When I was a teenager, up through my college years, I was pretty good at golf. I had a few par rounds, and kept my handicap around 5. I had the advantage of a local country club that made it very affordable for students to join. I’d play 36 holes a day on the weekends most times, and 18 after work. Just a beautiful life during the summers of my youth.
With adulthood comes limitations. Family commitments and money shortages have meant that golf has become a rare extravagance. But when I play, I usually play alright. I score around 90, but invariably there is one facet of my game that brings me down. When I visited Myrtle Beach this summer, it was my putting (the usual culprit) – I couldn’t sink a 6 footer to save my life. Last year, I remember chunking most of my irons out of the fairway. Other times, my driver will send balls in every direction but straight. More times than not though, my putting is my Achilles heel.
The Buffalo Bills are like this, especially in 2012. Early on, the defense was costing them games. Yet in the last few weeks, they have been much more respectable. That’s somewhat a function of the strength of their schedule, facing some really poor teams down this last stretch of 7 games. Yet out of those 7, they’ve held teams to 20 or fewer points in 5 of those games. For a team where offense is the supposed strength, you’d think they could be at least 5-2 in this stretch, quite possibly 7-0 if they can make the game break their way in the two shootouts.
Yet like my golf game, there is an overriding factor that is outweighing the defense. It also shadows other things like injury and the largely average play of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The thing that holds the Bills from being a success at this point is Chan Gailey’s inability to manage a game properly.
Yesterday may have been Gailey’s ultimate show of ineptitude. This game against the St. Louis Rams was in the bag. The Rams wanted to get home to their warmer Missouri climes ASAP, their playoff hopes all but gone. The Bills defense had shackled Steven Jackson’s running, and Sam Bradford was out of his comfort zone in the open air Ralph Wilson Stadium, missing throws left and right. Yet for their utterly dismal play in the first half, Gailey found a way to allow the Rams to hang around with poor player management and even worse time management.
First of all, is C.J. Spiller the most exciting property the Bills have drafted in many years? What owner (YES YOU RALPH WILSON) would not DEMAND of his head coach to get this guy the ball at every opportunity? In most other NFL cities, C.J. Spiller would be making jerseys fly off the racks with a 1500/2500 (rushing/all-purpose yards) season. He would be the hope of the franchise. Nope, not in Buffalo. He must share time with Fred Jackson, a guy who is still quite good. Yet in Gailey’s offense, it’s rare to see both Jackson and Spiller on the field at any one time – as if a two back set might just be as dangerous as crossing the streams in Ghostbusters (if you recall, they eventually had to cross the streams to beat the evil in that movie, but I digress).
Yet let’s set aside this piece of brilliance, simply because the Bills still win against St. Louis with Spiller on the bench. Fitzpatrick was having one of his better games, and so you have to think he has one of these 3 touchdown performances in him against the Rams.
The Bills get the ball after a Stephon Gilmore interception near the end of the first half (unfortunately, Gilmore’s return was negated by a horrible officiating mistake). 1:08 left at the Rams 49, they reach the Ram 23 in 4 plays, with 32 seconds left, and two timeouts remaining. They then run TWO more offensive plays. TWO. Neither were shots at the end zone. Neither were shots past the 10 yard line. The first was a dive by FRED JACKSON (you don’t have your best player on the field in crunch time, right???) for a loss. The second was a screen pass to FRED JACKSON (again…must I belabor???) for 4 yards. At that point, Gailey has decided, “Whoa, this is kinda scary here, let’s just go ahead and run it down and kick a field goal.” So he takes the final timeout – WITH 11 SECONDS LEFT.
I’m a fan. I’m a fan. I’m a fan. I don’t get paid to know this. I’m a fan. Yet I know that A FIELD GOAL IS A 5 SECOND RUN OFF. Chan Gailey is the paid head coach of the Buffalo Bills (though by his own admission, he does nothing in terms of defense, which makes him a glorified offensive coordinator). So this guy is a professional, have I established this? And he has not yet figured out that you run the clock down to 5 seconds for a field goal to end the half??? They make the field goal for the 6-0 lead, but leave 6 seconds on the clock. The kickoff return for St. Louis is snuffed out, the teams go to the half, but the point is made – as a strategist, Chan Gailey has failed. If the kickoff is returned for a touchdown, he looks like a complete buffoon. It’s not about the result, it’s about the thought process. This is something you expect when you earn a salary at a job. There are peewee coaches who would get this. When you want to win, you get this stuff right.
You then have a debacle early in the 4th Quarter that is a head-scratcher at best. 4th and 7, Rams 37. There are several ways to play this, and as a coach consistency is the biggest asset. Gailey hasn’t been consistent this. Early in the season, he would punt in this situation invariably. Last week, he kicked a field goal in this situation (that Rian Lindell made with room to spare). This week, he sends out Lindell, but then gets cold feet. He balks and calls a timeout, and sends out the punt team that gets one of the best results one could get from a punt – downed inside the 5 yard line. I thought the punt was the right call to be made given the circumstance. Yet Gailey’s indecision cost the team a valuable timeout. And I don’t care if the Bills go and score 21 points in the final 10 minutes to make it a rout – clock management always should be a vital concern in an NFL game, and blowing timeouts is poor clock management.
And then you have the final 42 seconds, which barely masqueraded as a 2 minute drill. Never mind that a field goal gets them to overtime. You have Fitzpatrick gunning a 35 yard bomb downfield to Graham that was nearly picked off. That left 2nd and 10, which meant STL could blitz and sack Fitzpatrick. And then the final nail, the inevitable interception. While I admire an attempt to hit the long ball to Graham, as an NFL coach you should have an offensive setup to gain 40 yards in 3-5 plays to get yourself into field goal range. Execution or not, we did not see that. We saw desperation followed by incompetence.
Chan Gailey lost that game for the Buffalo Bills. It’s not the first, and certainly won’t be the last.