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Second Take with Brad Gelber – Is Optimism Gone At One Bills Drive?

One game. All it took was literally one game… Prior to Sunday’s meltdown vs. a not very good Steelers’ team, despite a 3-6 record, Bills fans were optimistic for what felt like the first time in ages. With young weapons like Spiller, Goodwin & Woods complimenting veterans like Fred Jackson & Stevie Johnson and the defensive line having field days with QB’s around the league, there was a lot to like about the future of this team. Add to that that our franchise QB was returning after a month on the sidelines and people were downright excited to see what this team could do.

For the most part, the team was reasonably healthy (aside from Robert Woods, which I understand is a big aside especially for EJ) for the first time since they opened the season vs. New England and what better time than playing against a team with a 2-6 record? Sounds like things were set up to go the Bills way, only that was about as far from what happened as possible.

After Sunday’s loss things felt different. It didn’t feel like, well this is a game this team will win a couple years when they’re more seasoned. It didn’t feel like they left it all out there and just were beaten by a superior group of football players. No, this felt like too many games in seasons past where the team was flat out out-worked and embarrassed in the process. At no point in time did it feel like the Bills were in that game to win it, which is a damn shame because as I said the cards were in their favor.

Now I know where the excuses lie. Dick Lebeau is a future Hall of Famer & he eats rookie QB’s for breakfast. Despite the Steeler’s record, Heinz field is one of the toughest places to play in the National Football League even without Bane showing up and detonating a bomb. EJ was rusty after being injured. The coaches’ game plan was too conservative over possible concern for EJ’s knee, or just because they baby their prize QB. Throw all those out because I don’t want to hear any of it. This team did not show up, period.

Many of the player’s spoke on how this was the first time this year that the Bills weren’t in the game. Even in the blowout loss to New Orleans two weeks prior, Buffalo looked as though they may pull the upset in the Big Easy until half time. Then, all became right with the universe and the Bills got crushed. The game this week was really the first time since the Thursday Night Football game against Cleveland that the team looked helpless. Even the first half vs. the Chiefs with Jeff Tuel under center was light-years better than the performance we saw Sunday. In my eyes it is inexcusable. Sure every team has off weeks. That’s why there are upsets in the NFL, but as I’ve said time and time again in the past and will continue to say until I’m lying in my grave, good teams, or even good teams in the making, beat teams they are supposed to. The Buffalo Bills were supposed to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday and they didn’t.

As I’m sure most Bills fans will tell you, as nice as it would be to make a push for the playoffs, this season isn’t just about the win/loss column. It is about growing and setting this team up for success down the road. I don’t care what any of the players, or coaches say, Sunday was a monumental step backwards in that regard. You can fix dumb penalties. You can fix bad reads by a QB, or poorly run routes by a WR. You can fix RB’s missing a hole, or DB’s misreading coverage. You CANNOT fix heart.

I’m not sitting here and saying that this team can’t get back on track. A win at home vs. a surprising Jets team would do a lot for that. Getting another in division W, which has plagued this team for seasons, would also be nice. That being said, it doesn’t just erase this Pittsburgh game. A lot of the players said this is the type of game you just have to throw away and move on, but if I’m Doug Marrone that is the last thing I want. I want these guys to understand that losses like this are not only unproductive (obviously,) but detrimental to the future of this franchise.

I was 100% behind Marrone & Co. leaving EJ in the game. You don’t help a young QB grow without playing time and especially without facing adversity, which he no doubt did. Prior to that game, Tuel had faced more adversity having to come into a close game on national TV to fill in for EJ, so Sunday was an important lesson. That being said, as poorly as EJ played, he had absolutely no help from anyone. The receivers dropped balls left & right, including another less than stellar week from one of my favorite players in TE Scott Chandler. Neither CJ, nor Fred could get going on the ground and the result was redundantly safe calls from Nate Hackett that ultimately hung EJ out to dry. Of course EJ needs to be able to complete a 5-yard out pass, but the point is no one was good this week.

The saddest part to me is that mid-way through Sunday’s game, I realized I enjoyed watching this team more with injuries galore and Thad, or Tuel at QB. Not because I’m one of those that thinks EJ can’t win, but because it provided me as a Bills fan with a built in excuse. We lost to the Bengals in OT? Ehh, that’s ok. Did you see that hell of comeback by our Practice Squad QB led team with less than 2 minutes to play?!? We lost to the 9-0 Chiefs after leading at halftime? Well, what do you expect; we had an undrafted rookie QB playing for God’s sake. Sunday all the excuses were suddenly gone. Yes EJ is still a rookie & perhaps we expected too much from him Sunday, coming back to this team and being a saving grace, but he and the rest of the Bills NEED to be better. And by the way, being better doesn’t just mean saying you need to be better week in and week out on the radio/TV, but actually following through and doing it. Either that, or the optimism will once again be gone from One Bills Drive.

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