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Forward progress seems out of reach for Bills

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Doug Marrone says it’s important to win games in the preseason. If that’s the case, I wonder if the Bills’ head coach delivered a rousing locker-room speech before Thursday night’s preseason clash against the Lions.

The Bills had not fared well in the annual finale against Detroit. I don’t imagine most fans keep track of such esoteric details, but heading into the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills had lost the preseason wrapup to the Lions six years in a row.

Even by preseason standards, it has been dubious entertainment, especially when they play it here. Consider this: In the five previous preseason home finales against the Lions, the Bills had not scored a single first-half touchdown.

So the preseason isn’t entirely meaningless. History shows the final run-through can be a pretty accurate barometer of the Bills’ offense, which has been reliably mediocre for more than a decade now.

Marrone wanted to end this one on a high note. His starting offense hadn’t scored a touchdown against a first-team defense. Embattled quarterback EJ Manuel had been booed off the field at halftime the week before.

But once again, things went badly. The Bills got shut out, 23-0. That makes six straight preseason home finales against Detroit without a single first-half touchdown. Maybe it’s time to kill the series.

Manuel played the first quarter and went 3 for 7 passing for 56 yards. He was sacked twice. Manuel had two 20-yard completions – on a dump-off to Fred Jackson and a pass that deflected to Robert Woods off a defender.

On his one really difficult throw, Manuel had Woods open on a third-down crossing pattern 20 yards downfield and missed him. As usual, Manuel took the most optimistic view of his performance.

“Pretty good,” was his assessment. “Had a couple drops on third down.”

Just once, you’d like to hear Manuel admit he wasn’t good enough, if only to act the role of a franchise quarterback and team leader.

Early in the week, Marrone had said he planned to play most of his offensive starters, some of whom hadn’t had enough time to play together. That included rookie wideout Sammy Watkins, who missed the previous game with bruised ribs and hadn’t played since early against Pittsburgh.

That plan went awry. Watkins reinjured his left ribs when Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer drilled him with his left forearm breaking up a slant from Manuel on the Bills’ second offensive possession. Watkins walked off the field and didn’t return.

Marrone wouldn’t speculate on Watkins’ injury afterward, or whether it would affect his availability for the opener. He has been reluctant to speak in any depth about injuries since declaring that he was 110 percent certain Manuel would be ready for the season finale last year.

Watkins is quickly learning that the NFL game is a lot more physical than college – as Bill Polian warned in a recent interview. Defenders are going to jolt and jostle the kid and make him earn every inch of space. It’ll be interesting to see how his body holds up over a full season.

A lot of players’ health could be compromised if the offensive line doesn’t improve. Manuel takes a lot of heat, much of it warranted, but the guys in front of him aren’t making it easier.

The O-line did little for anyone’s confidence Thursday. On the first possession alone, Manuel was sacked twice and chased out of the pocket on two other plays. And the Lions were playing without four defensive starters.

Marrone was looking for positive signs. He can’t have been pleased. It’s hard to find fault with Jordan Palmer, the latest contender at backup quarterback. Palmer had been with the team for two days and it showed. He threw an interception and essentially drove the team backwards in the second quarter.

Jeff Tuel did not play. Marrone was asked if that meant he was comfortable with Tuel as his No. 2 QB.

“No,” Marrone said. “I wouldn’t say that’s the situation.” He said the organization would still consider bringing in another quarterback.

The first half ended in embarrassing fashion, with Palmer desperately trying to make throws from his end zone. It was 17-0 at halftime. For the second week in a row, the fans in The Ralph booed them off the field.

You’d boo too, if you paid for this wretched a product. In the last three home preseason games – going back to last year’s loss to the Lions – the Bills have been outscored in the first half, 76-3.

There’s no excuse for that, regardless of when the games are played. When a young, evolving team finishes the preseason this way, you bet it matters. Good teams don’t perform this way and turn it around in one week.

