The goose is officially cooked: the Bills can do no better than 8-8 this year – identical with last year's record – and they cannot make the playoffs. They are now mathematically "playing out the string". But they made it pretty close; they didn't go down without a fight, and they nearly tied it up in the last minute. A two-point conversion attempt failed, and thus so did the Bills, 28-26. Offensively, play-calling was as odd as usual. A tight game like this, and Travis Henry only had 19 carries; fullback Sam Gash, who is most skilled at lead-blocking for the run, was used again to run screen-pass routes; Eric Moulds was not even on the field for the final two-point-conversion attempt.
The defense was pretty disappointing today. Once again their inability to generate a consistent pass-rush, combined with their inability to create turnovers consistently, hurt them. Yeah, Pat Williams returned a fumble for a touchdown, but there were also several Tennessee fumbles the Bills failed to recover, near interceptions not caught, and little pressure on a quarterback making his first career NFL start. To add insult to injury, a problem that plagued Bills defenses all throughout the 1990s, even when they had one of the NFL's best defenses, cropped up: they allowed a receiver to get open on nearly every third down the Titans faced.
I've never been one to blame the officiating for a lot of problems when my team loses, but there was one long pass that the Titans completed to the two-yard-line that seemed to me to be a clear case of offensive pass interference that wasn't called. That one hurt.
Next week the Dolphins come to town, so the Bills should win that one. After that, the Bills travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots in a game that might not have any meaning for the home team, if the Pats manage to sew up the AFC's top seed before then. The Bills can finish 8-8 if they win both the next two games, but I sadly think that 7-9 is probably more likely. I never thought the Bills would actually end up being a worse team this year than they were last year, after all the work they did to improve the defense that was the big weakness of last year's team. Amazing.
:: I see Sean is starting the taunting; for reasons passing understanding his better angels were abducted and replaced by goofy Patriots fans a year or so back, despite the fact that the Patriots are clearly the greatest force for evil in American sport, now that the Atlanta Braves have been dismantled and the Dallas Cowboys have evolved into being merely annoying. (Belichick is Sauron, Tom Brady is Saruman, et cetera.) I will grant that they look awfully good this year, but I will never change my belief that their Super Bowl win two years ago was the single greatest confluence of luck in the history of professional sports. And as Gregg Easterbrook likes to point out, the Football Gods always exact a price for such things. Sooner or later, the Pats shall stumble, badly. Keep in mind, Pats fans as your team streaks toward home-field advantage, that the AFC's top seed is only 3-8 in converting home-field advantage to a Super Bowl appearance in the last eleven seasons.
:: As much as I think Mike Martz is a boob of a coach, and as much as I hate seeing Kurt Warner reduced to walking the sidelines (I may have shopped at his grocery store while he was stocking shelves!), and as much as I think Dick Vermeil was dumped unceremoniously after he took them to their only title in franchise history, I still kind of dig the Rams. Marshall Faulk is just a good guy, and since his career is probably near to ending, I'd like to see him get one more shot at the title. Maybe they can beat the Pats in the Super Bowl. It would serve those Foxboro pinheads right.
:: Geez, what on Earth has happened to the Steelers? They stink! And I didn't quite catch one of the highlights all the way – did Chad Pennington really complete a pass to a receiver who was way out of bounds, because he couldn't tell where the field ended due to the snow? Yowza!
:: Cruel moments in sportscasting: In the CBS postgame show, host Jim Nance turns to Boomer Esiason and says, "Hey, Boomer! Did watching that 49ers-Bengals game bring back any Super Bowl memories for you?" (Esiason started Super Bowl XXIII for the Bengals and would have been the MVP had his team managed to keep Joe Montana from engineering a comeback-drive in the last two minutes to win the game, 20-16. I of course felt no sympathy for Esiason on that day, since his team had beaten the Bills in the AFC Championship Game to get to the Super Bowl in the first place.)
:: Sunday afternoon goodness is alternating between the Bills game and whatever figure skating event is on ABC or NBC. Today I got to see Michael Weiss do some incredibly-weird looking variation on a back-flip that involved twisting about somehow, and I learned that Alexei Yagudin – so far, the only Russian male skater I have not found boring beyond belief – has some kind of congenital hip problem that may well doom his career. A shame, that. He's way more interesting than Evgeny Pleshenko.