ORCHARD PARK — Different week ... different perception.
Last Sunday, the Bills first under new coach Doug Marrone and behind rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, the first-round draft choice, had most fans merely hoping their team wouldn’t be blown out by a New England squad that has pretty much abused Buffalo over the past dozen seasons.
Only the severely myopic considered the possibility of victory.
But, alas, Marrone’s Bills gave the Pats all they wanted.
Buffalo took the lead less than four minutes into the third period and held it until New England’s Stephen Gostkowski hit a game-winning 35-yard field goal with five seconds to play.
But for those used to the Bills’ struggles against the Patriots, it was merely a question of when Bill Belichick’s squad pulled out the victory.
Thus, the Buffalo faithful was left with a “moral victory” for solace.
Today is different.
Carolina (0-1) is at “The Ralph” (1 o’clock WUTV-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 101.9 FM, 550 AM) and Bills’ fans are expecting a win even though the Panthers are a 2 1/2 -point favorite.
The focus, of course, will be on the quarterbacks — Manuel and Cam Newton — a pair of big, strong youngsters who are the stereotypical new-wave “read-option,” make-plays-on-your-feet QBs who put extra pressure on opposing defenses (related story, this page).
But it will also be a teachable moment for Marrone, who got to experience Bills’ fans’ anticipation of the worst possible outcome in the Pats’ game.
“I think we were changing that mentality the first day we walked through the door,” he maintained. “You’ve got to try to change that mentality.
“I don’t think it’s just with the team; it’s with everyone in the organization (trying to do it). It’s kind of like the ‘Woe is me, here we go again’ situation and that’s not what we want.”
He also pointed out, “I think what people might lose track of is the players in this profession are here for a reason.
“My responsibility is to make sure that they don’t ever get to an ‘Oh, here we go again’ situation.”
Then, too, there are 21 new players on the roster who haven’t experienced the low and pessimistic expectations of many Bills’ fans.
“This is my first year here so I’m not used to losing,” Manuel said. “I guess the organizational people (and fans are) used to losing. To me, winning is an attitude.
“I do think we should have closed (the Patriots’) game out but we didn’t. Moving forward you have to have a really good attitude. If you lose one week that does not mean you’re going lose the second week.”
BUT TO succeed this afternoon, the Bills will likely have to do it via Manuel’s arm.
Carolina’s front seven is one of the best in the NFL, coming off a 12-7 loss to highly-regarded Seattle in Charlotte.
The Seahawks’ running game had a mere 70 yards on 26 carries. Marshawn Lynch averaged barely three yards per tote.
Seattle won because quarterback Russell Wilson went 25-of-33 for 300 yards against the Panthers’ suspect secondary.
The rushing numbers, though, have to be a concern to Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, whose start to what’s supposed to be a monster season was stuffed by New England ... 17 carries for 41 yards.
But he doesn’t see a repeat, even against as stout a run defense as Carolina fields.
“I kind of went back to some of my old stuff, my old habits,” Spiller said of his play against the Pats. “I wasn’t letting the offensive line do its job because I was rushing stuff ... total opposite of what I’ve been doing since March and training camp.
“The great thing about it is ... it’s very correctable. That’s the thing that we’ve been preaching ... just do the little things, take my time and when I make a decision, just go with it.”
He added, “If you want to become one of the great players, you have to be willing to put that game behind you and move on. I’m not worried about that performance derailing or having an effect on the whole season. It’s just one game.
“They did a great job ... came in the game with a plan to slow me down and you’ve got to give them credit, that’s what they (did). I’ve moved it behind me and I’m focused on another tough task in Carolina.”
And the Bills are anxious for it.
Veteran running back Fred Jackson, who had 13 carries for 67 yards and four receptions for 41 more against New England, pointed out, “That’s the great thing about this business, there’s always another game. Especially this early in the season, you want to get over a game like we just lost, and get a good opportunity to go out and get a win.”
Free safety Da’Norris Searcy, playing in place of starter Jairus Byrd (foot injury) and likely to start again today, had a 74-yard fumble return for a TD, eight tackles and a sack against the Pats.
Of that opportunity he concluded, “If the opportunity knocks, I would love to seize (it). Last week was a step closer to doing that, I just have to keep being consistent and being able to make plays.
“This week is another chance.”
For the Bills too.
As Manuel noted, “I think the team’s reacting well (to the Pats’ loss). I’m not used to losing a lot. Obviously I was glad to see people not taking (the loss) lightly. I think everyone was upset that we didn’t win the game and that we didn’t close it out.”
It remain to be seen if the lesson was learned.