Since their Week Six bye, the Bills have played in close games every Sunday. Except for their Week 11 win over the Bengals by 18 points (despite trailing by 17 at halftime), no Buffalo game had been decided by more than three points from Week Seven through 12.
That streak came to a screeching halt in Week 13, when the Bills were destroyed in the Metrodome by a banged-up Vikings team, losing 38-14. Buffalo knocked out Brett Favre on the game's first series, picking him off in the process, but sloppy play in all three phases of the game left the Bills with little chance of competing. The Vikings won the rushing-game battle, 210-84, and the Bills had only 10 first downs, an all-around poor effort for a team that was riding positive momentum with all their close finishes the past two months.
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Nobody should be surprised the Bills lost to the Vikings; with the way Buffalo defends the run, Minnesota could have sat Adrian Peterson and still had a terrific day on the ground. Yet in a game where they knocked out a legendary QB and picked off four passes, how did the Bills end up losing by so much?
The answer is talent, or in Buffalo's case, a lack of talent. Players like RB Fred Jackson, WR Stevie Johnson, LB Paul Posluszny and CB Drayton Florence, top performers this season for Buffalo, all would be great pieces to a winning roster, but aren't suited to be stars on a losing team. On Sunday the talent disparity showed, as Peterson, WR Sidney Rice and DE Jared Allen were clearly the best players on the field and they all happened to be wearing purple jerseys.
Bills DE Chris Kelsay called the performance vs. Minnesota, "a step back," and added, "We just didn't show up to play football today. You heard the last few weeks that no one wants to play the Bills. Well, if we play like this, everybody's going to want to play us."
Buffalo was a team nobody wanted to play because of the maximum effort they gave on every play and made up for their lack of talent with toughness and determination. Versus the Vikings they scored early on a Florence pick-six, but then proceeded to allow 38 points in a row over parts of the next three quarters, thanks in large part to four lost fumbles and an interception. When a team has marginal talent, it can't afford to give opponents extra opportunities, and determination can only go so far when trailing by 31 points.
Next week, the Bills take on the Browns, a team that is close to matching Buffalo in the lack-of talent department, before facing AFC East opponents the final three weeks. If the Bills continue to take steps back, they'll be looking at a 2-14 record, which would be a great disappointment considering how well the team played for that stretch in the middle of the season. But if the team can learn from the Minnesota game and play above its talent level, as it did earlier in the season, there will be more close games over the final four weeks.