It wasn't even halftime, yet only one meaningful question remained regarding Sunday night's disembowelment of the Buffalo Bills by their unquestioned masters, the New England Patriots:
What, exactly, would Drew Bledsoe have to do to get himself pulled from a game that was still remotely in doubt?
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Attack head coach Mike Mularkey or offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey on the sideline?
Brandish a gun on national television?
Take one step back after receiving the snap and simply hand the ball to the first Patriot defender to reach him?
Simply playing the worst game of his professional career clearly wasn't going to get Bledsoe where he needed to be -- on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and parka.
No, Mularkey kept sending the clearly lost Bledsoe out there well into the fourth quarter, long after any realistic chance at even making the score cosmetically close had vanished into the Massachusetts evening.
Bledsoe's final humiliation of the 29-6 bludgeoning came early in the fourth quarter, when his third horribly thrown interception of the evening wound up in the hands of Troy Brown, the veteran Patriots' receiver pressed into duty as an extra defensive back.
Now, Brown is obviously a sharp player, given his ability to switch from one side of the ball to the other when forced to do so by injuries to the regular secondary members. But he read Bledsoe like a veteran corner, snaring his first career interception from a guy who had thrown him a dozen touchdown passes when they were teammates in New England.
"Shameful," said Gary, the harshest Bledsoe critic on the BillStuff coverage team Sunday night. "Absolutely shameful."
Of course, that analysis applied to a lot of other Bills on this night. Even if Bledsoe had produced a very good game, it wouldn't have mattered much. Not when Buffalo's incredibly overrated defense couldn't stop the Patriots when it mattered, surrendering 428 yards and 25 first downs, including 151 yards yielded to New England running back Corey Dillon.
But, rather than sticking with the run, run and run some more philosophy that brought the Bills into Foxborough on the closest thing they've had to a hot streak in more than a year, Mularkey and Clements decided, for reasons known only to them, to put this one in Bledsoe's hands.
Needing to come up with his best performance in a Bills uniform to keep his team's season and his own future as a starting quarterback alive, Bledsoe instead produced his worst.
After his previous Buffalo low point (which, not coincidentally, occurred in the Bills' most recent road game), Bledsoe blamed his ineptitude in Baltimore on his offensive line for not protecting him, his receivers for not catching his badly misaimed passes and the officials for not calling penalties on the Ravens' defenders when he threw the ball to them.
Sunday night, Bledsoe was so putrid not even those feeble excuses applied.
On his first interception, the blunder that turned the game inexorably in New England's favor, Bledsoe had plenty of time to throw. It's just that he did so into double coverage, and on first down.
That misfire came immediately after Willis McGahee's 11-yard run, his longest of the night. With a first down from New England's 47-yard line, trailing only 3-0, you might have expected Clements to order up another foray by McGahee.
But no. That wouldn't have been clever enough.
At this point, you don't really expect anything better from Buffalo's offensive game plan when on the road. You would hope, though, that with his intended receiver blanketed by two defenders, Bledsoe would have the sense to throw the ball out of bounds, or maybe even look for a secondary receiver underneath.
Most of the utterances from the crowd at Checkers, the establishment on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo where BS watched the first half, can't be printed in a forum available to children.
The mood, and language, only got uglier from there.
By intermission, the Patriots' long drives had started producing touchdowns instead of field goals, and New England was up 20-0.
Bledsoe's line for the first half -- 10 attempts, four completions, 34 yards and two interceptions. His quarterback rating: 10. That's right, 10. At the same juncture, Tom Brady's was 127.1.
Really, even if Buffalo's coaches didn't think T.J. Losman was ready to make his debut that early with the score that, um, close, could Shane Matthews possibly have done any worse?
We'll never know. The Bills kept sending Bledsoe out there long after it became painfully obvious that he was either physically or mentally incapable of helping them.
If Bill Belichick, the coach who gladly sent him off to Buffalo nearly three years ago, isn't so far inside Bledsoe's head as to render him useless, then his physical skills are so far gone that you have to wonder if he belongs on a roster, much less a field. His second interception was as ugly in its own way as the other two, with the veteran quarterback locking in on his intended receiver from the snap to the throw, a flaw you expect to see in the rawest of rookies.
