The bonehead play was the 17-season playoff famine in a nutshell. So emblematic of a Buffalo Bills team that often plays dumb football and has a penchant for beating itself.
After Nick Folk booted a field goal to put the Jets up 20 in the fourth quarter, he popped up the ensuing kickoff. Mike Gillislee initially came up to catch the ball, but opted to let it sail over his head. It bounced at about the Bills 14 and began rolling. The running back chased after it, but for some inexplicable reason he acted as if he didn’t realize the ball was live and could be fielded by either team. Gillislee just stood in the end zone and didn’t attempt to field the ball until after it had crossed the goal line and was pounced on by Jets safety Doug Middleton for a touchdown.
Ay caramba! Just another mind-numbing play for the Bills to add to their mile-long lowlight reel.
No, it wasn’t a game-changer on a day when Buffalo was humiliated 30-10 by the hapless Jets and former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who, by the way, completed a season sweep of his old team throwing for 587 yards in two games. But it was the kind of play we’ve seen much too often; the kind of play interim head coach Anthony Lynn was hoping not to witness during his Bills head coaching debut.
Game Day began the same way it has the past few weeks, with national reports about the future of Buffalo’s head coaching position. According to CBS Sports Insider Jason La Canfora, interim coach Anthony Lynn is “a virtual lock to be named Bills head coach on a permanent basis.” There also are rumors that Gus Bradley, who had success building the Seattle Seahawks defense but failed miserably as a head coach in Jacksonville, will be Lynn’s new defensive coordinator.
La Canfora’s sources also told him that Terry and Kim Pegula are committed to continuity, so the Lynn hiring would ensure that in the wake of the Rex Ryan firing. The report said that General Manager Doug Whaley had been meeting with Lynn for weeks to go over key offensive personnel and issues. This all is sure to make for a highly interesting news conference with Whaley tomorrow afternoon when he finally has to answer for the major changes at One Bills Drive, including not only the Rex firing, but also Tyrod Taylor’s future.
EJ Manuel wound up starting in Tyrod’s place, and played like the EJ we all remember and would like to forget. His decision-making remains questionable, as does his footwork, which resulted in several errant throws, including what surely would have been a touchdown to tight end Charles Clay when this still was a game. After three quarters, in which EJ completed nine-of-20 passes for 86 yards and committed two turnovers, Lynn had seen enough and inserted rookie Cardale Jones.
La Canfora reported that the Bills front office is high on Jones. Not unexpectedly, Jones played like the development project he is. The fourth-round pick from Ohio State did make one long connection – a 64-yarder to Justin Hunter after Hunter appeared to get away with offensive pass interference against Jets corner Darrelle Revis. The bomb set up Buffalo’s only touchdown. Jones finished 6-of-11 for 96 yards with one interception.
I understand the business decision behind benching Tyrod because if he got hurt and was still rehabbing and on the roster on March 11, the Bills would be on the hook for $30 million. But since you decided to treat this like a glorified exhibition game, why not trot Jones out there from the start and let him get his baptism under fire? What’s the difference if you get blown out with him in there? Any NFL talent evaluator worth his salt knows EJ can’t play. So why not see what you have in Cardale?
It will be interesting to learn at tomorrow’s presser just what Whaley has in mind at the position. It looks to me like Jones is at least a season, if not longer, away from being ready. Taylor has said he’d prefer to stay in Buffalo, so maybe Whaley is playing hardball in order to restructure Taylor’s contract again. Or maybe the reports are true that they’ve already moved on from him.
I can’t make up my mind on Taylor. I firmly believe if Rex hadn’t screwed up the defense and if players like Marcell Dareus had spent more time learning the playbook and getting into condition the Bills would have made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons. That’s not to say I think Taylor is a slam-dunk, long-term answer, but my feelings about letting him go are not as clear-cut as they were when it was time to say good-bye to Fitz, J.P. Losman, Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe and Trent Edwards.
We all know that the quarterback market is pretty thin. I’m OK with parting ways with Taylor if you have a better solution going forward. But if the game plan is Jones, then buckle your seatbelts Bills fans, because there’s going to be a lot of turbulence in 2017 and the streak will hit 18.
The addition of Bradley might be what this defense needs after Rex, his twin brother Rob and Dennis Thurman wrecked what wasn’t broken. The Bills tackling woes were evident again against the Jets Sunday as backup Bilal Powell rushed for 123 yards. Hey, on the plus side, at least they didn’t yield another 200-yard rusher, like they had three times before this season.
Whaley showed me nothing as a leader earlier this week by not facing the media and putting Lynn out there to answer for decisions he didn’t make. That was pretty lame.
But the general manager who had strained relations with his two previous head coaches won’t be able to hide tomorrow. That press conference should be far more entertaining and revealing than Sunday’s listless finale.
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 32 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 12 times, including the past three years when he has finished first in column writing.