It’s only one game, but for the Bills it looms as a major cautionary tale.
On the surface, Buffalo’s 19-16 loss to the Browns on Sunday afternoon at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium might be viewed by the faithful as a mere hiccup in a 6-3 start.
The Bills’ flaws were in full flower in a poorly-coached game — both ways — that was there for the taking.
Yeah, Buffalo still holds the No. 1 wild-card playoff position in the AFC, but the defeat by the Browns leaves them only a game ahead of Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Oakland (all 5-4) and 1 ½ up on Tennessee (5-5).
Before this past weekend, the Bills’ six victims were a collective 9-42 and it could well be argued that Cleveland, now 3-6, is a much better team than any of those Buffalo beat, especially on the road.
To be sure, the talented but dysfunctional Browns are way underachieving and it’s a mystery how over-his-head coach Freddie Kitchens keeps his job.
But Bills boss Sean McDermott and his offensive coordinator Brian Daboll hardly distinguished themselves.
McDermott continues to have clock-management issues and with wasting timeouts … he actually used one coming out of the two-minute warning during Cleveland’s game-winning drive.
And Daboll ...aye-yi-yi. It’s a given that most every fan thinks they can do a better job than their team’s play caller.
There are the usual complaints such as rookie running back Devin Singletary getting only 11 touches against Cleveland (8 carries and 3 receptions in 11 targets), wide receiver John Brown drawing a disproportionate number of targets (11 with 5 catches) compared to Cole Beasley, who seems to be open more often, albeit on shorter routes. Why is Josh Allen subjected to injury risk with what seem excessive called quarterback runs?
OF COURSE, the assessment of any offensive coordinator is directly tied to whether his team is scoring. And the Bills aren’t.
They’re in the bottom quarter of the NFL in points scored (just under 20 per game) and they’re the lowest scoring team with a winning record in the league.
Then, too, Buffalo is at its worst offensively in defeat. In losing to New England, Philadelphia and Cleveland, the Bills have scored 10, 13 and 16 points … an average of 13 per.
To date, they’ve scored 20 touchdowns — 10 each rushing and receiving — or barely two a game.
And, suddenly, the remainder of Buffalo’s season looks different from a week ago.
Clearly, the road trips to New England (8-1) and Dallas (5-4) projected as losses as did the home game with Baltimore (7-2) but now the visit to Pittsburgh has joined that category.
The meetings with Denver (3-6) and the Jets (2-7) at New Era Field figure to be wins, but what about Sunday’s game at Miami where former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has personally dashed the Dolphins’ front office’s tanking plans to earn the No. 1 overall draft choice? He’s led the team to two straight wins and, suddenly, Miami is 2-7, two full games behind Cincinnati (0-9) in the race for the NFL’s bottom.
And, it’s worth noting, though the Bills won 31-21 here, the Dolphins actually outplayed them, out-gaining Buffalo in yardage, 381-205, having a seven-minute edge in time of possession and down only three with barely 1 ½ minutes to play.
A victory in Davie, Florida is hardly a guarantee.
THAT’S THE short-term reality.
Long-term could be worse.
Observers are beginning to wonder whether McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane made major mistakes on their last two first-round draft choices.
Allen, the top pick a year ago, seventh overall after Buffalo traded up, has been wildly inconsistent.
Over his 20 starts, in two seasons, he’s thrown 20 touchdown passes with 19 interceptions. He’s fumbled 19 times, losing six, and been sacked 50 times.
Even more concerning though, Allen is completing a mere 56 percent of his career passes — 60 this season, but his percentage is tied with Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield for the worst of any QB joining the league this year, or last — a group of eight — and throwing at least 125 passes.
His passer rating for the current season, 81.6, is the lowest of any of them other than Mayfield (75.3).
And the question that vexes Bills fans is that while Allen is touted for his “big arm,” his inaccuracy on long passes borders on embarrassing.
Clearly, there’s time for him to figure it out, but there’s good reason to think he’s not the franchise QB McDermott, Beane and the fanbase had hoped.
Then there’s this year’s top selection, defensive tackle Ed Oliver, taken ninth overall.
All through training camp he wasn’t disruptive and didn’t stand out. When asked about Oliver, McDermott touted that he was improving and got along with his teammates … never addressing actual performance.
Talk about damning with faint praise.
Oliver started the first seven games but after making a miniscule contribution
statistically, McDermott ended the charade by benching him in favor of veteran Jordan Phillips. The demotion was particularly embarrassing as Star Lotulelei, with a five-year $50 million free-agent contract, is still starting and his stats are twice as bad as Oliver’s.
In the loss at Cleveland, neither of them did enough to even make the stat sheet and Lotuleilei was notably run over by Nick Chubb on the game’s second play for 21 yards.
Even now, barely half-a-season into his NFL career, it seems Oliver, at 287 pounds, is too light to play tackle, and that given his unusual quickness he’d be better served as an end rushing the passer.
Right now though, his future is in limbo, as is Allen’s … and the Bills’ for that matter.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)