Bills Lack Playoff Look But Will Get There
By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
Don't be fooled by the Bills up and down pre season results; this is the year they will get back to the playoffs, although it sometimes doesn't look that way.
Penalties have been a problem, and while many of them are deserved as young players like rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn adjust to the NFL, it really isn't a concern as I see it.
The lack of actual, tried and true officials is a big problem for the Bills and everybody else in the NFL pre season, but it still isn't up there with the total rip-off that charging fans full fare for these meaningless games continues to be. The answer is probably that as long as the fans keep buying these tickets as part of their season ticket packages - the Bills increased their number 15% to 43,267 during the off season - the games will continue to cost the same as the much more meaningful and interesting regular season games.
Don't worry, they'll get this problem straightened out.
As for the preseason, coaches and players will tell you the games mean something because, well, they DO keep score after all. But that just isn't all that true. We all know that Marv Levy could have cared less about the pre season during the Bills Super Bowl runs, but once the regular season kicked off, his teams were ready to play.
Chan Gailey takes a similar approach, and the first couple games of the 2011 and 2012 pre seasons certainly reflect that. Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn't get the Bills into the end zone at all in the pre season openers, and it wasn't until his third game the lights really came on. He barely played in the fourth game, but when the Bills opened with a stunning 41-7 win at Kansas City, it was pretty clear Gailey's method made sense.
Not only that, athletes are a different lot when it comes to their psychological makeup. Since fans are paying full freight in pre season, one could assume the players would be giving full effort as well. Actually, some are and some aren't. The players in danger of missing the final cut are under tremendous pressure and are playing for their lives. For established starters, the reality is quite different.
Take defensive end Mario Williams, for example. Signing for $50 million in guaranteed money might tend to make any player a bit complacent, and I have little doubt that's why Super Mario looked like an average Mario during the exhibition games. When the regular season begins, that #94 will start becoming much more noticeable. Ditto for several players, including Fitzpatrick.
The reality is, we really won't know how much better this 2012 team might be until we see them go through some adversity. Lose a game that should have been won, or get hit with some key injuries, and the heart of a team becomes open for all to see.
Last year's Bills showed they've upgraded their talent level tremendously since bringing in gm Buddy Nix to help Gailey rebuild, and even if you do have to speak fluent southern to understand either of them or the players they favor from the South, they're on the same language level when it comes to winning and mental toughness. When they fell from 5-2 to an eventual 6-10 finish, the team didn't have enough talent or depth to overcome a rash of injuries.
The big question remains, how much of their late season swoon was due to a lack of heart? A lack of mental toughness? We don't know the answer to that question yet.
We've heard about lack of mental or physical toughness before, and it's not just with the Bills. The Sabres are in that same category, along with most everybody else in professional sports. It's what separates winners and losers when the games really matter. In all four Super Bowl losses, its my contention the Bills were the less physical team in each and every game.
But with the current group, say what you want about Fitzpatrick's mechanical faults and inconsistencies, I do believe he has the physical and mental toughness so vital to playing the most important position in football. Jim Kelly sure had it, but Fitz does too, and sorry Jim, but Fitz is a far faster and more dangerous runner who makes defenses react a step slower because of that elusiveness. The mental makeup of a team starts from the gm and coach down, but the quarterback must have that quality or the rest doesn't matter much.
Although pre season doesn't mean a lot as we've said, the mere fact Fitz is now "the" guy - never a question - is a huge plus. No matter how teams spin it, when quarterbacks are battling for a starting job in training camp, it isn't a healthy thing for the team. The backup battle was interesting, and the Bills look smart for taking a gamble on Vince Young, who at one point early in camp looked like he might be cut. Young makes the possibility of injury to Fitz go from disaster to at least somewhat manageable.
It says here the Bills will finally break the long playoff drought and make the 2012-13 playoffs, IF, and it's the big IF, they aren't racked with too many long term injuries to key players. Last year's experience will be helpful this year, and especially if the team gets off to a fast start.
The pieces are almost there, not quite, but getting there, and anything short of the playoffs this year will be a huge disappointment.