It’s probably for the best that they open on the road. If fans booed in the preseason, there’s no telling how they’ll react if it’s this bad when the games count.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com

  • Guy

    Not a surprising performance since this seems to be a pattern that is spiraling downward quickly. Marrone is simply not bright - c'mon man! Why you gonna play your #1 pick if he's not fully recovered? I've been a Bills fan my whole life (40 yrs) and this is the worst its been in recent memory. How can anybody say they are honestly looking forward to the regular season? If you are get your head examined cuz this one's gonna get ugly real fast!

    • Sweet Pea

      I Agree, thats what I said and from the looks of it he was in a lot of pain so that tells me that he was still hurting even with last week off. The bottom line is it do not look good for him because the hit was not that hard.

  • Johnny Football

    Watkins gets injured because EJ cannot get him the ball.

    You better air the ball out in Chicago. Let Williams and hopefully Watkins go up and get it, as accuracy is not your strength.

    Thank goodness I did not have to listen to Murphy call him "Sammy", as I watched the game on the web. Call the players by their last name for goodness sake.

    • Bob

      When he's a co-worker at One Bill's Drive you can call him Sammy.......

      • Johnny Football

        Not on the air. Not professional at all.

      • Family Man

        A "co-worker" Lol!

    • Jules Weinberg

      Murphy makes me pine for Miller

      • Brick Bidenraker

        Murphy makes me Miller (beer) for pain (control)......

      • repomania

        Seriously. He and Kelso are such homers it's brutal. Kelso makes more excuses for EJ, instead of admitting the truth.

    • Family Man

      Ditto with the media made-up nicknames; e.g. "RG 3"

  • ptato22

    I'm pathetically optimistic, despite the rubbish we've seen lately. The Bills' preseason record in 1990 was 0 - 4, where they were outscored 107 to 49. That year was the best the Bills ever were (and by the looks of things, ever to be), losing to the Giants after the infamous "wide right forever". They didn't do a thing in preseason and still weren't a proven commodity, having won only 9 games the year before (I know - it's seems like a lot these days) and losing a heart-breaker to Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. All this crappy play is just a hidden good omen!

    • mariob195

      Yep, I agree.......You are pathetically optimistic....

    • Polish Prince

      That loss to Cleveland was in the 1989 season. In the 1990 season the Bills went to their first Super Bowl with Kelly, Thomas, Reed, Lofton, Smith, Bennett, Talley, Conlan, Tasker, etc

      The collective talent on the 2014 Bills team does equal the individual talent of Jim Kelly. Worse, the collective "heart" of the 2014 bills does not equal Thurman's heart

      1-15 at best

      I am all already changing my schedule to watch Denver or Seattle games. I want to watch real football on Sunday

      • Brick Bidenraker

        Nah...another 6 and 10 year...or close....they will show up for a couple of games, win a couple with luck, and win a couple with the weather.....just like the last few.....

        • Polish Prince

          Maybe. But I would rather see 1-15, and a new owner who cleans house. The perpetual 6-10 seasons are becoming like "Groundhog Day"...they serve no purpose.

    • Brick Bidenraker

      Do you see any players on the field who REMOTELY compare to the players on the 1990 team???

  • mike finnerty

    Bring Tebow in now and start him as soon as possible...I understand that he is nobody to take us to the Super Bowl......but he is what we need right now...A WINNER!...can you still remember John Elway's glum face in the executive box when Tebow would put his Broncos in a winning position week after week?....John knew he did not have the talent to be an NFL Q.B ,in the standard poclet passer fashion, but Tebow made it awfully hard to get rid of him, didn't he?...HE FINDS WAYS TO WIN!....

    • Wally Balls

      Its a little early in the morning for Genny Cream Ale, isn't it Mike?

      • mike finnerty

        the Bills to date, make early morning drinking a must!

    • Steve

      Tebow will never play another game in the NFL. Also, Tebow really helped to turn around the Jets....

      • mike finnerty

        I will wait for EJ to turn around Bills, but won't hold my breathe

        • Steve

          I'm not saying he will. There's no point in replacing the inept for another inept though.

