Updated: 12/01/08 12:17 AM
Jerry Sullivan: Offensive coordinator missed his calling
By Jerry Sullivan
News Sports Columnist
Sorry, but I don't know where to begin. Maybe I should waste one of my timeouts and think things over. Or better yet, why not allow one of the players, a respected and highly credible veteran, to get it started for me?
Lee Evans, what was the problem with the offense Sunday?
"It's really hard to put your finger on one thing," Evans said after the Bills' perplexing, 10-3 loss to the 49ers. "But when you get down there [the red zone], you've got to have a certain attitude that you have to get in the end zone. You let your linemen be your linemen and you let Marshawn [Lynch] do his thing. We really didn't have a whole lot of balance down there, and it cost us."
Uh, Lee, you put your finger right on the problem. There's plenty to criticize about this mind-blowing loss. I can't believe I'm saying this, just two weeks after the fact, but it was worse than the Cleveland loss on Monday night. In terms of offensive futility, squandered opportunities and dumb coaching, it ranks with the worst home losses in recent times.
But this one comes down to the play calling in the red zone, and to offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. We had such high hopes for Schonert, who seemed like a refreshing departure from his predecessors in the job and, until recently, had managed to avoid being the most criticized man in town.
It's open season now. Evans took his shots. His teammates were muttering veiled criticisms of the play calling. That's good, because at some point it's not enough for Joe Twelvepack to spew second-guesses at his wide-screen TV. When the players are howling along with the masses, you know there's a problem.
Really, what was Schonert thinking on second-and-goal at San Francisco's 2-yard line midway through the second quarter?
The Bills were in the midst of an 18-play drive that had carried over from the end of the first quarter and dragged on for more than eight minutes. The 49ers' linemen were beaten and exhausted. The Bills' offensive linemen were pushing them all over the field and having one of their best games of the season. Trent Edwards had a sore groin.
So what do they do? With 2 yards to go and three plays to gain them, Schonert calls for a pass on second down. It was tipped at the line and fell incomplete. And on third down, what inspired genius followed? Trent Edwards rolled out to his right, couldn't find anyone open, and had to throw the ball away.
Rian Lindell then plunked a 20-yard field goal off the left upright, his first miss inside 40 yards in 53 tries. They come away with zero points. Edwards gets some of the blame for calling an audible on the third-down pass. But it's the coaches' job to insist on a run. And the second-down pass was a soft, inexcusable call.
"That's an example right there," Evans said. "I think we had all the momentum running the football. We ran the ball to get down there. The line had a good rhythm, had a good feel, and Marshawn as well."
They could have gathered some momentum if they had won this game. The Bills could have been 7-5, riding a modest two-game winning streak and harboring playoff hopes. Now they're 6-6. They've lost five of six, three straight at home!
Playoffs? They've lost consecutive home games to the Browns and 49ers — bad teams. The Bills aren't a playoff contender. Right now, they're one of the worst half-dozen teams in the NFL. They're good enough to blow out Kansas City. Who else would they beat now? Detroit, St. Louis ... Cincinnati, perhaps?
They wasted a sensational performance from Lynch, who ran 16 times for 134 yards, a staggering 8.4 yards a carry. Wait a second, haven't I seen those numbers before? I've got it. Thurman Thomas in the Giants Super Bowl. He went 15 for 135 that day. And what have Bills fans been screeching ever since?
Why didn't he run more?
Yeah, do you think they might have handed off to Lynch a time or two more, considering that he was running with more determination than a Wal-Mart shopper on Black Friday?
What do you suppose the coaches think when they see 16 for 134 on the stat sheet? That assumes, of course, that the offensive staff was thinking at all Sunday.
They wasted four more timeouts, three on offense and one on special teams. What do these guys do with their 16-hour days at One Bills Drive, if they can't get the players and personnel on and off the field in time? Christmas shopping online?
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bills were on the march again. J.P. Losman was the QB now, with Edwards sidelined by a sore groin. On third-and-1 from the 49ers' 6-yard line, Fred Jackson lost a yard (why it wasn't Lynch, I have no idea). Then, with the play clock winding down, Losman had to call timeout on fourth-and-2.
There were several options. With 10:05 left, a field goal would have been acceptable. Considering his success to that point, handing off to Lynch would have been OK. The Bills went for the pass. Losman was chased out of the pocket and underthrew the ball to Evans. Again, no points.
The 49ers wouldn't quit. They kept bungling situations and handing the ball back to the Bills, inviting them to come back and win. After all, no West Coast team had won in the Eastern time zone this year. The Bills had every chance to keep that streak alive. But they weren't up to it.
Boy, what a dreadful game. It was even worse than those three dog games on Thanksgiving. And it was ugly afterward, with the rain falling on the disgruntled Buffalo fans as they trudged out of the stadium. As the Bills went out the tunnel, fans threw cups and plastic bottles and called for Lindell to retire.
A year ago at this time, they were also 6-6 and looking ahead to a home game against Miami. They were seen as plucky overachievers. This is a different sort of 6-6, a sad, dysfunctional mess. Maybe it's better that next week's home game against the Dolphins will be played in Toronto.
"I mean, the record speaks for itself," Evans said. "You can't say that you're one thing and show up on the field and be something else. We are a .500 football team. That's what we are."
After the great start, it's hard to believe they're a .500 team. Even harder to swallow, I suppose, is the fact that they're even worse than that.