I wake up on an old couch, mouth dry, head slightly pounding, and a faint smell of stale beer in the air. Am I in college? No, it’s worse– I’m lying in the den of the enemy.
I relocated to Albany, NY in 2010 and have made friends with a faction of Bills fans I’ve grown to deeply respect. Naturally, we all bought tickets for last Sunday’s game. And while a beverage or two was consumed the night before, the principal reason for the headache is that the house I’m in is literally shaking from bass as my Bills friends jump up and down to what has to be the most godawful collection of music ever compiled–the Nick Mendola ‘Let’s Go Bills’ raps. (If you’re not familiar with Mendola’s work, you can torture your eardrums here.)
Following some groaning and jawing, we pack into a couple vans and head out to the stadium for pregame festivities. Similar to some other teams, the Buffalo Bills actually play away from their namesake city in Orchard Park, NY. The traffic lines are pleasantly quick and we are parked and grilling in short order. I use the word ‘grilling’ loosely here, as Buffalo’s conception of tailgating falls slightly short of Kansas City’s standards. Below you will find me saddened by a “Buffalo tailgate.”
You’ll also notice the scenery; rather than park in the stadium, most fans seek out an empty lot to park their car and walk to the stadium. We shared the gravel lot of a rundown motel with 30 other cars. While money is saved on parking, we literally traversed a thicket of woods to reach Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Upon entering the stadium each fan is handed a white towel to wave. I turn to a fellow Chiefs fan and exclaim we should take the towels, as we need something to wipe *** ***** with. I share a good-hearted laugh with him and his wife, we congratulate each other on the Chiefs impending victory, high-five, and go our separate ways. A few minutes later I’m settled in with my 50 yard line seats. Granted, they’re 50 yard line in the nose bleed section seats, but securing six affordable yet adjacent tickets is no small feat. The one thing I notice as the clock ticks down is the lack of rowdiness in the stands. This remains a fact during the entire game. Except for a few critical third downs, Bills fans fail to really make that much noise and prefer to sit on their aluminum bleachers than interact with the game. At least Kansas City still has that going for it.
As with most home openers, the Air Force conducts an impressive flyover. The crowd is also entreated to two parachutists. The first merely carries a Bills flag, but the second SEAL to jump is dangling a large American flag and is able to circle the stadium for almost the entire national anthem before coming to the ground. Awesome stuff.
I’m delaying discussion of the game itself right now, because what comes next hurts to relive. I believe the Chiefs could have won this game, even if they got outplayed, and point to a few key plays the game hinged on. The first came three minutes into the game when Kansas City was faced with a 4th-and-3 at the Buffalo 46. Crennel must have heard me from all the way up in row 301 because after screaming for him to “take the ******* **** *** ** **** ******,” the offense comes back out onto the field to go for it. Unfortunately, the team takes too much time to get set up, takes a delay of game penalty, and the Chiefs punt on 4th-and-8. I can already tell this will be one of those flecks in time when I miss Todd Haley. The Chiefs ran around with indecision and confusion not knowing whether the punt team should be on the field. Are you kidding me? I never want to see my team punt on 4th and short inside the opponent’s territory. With Haley, you know the offense would’ve been ready to stay on the field rather than running around trying to figure out what to do (although the Chiefs may have still incurred a delay of game penalty because the play call couldn’t get relayed onto the field under Haley). I lay this at the feet of Crennel. I’m also frustrated that a timeout wasn’t called. I’m willing to burn a time out to keep possession of the football. This was poor execution on both a strategic and tactical level.
True exasperation set in later in the game when Peyton Hillis fumbled at the one yard line. Yes, Matt Cassel was sacked midway through the second quarter and fumbled the ball away. That sucked, but it’s going to happen again at some point. I don’t care how good the line is, expect your quarterback to go down once or twice during the game. This hit is likely to come when the quarterback is unprotected and vulnerable, increasing the likelihood of fumbling the football. The fumble on the one yard line shouldn’t have happened. It caused Kansas City to spend halftime down 21-0 and demoralized.
One other play brought me physical pain, and it falls solely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to the first point of anguish. At the beginning of the fourth quarter the Bills had just returned a punt for a touchdown to go up 28-3, and the Chiefs were faced with 4th-and-14 on the Buffalo 34. To those of you who didn’t catch the game and/or misread that, the Chiefs had the ball 34 yards from the end zone while down 28-3 with 15 minutes to come back. There is no reason to willingly give the other team the ball. So the team trots out Dustin Colquitt to pooch a little 31 yard punt. Don’t expect to win with a defeatist attitude.
At this point I lose all hope and submit to the swarming sea of Bills fans. One man offers me a “Kansas City Chefs” shirt which I begrudgingly don in acknowledgment of defeat. Another fan with whom I’d traded sharpened barbs earlier in the game offers me a fittingly bitter beer. In exchange, I vocalize my respect for their linemen. Both sides. The five sacks Buffalo recorded were not because Cassel indecisively stood around in the pocket all day-–the Chiefs failed to provide adequate pass protection. Even worse was the run defense. The Bills are not stacked with offensive playmakers and it was easy to predict play calling slanted towards the ground game. Yet C.J. Spiller averaged 8.2 yards per carry. The defensive line wasn’t pushed around. It was bullied.
In sum: I (tentatively) remain in camp Cassel. I’m putting Crennel on a short lease and encouraging him to grow a spine. And I remain suspicious of the front three on defense. I guess it could’ve been worse–last year I bought my dad tickets to the Jets game, and we sat there and watched the Kansas City offense net seven yards in the first half. At least we sniffed the end zone the first half of this game, it’s just, you know, that turnover thing.