By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
There were some positives coming out of the Bills' 37-10 dismantling in San Diego. They are now officially eliminated from the playoffs, so we can all relax and make our plans for January for the 12th straight year with no fear of having a conflict. For all those who correctly predicted their 5-2 start was a fluke - a mirage - you can smugly say "I told you so" as the Bills continue their total free fall with a 6th straight loss.
Rookie nose tackle Marcell Dareus played a terrific game. He had a sack on the Charger's opening drive, although it barely slowed down Phillip Rivers 6-6 start that engineered the opening 80-yard touchdown drive. Dareus also had a couple pressures and twice stuffed a run for a loss, making it appear he qualifies as one of the few draft successes of recent Bills memory.
Stevie Johnson also looked like the Johnson of earlier in the season with four catches for 114 yards, mostly against top corner Quentin Jammer.
And finally rounding out our list of positives, the play of Bills rookie inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Sheppard led both teams with 14 tackles and looked like another draft pick who just might be a plus for the future. The return of safety George Wilson showed promise, as he made some plays, but Wilson also couldn't begin to stay up with Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who had 7 catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Bryan Scott's alert recovery of Rivers' unforced error in the end zone was the lone defensive highlight of the day.
The second td, by the way, was either a brain freeze by Wilson or totally inept coaching from defensive coordinator George Edwards. Lined up directly across from Gates near the goal line, Wilson inexplicably didn't even try to get a jam on Gates at the line of scrimmage, and Gates beat Wilson easily for a td. There is nothing more fundamental than doing whatever it takes to slow down a big receiver like that and throw off the timing of the play, or it's a virtual certainly the play is 6 points.
As for the non positive, as poorly as Ryan Fitzpatrick played, and he had a miserably inconsistent game, he was not even close to being the reason the Bills were never in this game. Think Tim Tebow would win playing qb for the Bills? Look at it like this; the Broncos scored 10 points in regulation against the Bears before finally winning their game in overtime. Ten points for the Bills is usually not enough to win the first quarter.
How many times have we repeated Chan Gailey's training camp comment that the Bills number ONE priority this season was to stop the run? Yes, we know all about the injuries, but by allowing teams to run at will, it allows quarterbacks to throw when they want to. When they don't face pressure, so much the better. Rivers has been a disaster this season with 17 interceptions coming into this game, but excluding his one bone head disaster leading to the Bills only td, the Bills made Rivers look like an NFL elite qb.
That he is not.
While I still feel Fitzpatrick is not the Bills biggest of many problems, it is becoming more and more difficult to see him as the "franchise qb" he's now being paid to be. Yes, he's physically tough, and we know he's as smart as any signal caller out there.
But when you can't hit the simplest passes from time to time, often missing them badly even while not being pressured, you can't help but wonder what the heck is going on with his focus on the game. It isn't fair to always be playing from behind, and it isn't fair to have a very average receiving corps while playing behind a very average offensive line. The throws of 34 and 53 yards to Johnson were beauties, but when you're 13-34 for 176 yards with two picks and no touchdowns, you're probably not going to win even with a strong defense.
It's also not fair to be without Fred Jackson, who clearly made Fitz better. C.J. Spiller remains too much of a side ways runner who can't begin to take up the gap left by the loss of Jackson. Spiller's 8 yard loss in the 2nd quarter killed what could have been a promising drive, and that play was the latest of many examples that show Spiller still hasn't learned he can't do things he did at Clemson in the NFL.
The coaches don't get off easily, and that certainly includes Gailey. In the 3rd quarter the Bills had a 1st and goal situation at the SD 9 yard line. On both first and second down, they call fade passes to the corner of the end zone, and Fitz didn't give David Nelson or Johnson a real shot at a catch. On third down, no surprise here either, Fitz is sacked and the Bills settle for a field goal.
Worse yet, after the Bills defensive td that pulls them within 16-10 in the 3rd quarter, the Bills "d" forces an apparent 3 and out for the first time in the game. But from their own 30 yard line, the Chargers fake the punt and go for it on 4th and two, and get it! Newly acquired wide receiver Derek Hagan, who did contribute a couple nice catches, was totally out of position on the fake punt, and the responsibility for that falls on special teams coach Bruce DeHaven.
Amazing, that just seven games into this season we were saying the Bills had already surpassed their win total of a year ago when they went 4-4 after an 0-8 start. Now six games later, we're still stuck on five.