminated from the playoffs and looking for their first win in a month-and-a-half. They had a perfect opportunity at their hands, and they let it slip away.
They weren't the only ones.
Several teams have found themselves in Buffalo's position—now forced to look back on the season and wondering where things went wrong.
Several teams had cracks at the playoffs, division titles or top seeds and blew it, either in one game or over the course of the season. It's a rough list to make, for sure, but they say that "misery loves company." These teams know that cliche to be true.
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But then came a 34-31 victory over New England, a 31-24 win against the much over-hyped Philadelphia, and a 23-0 triumph over Washington and, suddenly, the Buffalo Bills were the NFL's hottest sensation not playing in Wisconsin.
There were plenty of reasons to buy into the Bills. They had a tight-knit core that responded well to late-game pressure; they had the league's leading rusher in Fred Jackson; and their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a player previously known more for his Harvard pedigree than his pocket prowess, was carving up defenses and earning big paychecks.
Most importantly, the season was almost half over and the Bills were in the driver's seat. They were 5-2, with a win in hand over the preseason divisional favorites, New England, and comfortable control over their playoff destiny.
And suddenly, everything imploded. Fitzpatrick became alarmingly mistake-prone and unstable in his decision-making, going 1-7 following his six-year, $59 million reward and extension; Jackson landed on injured reserve and was done for the season; and the defense had no answers as the offense began to sputter.
Before the win over Denver, the Bills' losing streak had reached seven. Seemingly overnight, they went from 5-2 and first place in the division to 5-9 and dead in the watereliminated for the 12th straight year.
Buffalo fans have seen this before, but this was supposed to be different. As they have seen, it's just been more of the same.
San Diego Chargers
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But, to be honest, neither he nor the Broncos should have had an opportunity to earn the spotlight. This should have been the year the Chargers rolled to the AFC West championship.
It's sounding like a broken record, but it's true. The Chargers should be better than their record indicates. They have talented playmakers on both sides of the ball and on paper, there really isn't that weakness that normally jumps out and sinks a team that limps to a 4-7 start.
What might be tougher for Chargers fans to stomach is that the team didn't even have to be great. The division as a whole is down and the Broncos and Raiders share the AFC West lead at 8-7. If the Chargers played to their capability in the early games, Tebow Time might be a side-note to the season and nothing more.
Instead, the Chargers are 7-7 and trying to get hot in desperation time. There likely won't be a postseason in Ron Burgundy's hometown, but it's not like the Chargers didn't have the chance to fix that.
New York Giants
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When Eli Manning gave New England fans Vietnam War-esque flashbacks to February 2008 during a 24-20 comeback victory over the Patriots in November, the New York Giants were 6-2 and making a good case as one of NFL's elite.
Their place in the power rankings soon plummeted and their grasp of the NFC East weakened. They dropped four straight games (granted, the losses came to three or possibly four playoff teams), putting them at 6-6 and right behind the division-leading Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants righted the ship momentarily with a 37-34 win over Dallas, but again, given the chance to pull away in the division, New York slipped again, losing to Washington in Week 15. Now, the Giants face a must-win scenario in Week 17. Either they beat Dallas or they're watching the playoffs from home.
Second-half swoons aren't unusual for the Giants under coach Tom Coughlin, who seems to be on the hot seat every year. But, predictable as they may be, these slumps still aren't excusable, and if the Giants miss the playoffs, they'll have a hard time pointing their fingers anywhere but at their own blue jerseys.
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As inconsistent as the Tennessee Titans have been this year, and as wildly up-and-down as their season has gone, they had a good look at the playoffs entering Week 15.
Not so much, apparently.
The Titans became the Colts' first victim, 27-13. Still, with the Jets losing to the Eagles, the Titans could have gone to the front of the wild card picture with a win. Instead, they'll need help from the Ravens, who play the Bengals in Week 17.
It's always rough to need help from others this late in the season; it's even tougher when you missed a chance to take care of your fate yourself.
With losses to the less-than-spectacular Jaguars, Bengals and Colts, the Titans could have sealed their playoff fates early.
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The entire 2011 season has been a blown opportunity for the Philadelphia Eagles.
They were supposed to be an NFC power after their offseason acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, among others. And it wasn't like the team was being built from scratch; the Eagles were a 10-6 playoff team in 2010, and they had improved across the board.
But then the season started, and the Eagles didn't. With each game, fans, analysts and experts alike wondered if that week was going to be the one Philadelphia pulled its act together, rolled up its sleeves and got to work.
Sure, there have been impressive moments, but the Eagles this season have been a major bust. They're 6-8 and in third place in the NFC East, and that's after winning their last two games. They've covered the spectrum, losing to good teams (San Francisco, New England) and some pretenders (Buffalo, Arizona, Seattle).
Similar to San Diego's situation, the most disappointing thing for the "Dream Team" Eagles is that they didn't have to be one. Another 10-6 season would have them right at the top of the division. They'd be cruising to the playoffs as one of the more feared teams in the league.
It's still possible for Philly to slip in. Two straight wins, combined with some help from the Giants and Cowboys, would do it. But it's a long shot. It appears the Eagles are instead the NFL's most dangerous spoiler. They could have been much more.