          • mike finnerty

            it is not like Palmer has any winning pedigree...why not try someone who at least has won a game or two

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            And that easy answer, mike, is none other than Tim Tebow.

          • Steve

            If a win or two means a winning pedigree in your book, the Bills should pick up any of the following: JP Losman, Trent Edwards, JaMarcus Russell, Rex Grossman, Josh Freeman, Kyle Boller, David Carr, etc. If there's a guy the Bills should consider, it's Kyle Orton.

      • Polish Prince

        Plus Tebow had a 17.7 QB rating for New England last year in Preseason trying to run an NFL offense from the pocket against 2nd and 3rd string NFL defenses. He is done.

        • mike finnerty

          kind of how EJ has performed isn't it?

      • JT

        He couldnt even beat out sanchez.

        • mike finnerty

          Sanchez actually won a playoff game or two...Let's wait and see if EJ can get us there...wanna bet?

    • Brick Bidenraker

      TEBOW>>>TEBOW>>>TEBOW= WINNER WINNER WINNER!!!!!

      • Lloyd M. Jr.

        I'll join the chorus with you... TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW!
        Come on, everyone, and feel free to join the chorus...

    • JT

      Tebow?If you think what happened in Denver could be duplicated in Buffalo your nuts. The Broncos were very lucky to make it too the playoffs with an 8-8 record. First of all the broncos last 3 games were all Must Win and the Broncos and Tebow responded by getting blown out by the Patriots and the Bills. And then lost 7-6 to a very ,very bad Chiefs team.Remember how he turned the ball over 6-7 times against the Bills weak defense?The win over Pittsburgh had more to do with the Steelers losing 4 defensive starters including 3 D Lineman by the 2nd Qrtr.D.Thomas was the real star of that game by out running the entire Pitt defense on 5 yard passes.The last thing Buffalo needs right now is Tebow and his 46% completion percentage.

      • jwdundee

        8-8 would be progress. The Bills haven't finished .500 or better since 2004.

        • JT

          Ya i know Tebow did it all by himself LOL Im sure the Kicker Matt Prater had nothing to do with it making all those last second clutch kicks. The Broncos made the playoffs despite Tebows poor performance.. I wonder why not a SINGLE NFL team has been interested in him? He was terrible in Denver, he sucked for the jets and was even worse in New England.The Circus is over.

      • Lloyd M. Jr.

        "Tebow?"
        YES, Tebow!
        Tim Tebow reminds me of Michael Vick when he first came into the NFL... often deceptive, and able to make plays out of nothing. If his better option is to run for the 1st Down, as opposed to staying in the pocket and hoping to find an open man, you know full well what he's going to do. Just let Vick be Vick(in this case, let Tebow be Tebow), and watch what he can DO!
        As opposed to taking a leap of faith and landing Tim Tebow, is there really any other viable option? Be honest.

  • Family Man

    If Tuel really isn't worth any consideration release him or trade him now. IMO, the negatives against him all boil down to one pass; the interception again Cleveland(?) last year and prior to that he had a good game.

    • mike finnerty

      Why not play him?...as a backup, he has been cast as a scapegoat to deflect criticism from EJ...now it seems that EJ is making it difficult for the front office to cover for him any more, but I am sure they will find a way...maybe the center isn't snapping the ball correctly!

    • Christopher Vincent

      The interception near the end zone that was returned for a touchdown by KC that cost the Bills the game. That did it for me. He was bad last year, Lewis was better. Now, all the QBs have regressed. Interestingly, this year the Bills have a QB coach. What is going on?

      • Sweet Pea

        I new it as soon as we drafted him and you are rite that play was the dagger for me as well, this guy is just flat out not a starting QB.

  • turtle

    A miserable performance on the field last night. Could we consider cutting almost all of the team -- including the coaching staff, and start over again with other teams cast offs?

