You’ve heard about “must-win” games … what about the “can’t lose” variety?
That’s exactly the position Buffalo finds itself in when the Bills (4-2) visit the Jets (0-6), Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium (1 o’clock, CBS-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM).
That phrase doesn’t mean they “can’t lose” but rather “they had better not.”
You know the trajectory.
Buffalo opened the season with four straight wins, averaging 31 points a game, and quickly assumed the top spot in the AFC East. Then, however, came consecutive defeats by members of the conference elite – 42-16 to the Titans in Nashville and 26-17 at home to Kansas City – which were concerning.
First, the two touchdown drop in average point production was worrisome, especially since it was tied to the struggles of quarterback Josh Allen, who went from being an NFL MVP candidate the first four games to a vision of his inaccurate self over his first two seasons in Buffalo.
But it wasn’t all Allen.
Indeed, his extraordinary numbers over the first quarter of the season masked the reality that the Bills’ defense was … uhhhh, lousy.
Hence, the importance of Sunday’s game. But even though Buffalo, mid-week, was favored by a staggering 13 points, the Bills face a genuine injury crisis. Four starters – wide receiver John Brown (knee), guard Cody Ford (knee), tight end Dawson Knox (calf) and linebacker Tyrel Dodson (hamstring) – are out, as is one key reserve, cornerback Josh Norman (hamstring).
Questionable are two other starters, cornerback Tre’Davious White and linebacker Matt Milano (pectoral), whose place had been taken by Dodson, plus backup cornerback Cam Lewis (wrist).
NEW YORK, the NFL’s lone winless franchise, is the league’s worst team on merit.
The Jets are last in the league in four key categories, including points scored (12.5 per game) and passing yards. They’re 30th of 32 clubs in yards gained (277) and penalties assessed and 29th in points allowed (31 per game).
Their last win was in the 2019 regular season finale at Buffalo (13-6).
In this year’s opener, Buffalo prevailed 27-17 at Bills Stadium.
Since then, as the losing streak has lengthened, fans have been demanding the firing of controversial head coach Adam Gase, who is clearly dead man walking, and the front office has initiated a firesale of players headed by released running back Le’Veon Bell, a player Buffalo desperately wanted to sign, but saw Kansas City get him instead.
The only “good news” for the Jets is that quarterback Sam Darnold, New York’s third overall pick in 2017 – four spots ahead of Allen – will likely return Sunday after a shoulder injury earlier this month that caused him to miss two games.
BUFFALO, meanwhile, has its own issues.
Its defense ranks 25th in the league in rushing yards surrendered (131 per game), 24th in yards given up (388) and 21st in points relinquished (28).
Compare that to last season when Buffalo was second- and third-best in the NFL in points and yards surrendered, respectively.
Then there’s the Bills’ so-called rushing game, which ranks 27th at an impotent 92 yards per game. The touted tandem of Devin Singletary and third-round draft choice Zack Moss have accounted for a combined 328 yards and one touchdown. Worse, 27 percent of Buffalo’s ground yards have come from Allen.
When asked about Sunday’s game, the third-year QB assessed, “It’s the saying big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.
“Every game you’ve got to find a way to show up or else you have a chance to lose, a la the last two weeks.”
And that’s the concern about the Jets. Buffalo, facing a streak of eight straight brutal games – four of them on the road – needs to find a way to get back to where it was offensively the first quarter of the season. It desperately needs a win, though a close victory over a decidedly flawed foe won’t do much to calm the faithful.
As Allen pointed out, “We’ve got to find ways for our guys to step up and make plays for us and it starts with me.
“I think doing my part sometimes is doing less, allowing myself to trust my teammates around me and not trying to force things down the field.”
He added, “I’ve got to go out there and make the right decisions, make the right throws, allow our guys to catch the ball in space and make some plays for us.”
AND WHILE some of the blame for the current losing streak has fallen on Buffalo’s highest profile players on both sides of the ball, coach Sean McDermott has offered his own responsible party.
“If you want to put it on anyone’s shoulders, put it on mine. I’ve got big enough shoulders. That’s the role of the head coach,” he said. “It’s what we can do better as a football team.
“We’re 4-2 right now (but) that’s in the past. What we can control is what’s ahead of us, our attitude, our effort, our energy, our preparation. We’re going against a Jets team that certainly struggled this year at times, but they’re a good team with talent on that roster.”
As McDermott concluded, “We’ve got to earn the right to win this week.”
Even though it’s a “can’t lose” game.