Bledsoe's Sunday-night meltdown eerily resembled Evander Holyfield's sad performance roughly 24 hours earlier.
As the 42-year-old Holyfield got slapped around the Madison Square Garden ring for 12 rounds by light-hitting never-was Larry Donald, you just wanted it, and him, to stop.
Both he and Bledsoe look just like the athletes who spent the late 1990s at the absolute apex of their respective professions. While they're standing still, at least. Once the bell sounds or the snap leaves the center, though, they're barely even shadows.
At least Holyfield's disintegration harms nobody but him. Bledsoe's first misfire thoroughly deflated a team that came in honestly believing, or at least sounding like it did, that it had a real shot at upending the best team in football. His subsequent bumbling never allowed his teammates to think they might have a shot at getting back in it.
With the Bills of Bledsoe, each game has but one turning point. In each of three wins, Buffalo that came at the opening kickoff, when the Bills seized control and never relinquished it.
On Sunday night, as in their other four losses, the momentum shifted for good following Buffalo's (and usually Bledsoe's) first big mistake.
There's one other big difference between the boxer and the quarterback. As long as Evander wants to keep risking irreparable harm to his brain and fistic legacy, and someone is willing to pay him, he can keep fighting.
Bledsoe, though, can only risk irreparable harm to his team's future if his coaches keep putting him out there to do so.
It's time for Mularkey to show some mercy.
BILLS' MVP: About the only cheery moments after the middle of the second quarter at either Checkers (which, in the name of shameless self-promotion, is one of the 40-plus businesses in Buffalo where you can pick up the print edition of the Niagara Falls Reporter on a weekly basis) or at Mark's house, where the BS team shifted after halftime, came when Brian Moorman jogged onto the field.
Buffalo's best weapon on this night averaged 48 yards on five kicks, including a 58 yarder. The way Bledsoe's offense looked, it might not have been a bad idea to start punting on second down.
Thanks to Moorman's kicks, Fast Freddy Smith's 70-yard punt return late in the third quarter for Buffalo's only score and the usual solid kick coverage, you can fairly say that the special teams played well enough to win. The offense and defense, though, didn't come close.
THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: How do you single out one? Besides the night-long beating Dillon put on the Bills' defense, there was Brady completing 10 passes, the offensive line clearing the way for the passing and running games, and a battered defense that came up with five turnovers while limiting Buffalo to 125 pathetic yards. We'll go with Brown, whose versatility underscores everything that's right about the Patriots.
STAT(S) OF THE WEEK: New England held the ball for 41 minutes and 22 seconds, in no small part because the Patriots were a respectable 7-of-17 on third down, while the Bills were a pathetic 0-for-7.
IF YOU WENT TO BED EARLY: You missed Losman's regular season debut. Which would have been just as well.
Thrown in to mop up in the final moments of the fourth quarter, Buffalo's No. 1 draft pick turned the ball over twice and endured his first sack, all in a span of five plays. Hopefully, he's got a short memory.
WING REPORT: We won't even mention the name of the place that answered the phone a few minutes after 10 p.m. with, "(name of business), we're closed."
If your business is selling wings (and pizza, and subs) in Buffalo, it's probably a good idea to stay open a little bit late when the Bills are playing at night.
Thankfully, there was Bob and John's La Hacienda, which promptly delivered a bucket of flavorful hots and milds to Mark's house midway through the third quarter.
The adjudication process offered a much-needed diversion for those in attendance. The consensus -- nice flavor, if a bit underdone. They weren't blubbery, by any means, but nor did they pack the crispness required for a superior rating. Still, a solid B.
BS FAN OF THE WEEK: Midway through the second quarter, shortly before New England's first touchdown, Bills safety Lawyer Milloy and linebacker Takeo Spikes combined to tackle New England running back Kevin Faulk after a 3-yard gain on first-and-10.
In reference to the absurd tendency of Buffalo's defenders to celebrate such minor accomplishments, I called out, "Somebody do a dance"
Scott leapt off his stool and gladly obliged, with a bit of London Fletcher-esque shimmying followed by the downward double-fisted one-two that's all the rage with the kids these days. That sort of enthusiasm in the face of sure defeat, even if it is laced with sarcasm, deserves recognition.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Nov. 16 2004|