ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills walks off the field after a loss to the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Miami won 30-23. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
The Good: C.J. Spiller. If I were to place Spiller's performance on a scale with Eric Metcalf-esque toy at one end, and Thurman Thomas at the other, Spiller would be far closer to Thomas than Metcalf. Chan Gailey told everyone last year that Spiller's issue was patience, and once he ran with more patience, Spiller's talent would shine through. Gailey was right.
Spiller was the best player on the field not named Reggie Bush - and that's only because Bush ran the ball 13 more times than Spiller. In a tighter game where Buffalo isn't passing 50 times, Spiller gets a few more carries and has his first 100-yard game. Spiller looks like he has potential to be a Marshall Faulk-style of player that gets his yards on big bursts, kills the defense on draws and screens, destroys tackling angles with his speed, plays receiver, and can create offense for others with the attention he gets. This may seems like an overreaction, but don't be surprised if Buddy Nix rides out Fred Jackson's remaining contract, and commits to a Spiller-slash-power back combo in 2013. Spiller is proving each week that he's capable of being a huge part of this offense.
The Bad: Mistakes. The statistics tell the story: 11 penalties for 92 yards. 0-for-11 on third down. Three interceptions. One Tashard Choice fumble on third down that forced Buffalo to punt. A 26-yard field goal miss.
Some penalties are easy to stomach. Erik Pears holding Cameron Wake as he's about to wreck Ryan Fitzpatrick is acceptable. Five penalties in the second quarter alone is unacceptable. I'm not sure Drayton Florence has a spot on this team anymore. For every big play he makes, he breaks even with a pass interference penalty that leads to an opponent score. The third down performance is suffering because of the compression of the Buffalo offense into a 10-yard space, and the penalties don't help, either.
The turning point of the game came early on. With Buffalo playing well early, Gailey faced a 3rd and 1. He called a direct snap to Choice, which he fumbled, which forced a Brian Moorman punt. At that point in the first quarter, the Bills defense was playing well, had forced a turnover, and Spiller had just finished shredding the Dolphins defense en route to a touchdown. A Buffalo score on the next Buffalo drive could've forced the Dolphins into a pass-first mode; the Dave Rayner missed field goal changed the complexion of the game late. Buffalo is making too many mistakes to be a contender.
Let's Not Overreact: Ryan Fitzpatrick. I'll say what I said last week: Fitzpatrick is what he is. He brings better play than Buffalo got out of Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman. He's playing poorly, but he also brings stability to the quarterback position for the first time since Drew Bledsoe played in Buffalo. That stability allows Nix and Gailey to accomplish two things: build the team around Fitzpatrick (who can win games with a good team effort around him), and draft and develop Fitzpatrick's replacement without rushing things.
Fitzpatrick's early-season play complicated things by bringing on unrealistic expectations. His three interceptions on Sunday absolutely killed the team, though the rest of his stat line looked good due to a good performance in the fourth quarter. I understand that Gailey is slowing the game down by possessing the football as much as he can, but Fitzpatrick seems to play better with higher the tempo on offense, as he did in the fourth quarter. Maybe going no-huddle, up-tempo will help. Fitzpatrick hasn't played well since getting crushed by London Fletcher in Toronto. That's also the last good game he played. Though not the difference between franchise quarterback and current performance, one has to wonder how hurt Fitzpatrick is.
Outlook. It would be so much nicer if Buffalo played like San Diego. At least Chargers fans are excited about their late-season run after a horrible October. The facts do remain the facts, though: Buffalo hasn't won since it played in Toronto. And Buffalo's roster is a far cry from San Diego's.
As a bit of an outside observer due to my residence location, the fan and media reaction to Buffalo's downturn could be seen a mile away. As Buffalo went 5-2, the expectations placed on the team were far greater than the talent on the team could perform to. With the Bills crashing to earth, everyone from the General Manager to the administration building secretary are being questioned, with calls for dismissal.
The Bills were never as good as the 5-2 start. They also aren't as bad as the 0-7 streak. The team is young, playing poorly, and without confidence. Denver invades Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. New England exposed Denver's defense last week. It's up to Fitzpatrick and the Bills to follow suit if they want their sixth win in the team's last home game on Sunday.