    • Brick Bidenraker

      Does anyone REALLY think Doug Marrone has what it takes to coach a bad team at the NFL level???

      • mike finnerty

        absolutely he does and has the ability to make them even worse

  • Bradley Stevens

    The Bills are should get demoted to the CFL.

    • disqus_SZjR7diJ3W

      What?

  • Brick Bidenraker

    O-line is the key...not NEARLY good enough...run or pass...but there were lat year (run anyway)...so where's the difference? This offense should be built around the run game.....40 plus runs a game...with EJ passing safely when needed....move the pocket to slow the rush down....use the tight ends and backs...small ball....at least for the 1st half of the season...then see if EJ gels with the receivers....and the D needs to create turnovers and give the offense short fields.....Bills don't have the O-line or the QB for long drives.....gonna B another 6 and 10 year...or worse....enjoy that remodeled stadium and those premium prices for tickets, parking and everything else....Bill's fans will NEVER learn!!!!!

  • JoeL

    It's now official. The problem with this team is EJ. The team knows it and now we do. There was no discernible difference in team play, factoring in how long Palmer has been here, with either QB. This is a new low point in Bills history. We have had other first round busts. But QB, the anointed team leader? Every major component in this organization has a credibility problem now. WOW!

    • Polish Prince

      Very true.

      The Bills need to recognize this and look for another option now. EJ is as good as he is going to be...which is not saying much.

    • jim

      The problem is with those who appointed EJ as the unquestioned starter, namely Russ Brandon and possibly Doug Moron. The problem will never be solved if the fingers keep pointing at the players.

  • Joel G. Cicero

    Maybe Buffalo should call Brett Favre, he perhaps could at least score a touchdown.

  • mike finnerty

    eight and eight?...I would kill for that right now....career wise....Tebow at Fla. EJ at Fl. State....no comparison...

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      Tebow is a national champion in college football, and has a post-season win in the NFL.
      Can the Bills, or even their head coach, make any such claims?
      I rest my case.

  • don’t ask

    Trent Edwards got cut by Oakland lol, one word Pathetic

  • Dave

    I wonder why O.C. Hackett isn't taking any blame in this offensive mess? Having an unproven coordinator with an unproven QB seems like a recipe for disaster.

  • Dave

    Well at least we're in prime shape to get a top pick in next years draft!...........wait...........oh yeah.......sigh.......

  • Jim S.

    Let's buy em a new stadium!.....NOT!

  • Don

    Can't we just merge the Bills and Browns and build the new stadium in Erie?

    • M jez

      good one Don !

    • Vendettaroad

      Like it - good sense of humor- you'll need this season, and next, and the one after that.

  • crushlimbraw

    (Possum Lodge oath) Quando omni flunkus, moritati. (Translation: When all else fails, play dead.)

  • Austin Hood

    Why is everyone so upset? This is the American way, pay more, get less and above all else blame others for your problems and your mistakes. It's always someone else's fault not yours.

    The quality of everything today is more and more slipshod.

    You would think that if the average lineman is making $500,000 a year, and the top guys are making millions that they ought to be professionals and know what they are doing.

    Truth be told, we probably could put a football team together with all the amateur players in Buffalo and do just as good or better than we are now. Or, we could assemble a team with college players.

    Are these guys that out of shape, too drunk, or drugged to be able to find their own rear ends with radar on the field, or do they just collect their paychecks and go through the motions?

    But look on the bright side, you can pay $98 for your ticket, buy a few $10 beers, and get an $18 fancy hot dog and blow off a lot a steam. Life doesn't get any better than that.

  • Just watching the show

    Same story...different year for the Orchard Park Bills.

  • M jez

    good column Jerry..now just admit that picking Gilmore in the first round was another draft day "head in the sand move" and it will make my year.!!!!

  • UncleBluck

    You get what you pay for...low end/paid coach....low end results...guy was coach of Syracuse and never won more than 7 games in a season and they make him head coach of an NFL team....Google the lowest paid NFL coaches and then match them up with their records and you will see that they coach the worst record teams in the NFL.....

