Why We Look Back

The Buffalo Bills screwed it up on Thursday Night Football. Anyone that didn’t see it coming probably should have known better.

They were 5-2 and playing a division rival on the road after a triumphant home win which announced that, hey, maybe this team is for real this time. Maybe after 17 years of failure, this year can be different.

And then the dramatic crash back to Earth began in earnest. Buffalo went to the Meadowlands and simply got got, losing to a Jets team with a worse record in a game that was never really close. An over-the-hill quarterback threw convincingly against a defense known for its takeaways, a defense which came up empty on the night.

If that storyline sounds familiar, that’s because it’s basically the exact same thing that happened to the Bills in 2011 at the same point in the season. The Bills lost to the Jets to fall to 5-3 and went on to lose seven straight games after Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a contract extension. I know this because we’re in the 2011 season on the DroughtCast, which is about the only thing we’ve posted here since January.

That’s because it takes up a lot of damn time. We’re trying to publish five a week, though lately we haven’t been getting close. Part of that is because I am e x h a u s t e d, but also I honestly think it’s because I can’t bear to go through the 2011 season while it mirrors so closely to what the Bills are currently doing.

On the DroughtCast we have the benefit of hindsight, a tool we’ve wielded powerfully to establish narratives and collect trends. It’s essential to make it listenable, I think, but also to parse it all on a study-able level. Over the seasons we’ve talked again and again about the structural failures in the franchise that accounted for all that losing. The power vacuum that was created by Ralph Wilson’s entropy is very real, and it’s something from which the franchise has yet to recover. On Thursday night, it was hard not to feel the spectre looming.

Some people can shake off the loss as a fluke, but I just can’t do that. I’m not gonna be that guy. Right now I might be one of the three people on Earth who have been the most intimate with Bills failure this calendar year, and the other two are not exactly singing “Shout” after Thursday night.

And maybe doing this podcast has actually ruined me. I’m too well-versed in the ways this team fails. The losses have blunted my sense of reason with sports and nothing feels right anymore. Maybe all this is just postgame hyperbole. But if you really look close at the last 17-plus seasons of Bills football, if you brush off the rubber field turf pellets and squint just a bit, you see the cycles at play.

You can feel the routine of it all sink into your very bones. It poisons the way you look at everything, even if you try to remain optimistic and say that things will change. Trust the Process all you want, but know the virus is inside us all. Know that’s still you sitting on your hands, creating the din of stadium noise that comes when the opposing team starts to come back at the Ralph late. It’s in the media hemming and hawing over the Same Old Bills in the press box. We’re all still expecting the other shoe to drop. Because it always has. Because no one has given you any reason to think otherwise. When you really think about it, no one has ever actually delivered much of anything to you in Buffalo sports. Nothing but failure, that is.

It all could turn around. They could absolutely bounce back, beat the Saints at home and win enough games to earn a date on Wild Card. And they still totally should — this league is mediocre enough and the AFC is bad enough that there’s no reason the Bills can’t be one of the better ‘OK’ teams. But pull out the long list of mediocre NFL seasons in which the Bills were less bad than usual. Check the final standings. Ask me the name of the podcast again. Look at the schedule and the tough games coming and where the losses can pile up.

Until it’s over — until the Drought is weighed and measured and destroyed once and for all, the pall will be there. The cloud will grow. It got bigger on Thursday night. It could be 2011 all over again. Or maybe 2014. Or maybe some new, special way to let it slip it away will befell this franchise. The Bills could have put 2011 to bed on Thursday night. They let it linger.

There’s no way of knowing what the future holds. Not unless you’ve studied the past hard enough to maybe feel it coming.

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