By Ed Kilgore
Although the Bills did finally get around to playing some defense for a change, which is a bit encouraging when the bar is set as low as it is right now, the 21-9 loss at Houston puts the Bills at 3-5 at the halfway point of the season with a game against the Patriots in Foxboro next on the schedule. If there is ANY game in recent years that is an L before the opening kickoff when it comes to the Bills, this one is it.
The temptation, as always, is to say let's face it, Chan Gailey isn't getting the job done and neither is gm Buddy Nix so let's just blow it up and start over. Again.
As tempting as that might be, that's exactly the wrong thing to do in this instance, even though I'm totally baffled at why Gailey totally forgot the running game in the second half against the Texans. Incredibly, with both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson healthy, the Bills ran the ball only 3 times while chucking it 23 times in the second half. While it's true the Texans are an excellent defensive team that stacks the box against the run, it's just as true the offense has to find some kind of balance to have success.
But that's a nit pick, and I'd rather talk about the bigger picture.
Gm Buddy Nix surprised a few people earlier in the week when he admitted publicly what virtually all of us knew, that his priority while still here was to find a franchise quarterback. Nix wasn't saying signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a franchise-qb deal was a mistake, but it certainly wasn't a vote of confidence.
I'll defend Nix trying to fix other aspects of the team he inherited first, however, and believe the team has upgraded its talent level and depth by quite a bit since his arrival. What's becoming obvious now is just how low the level of quality players he inherited really was. It's way too early to call Mario Williams a bust too, even though he hasn't played like an elite $96 million defensive end should play so far. He did play well against his former team with a sack and a couple tackles for losses, but it probably had more to do with being fired up for the opponent than it did with his recent wrist surgery.
Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmour has had his ups and downs as most rookies do no matter what their talent level, and ditto for left tackle Cordy Glenn, but I believe they will be outstanding players at two very important positions for years to come. Spiller is still quite young, along with offensive linemen Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has a bright future. Jairus Byrd has a Pro Bowl under his belt at safety and is under 25.
There are other promising young players, but there is still a way to go, starting at qb.
But even with his faults, Fitz could certainly use a true #1 wide receiver like the Texans have in Andre Johnson. Stevie Johnson gets open and would be terrific as a second target, but after that, it's hit or miss. Yes, David Nelson is missed, but he's at about the same level as Donald Jones. Rookie T.J. Graham actually shows promise and is the fastest of them all, but has a way to go.
The bottom line is, everything can't be fixed at once, and for those who really thought the Bills could go from 6-10 to the playoffs the next year were overly optimistic to be sure. But with 8 games left, the Bills still have a lot to play for even if it's pretty clear they are all but mathematically out of the playoff picture already. An 8-8 finish, or 5-3 second half, would be an encouraging sign that would signal continued progress.
If that happens, it's an easy call to keep the status quo in terms of the coaching staff - yes, even d-coordinator Dave Wannstedt - and front office. If not, it gets dicey.
With Fitz as the qb, the Bills don't even need to make a pretense of going after a big name coach. Bill Cowher still isn't coming.
It might make the fans and media feel better for another house-cleaning, but it will not get the Bills to the playoffs any faster. In fact, just the opposite. Already I think the Nix-Gailey combo shows far more football knowledge and capability than any coach/gm duo since the Bills started their dozen year playoff drought.
In the next draft, the Bills will take that "franchise" qb if they are sold on that player, and Fitz will be a part of the equation as a starter while the younger one develops or as his backup. Linebackers are also a need, but again, it can't all be fixed at once.
They say there's no such thing as "moral" victories in the NFL, but don't believe it. The Bills were more than competitive against a team that is now 7-1 and if not the best team in the AFC, one of the top 3. The defense looked like it was more than casually interested, and had the offense helped a bit, the result might have been a shocker.
Will the "shocker" come next week at Foxboro?
Refer back a couple paragraphs. It can't all be fixed at once.