Yes, Buffalo is 4-8 with one quarter of the season remaining, clinging to only the most delusional of playoff hopes, thanks to that ulcerating overtime giveaway in Toronto last Sunday.
Contrary to myriad social-media wails and drunken sports-talk calls, however, a look at recent history suggests these are not the same old Bills.
E.J. Manuel rebounded from the worst performance of his rookie year in Pittsburgh with a pair of outings that showed why Buffalo made him the first quarterback drafted last spring and heads into today’s game in Tampa with an interception percentage equal to Tom Brady’s.
Buffalo’s young defense leads the NFL in sacks and ranks No. 2 in interceptions — both of which have been painfully infrequent during a playoff drought on pace to reach 14 seasons in a few weeks.
C.J. Spiller’s ankle has healed to the point where he’s a threat to break one every time he touches the ball, with Fred Jackson as productive as ever behind an offensive line that appears to be gelling after a lousy day in Pittsburgh.
Robert Woods — another rookie — leads a group of receivers whose weakest link is its only proven veteran. Not to keep beating up on Stevie Johnson, or anything.
Manuel, Woods and linebacker Kiko Alonso lead Buffalo’s most impressive draft class since … when? Maybe 1985?
A pair of off-field rookies, Dougs Whaley and Marrone, get a lot of the credit there, as well as for keeping the Bills out what has been their annual late-season death spiral.
To help those with understandably short memories, We Want Marangi offers the following look at Buffalo’s recent football history, replete with the Bills’ record after 12 games, what happened from there, and their outlook heading into the offseason.
2012 (5-7): The Bills, C.J. Spiller in particular, ran all over Jacksonville in their 12th game. They built on that win with a sloppy loss to St. Louis (at home, no less), a humiliation against Seattle in Toronto and a lifeless road loss in Miami, before closing things out with a win over a Jets team playing out the string on the Mark Sanchez era.
By the end of a 6-10 campaign, the departures of Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick were foregone conclusions. And it was tough to get too jazzed about the prospect of Buddy Nix overseeing yet another rebuilding project.
2011 (5-7): A 23-17 loss at home to Tennessee was the fifth of what would become seven straight defeats after a 5-2 start built almost entirely on turnovers and other fortunate bounces. Buffalo’s only win after that promising beginning would come on Christmas Eve, thanks to Tim Tebow’s rather stunning display of ineptitude.
The first two months, illusory as they may have been, were enough to convince the front office that Buffalo could go somewhere with Gailey and Fitzpatrick leading the way, despite the 6-10 finish. As seen below, the Bills have been much better at clinging to that sort of baseless optimism than at playing football over the past 14 years.
2010 (2-10): The Vikings hammered Buffalo 38-14, even though Tarvaris Jackson threw three interceptions for Minnesota, thanks to four lost fumbles by the Bills and three touchdowns from Adrian Peterson.
It was Gailey’s first season and not being Dick Jauron was still enough to curry goodwill with the locals, despite starting out 0-8. “Hey, we played .500 ball in the second half!”
2009 (4-8): The Jets ran all over Buffalo in another putrid Toronto game. The defense gave up 249 rushing yards, while Fitzpatrick lit up the Rogers Centre with a 98-yard passing day. Somehow, the score was only 19-13.
Jauron had finally been fired after a 3-6 start, a couple weeks after giving up on Trent Edwards, providing some basis for optimism on both counts. Those relatively good feelings were based on the notion that Ralph Wilson, still making the final decision on such matters, would find a coach and quarterback that any other team might want. He hired Gailey and settled for Fitzpatrick.
2008 (6-6): A putrid 10-3 loss to San Francisco completed the fall to .500 after a 5-1 start. Edwards and J.P. Losman split the game at quarterback, thanks to the former’s lingering groin injury, despite Buffalo outgaining the 49ers 350-195.
It was the beginning of a 1-4 season-closing skid during which the Bills failed to score a touchdown three times, sealing their third 7-9 record in as many seasons under Jauron.
2007 (6-6): The Bills, who had started out 1-4, reached .500 with perhaps the most laborious comeback in franchise history — four straight Rian Lindell field goals overcame a 16-5 deficit — thanks to Washington coach Joe Gibbs thoroughly outsmarting himself.
A week after that 17-16 road victory, Edwards threw four touchdown passes, while Fred Jackson (who made his first career start against Washington) and Marshawn Lynch each ran for more than 100 yards, as Buffalo put themselves in prime position for a wild-card berth with a 38-17 win over Miami.
The Bills responded to the opportunity by getting shut out in a Cleveland blizzard, then meekly dropping two their last two to finish 7-9. But they had apparently found a quarterback after a promising rookie season from Edwards, a pair of productive young running backs in Jackson and Lynch, so, hey, next year, right?
We would keep going, but you get the idea.
Hoping for Buffalo’s first playoff berth since 1999 requires contortions of reason which WWM is not prepared to perform at this time. But denying that the Bills are in better shape than they’ve been in almost as long amounts to an even greater denial of reality.
David Staba has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other topics, since 1990 for a variety of outlets, including We Want Marangi since way back in 2012.