All human beings are created equal, yet all human beings believe in categorization. You are a Democrat or a Republican, a jock or a nerd, an optimist or a cynic. Even being a sports fan puts us in a category; we are Red Sox or Arsenal or Sabres fans, a distinction that immediately pits us against millions of other people.
To me the worst sort of categorization happens when you watch the Bills lose for over a decade. Eventually, we all have to take sides when it comes to what is wrong with the team. Why are the Bills so bad and who can we blame?
Ten plus years has given us plenty of chances to blame pretty much everyone involved with the franchise. They draft the wrong players and hire the wrong coaches. They run the wrong schemes and plays and make the wrong decisions. Flip a few of those around and you have your basic set of excuses for any length of time.
What’s downright terrifying is that we’re not just throwing excuses at the wall. The things we blame for the failures of the Buffalo Bills are usually correct, and that really is something to consider. Talking exclusively about yesterday’s Bills game seems pointless because we already know the problems, we’ve known them for years.
In fact, we knew what they would be going in. Trent Edwards didn’t get the ball down the field and often held on to it for too long. The offensive line didn’t protect and Lee Evans didn’t get involved in the offense at all. Two drops by a sub-par receiving core led directly to interceptions and points against an ineffective defense. The Bills got beat by a team that is much more talented than they are.
The reason I bring up categorization is because when we discuss the Bills we often fall into these categories of blame. Some people think the problem is Trent Edwards, others think it is Ralph Wilson and others think Chan Gailey isn’t good enough.
They shouldn’t have drafted C.J. Spiller if they aren’t going to use him. They should bench Edwards. They should throw the freaking ball to their number one receiver. These are all valid complaints, but it alarms me that some people settle in with just one camp. Not having Trent Edwards as the starting quarterback does not solve the problem that is the Buffalo Bills.
But what does?
No one knows that answer, and this helplessness reminds me of a conversation I had about the Bills sometime last week. I was talking to Jonah Bronstein, a reporter at the Niagara Gazette who covers the Bills. We were talking about some of the things Football Outsiders said about the Bills and drifted to the quarterback discussion.
Eventually Jonah said he sometimes thinks quarterbacks can be “broken” or “ruined” and I mentioned that I often think the same thing. Believing this can be a dangerous thing: can good players be ruined? For as often as we like to play the “we should have drafted Player X instead of Player Y” game, it really is impossible to determine what would have happened to those players.
What if Aaron Rodgers didn’t sit on the bench for three years before taking over in Green Bay? What if he was drafted by the Bills and started right away? Would he be the same quarterback in a different system with a different group of players around him, or would his confidence get shaken? Would an injury set back his progress and kill something that could be special?
It’s the classic argument of nature vs. nurture, but I think it’s essential to the discourse. Is the problem this thing or that, or is it that the Buffalo Bills as a franchise is not a climate designed to see success? Have the poor draft classes, poor coaching choices and years of futility converged to create a no-win situation no matter what pieces you bring to the table?
It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Is every Bills fan that is watching Luck or Mallet dazzle on Saturdays doomed before we even get to the Draft? What if no quarterback can succeed with the line we have in place, or the receivers we give him to throw to? Is that why shirts like this exist, or is there something else there? And if there isn’t, what do you change first?
If everything has already gone wrong for so long, what can you possibly root for? Improved blocking? It’s clear to me that there is not just one thing to blame, but what needs to be fixed first before the other things can fall into place?
If we already know what the scores will be, what do we need to focus on?