    • jim

      Yet 25-25 as head coach of an average NCAA program was more than good enough for the Bills.

      Ever since the Donahoe era, the front office has found a gold mine in hiring unqualified head coaches and balancing the act with propaganda. Oh, and an occasional threat to boot that there aren't enough bucks in the area to sustain the franchise.

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      As one I used to joust with on another paper's blogsheets rightly said, though: Nothing Good Comes Cheap.

  • jim

    The laughable topic of the Bills prior to the start of the regular season (which gets worse every year) centers around having a functional backup QB when the starter stinks beyond compare.

    http://deadspin.com/why-your-team-sucks-2014-buffalo-bills-1628452314

  • Vendettaroad

    Putting whatever eggs you [or maybe eggheads] have in one basket is a dangerous proposition, particularly when the basket [E.J. Manuel] has a large hole in it [not a NFL QB]. Throw in a sophmore 'college coach' calling the shots and it's a recipe for a looong, looonnng season for the suffering BILLS Fans.
    When people say life isn't fair, just think Buffalo Bills. --- Yikes

    • Moonfeet

      I doubt fairness has anything to do with the fact that the Bills are so bad year after year. An ongoing incompetent front office is more likely the reason. It's been bad since Bill Polian left.

  • Otis

    You guys are all so negative. Didn't your mommies breast feed you? I think you just need a hug.

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      Hey, Otis... didn't your mama or your daddy teach you that truth can be painful?

  • William Kyriakakos

    had the Bills been 5-0 in the pre-season and looked sharp offensively, it would be meaningless come opening day. signing Palmer from the Bears to learn their playbook a stroke of genius! Now we will break our 0-5 all-time record at Soldier Field!

    • Moonfeet

      This Bills team couldn't beat the Bears if they knew what play they were going to call and what defense they were going to use.

    • JT

      I wouldnt say it is Genius because teams do it all the time.But unlike most of the people on here i will reserve judgment till i see them play a game that counts.As bad as the Bills have looked in preseason i still remember many teams that have looked unbeatable in the exhibition games and went on to a losing season.

  • Dave

    Hopefully when the Bills have new ownership Brandon, Whalley and Marrone will be gone at the end of the season.

    • gopher250

      why wait?

  • Moonfeet

    ....could be the worst Bills team since the "glory days"....the word pathetic comes to mind here. Bill Polian...where are you..?

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      The moment Ralphy cut Bill Polian, it was the beginning of the end.

      • JT

        Polian had the best Bills drafts of all time but he also had some very bad ones.Same thing in his time with Indy when his later drafts were terrible.And Remember Peyton Manning fell in his lap. Guys like Manning dont come along to often.But i do agree 100% the Bills went down hill when he left.But he is now 71-72 years old?Im pretty sure he is done running an NFL team

        • Lloyd M. Jr.

          You never know... maybe Polian might come back for a couple of years and groom the next GM...

          Bill Polian has one Super Bowl trophy.

          How many can Ralphy claim?
          I rest my case.

  • mike finnerty

    right on , Lloyd

  • Celtic Tiger

    This team's performance in virtually all aspects of the game over the past ten plus years make me wonder why Ralph Wilson was lionized as some kind of wonderful. He wasn't. Period. He meddled and fired people such as Polian and Butler. He was cheap on all counts while making money hand over fist. And the today's team shows it. I hope whoever winds up owning 'em doesn't follow the same path. The city and fans deserve better.

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      Ralphy couldn't work with people who could challenge him.
      As I suggested to someone else, there should be a memorial Men's Room, or set of memorial outhouses, named for Ralph Wilson; it all fits how wasteful he operated things as owner of the Bills.

      • Celtic Tiger

        True that plus he made a pile of money from both the NFL and taxpayers. I mean who wouldn't take a "free" stadium and then have it named after yourself? And then get worshipped as some kind of wonderful contributor to the city? I mean...

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.