Bills next test is showing they can bounce back
As far-fetched as it might have sounded, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick formally bid farewell to the Buffalo Bills' shot at a 16-win season.
''We were hoping to go 16-0,'' Fitzpatrick said Monday. ''But, obviously, not too many teams do that.''
In the big picture, a 3-1 start isn't too bad either.
Though perfect no longer following a 23-20 loss at Cincinnati on Sunday, the Bills' objective is unchanged. If this season is about a no-name group of Bills players proving they are deserving of respect, then the next test comes in showing they're capable of bouncing back from adversity.
''We'll be mad about the game for a little bit longer and move on from there,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''And we're doing whatever we can right now to prepare in trying to get to 4-1.''
That opportunity will come on Sunday, when the Bills host the inconsistent and underachieving Philadelphia Eagles (1-3).
The tables have suddenly turned in Buffalo. After becoming the first NFL team to rally from 18-point deficits in consecutive weeks, including a stunning 34-31 win over New England a week earlier, the Bills got a lesson in what it's like to be on the other side. They squandered a 14-point, second-half lead to the Bengals, who scored 10 points in the final 4:09.
''It was definitely one that got away from us. Everybody in this locker room is frustrated,'' receiver Stevie Johnson said. ''We know we're a better team than we showed out there.''
It was an uncharacteristic loss for a Bills team that had raised attention around the NFL for its 3-0 start. And the loss to the Bengals was the type of performance reminiscent of Buffalo's inconsistencies as part of a 4-12 finish last year.
The high-tempo offense sputtered Sunday. Buffalo was limited to 13 points on offense - the other touchdown came on safety Bryan Scott 43-year interception return. The Bills had season lows in total yards (273), first-downs (12) and only crossed midfield three times.
That's a significant dropoff for a unit that had scored a league-leading 113 points through the first three weeks.
And the Bills' revamped defense looked more like the porous unit that couldn't stop the run last season.
Buffalo allowed a season-worst 171 yards rushing and couldn't get off the field in the second half. The Bengals scored 20 points on four of their final five possessions, and capped the win on Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal as time ran out.
After allowing 458 yards offense to Cincinnati, the Bills have now allowed 450 yards or more in each of their past three games. According to STATS LLC, the only other time the Bills allowed 450 yards in three straight games was in November 1975.
''It's concerning,'' coach Chan Gailey said. ''You can't give up those kind of yards on a consistent basis and expect to win.''
It's even more of a concern, because the Bills defense was supposed to be improved this year. Aside from adding veteran linebackers Shawne Merriman and Nick Barnett, the Bills hoped to plug a big hole along the line by drafting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the No. 3 pick.
''It's disappointing but not discouraging by any means,'' safety George Wilson said. ''We saw the plays we left out there on the field, whether it was giving up big plays, a few penalties, missed tackles. Everything we did yesterday was self-inflicted.''
Rather than getting off to their first 4-0 start since 2008 and maintaining their early one-game edge in the AFC East race, the Bills now find themselves tied with New England.
''We took a step back,'' receiver David Nelson said, before looking ahead to playing the Eagles. ''This is an opportunity for us to prove who we say we are.''
NOTES: The Bills have scored 20 or more points in each of their four games this season, matching last year's total. ... The Bills have scored 62 points off of 11 turnovers. ... Buffalo's allowed 1,407 yards over its past three games. That's the third-highest total in team history, dating to a pair of three-game stretches in 1975, according to STATS.