Bender was so bad, that he racked up eight Saturday detentions at fictional Shermer High School.
The Bills were so bad against the Chiefs on Nov. 17 that they racked up 139 yards on 13 penalties during their 17-16 loss. That was the third-highest penalty yardage total in team history.
At one point, it seemed like referee Terry McAulay was going to go over to the Bills’ sideline with that concerned parental look on his face, and slap the back of each player’s right hand while denouncing them as “Bad Buffalo Bills … Bad! … Bad! … Bad!”
Instead, he just kept on calling penalties, figuring they’d learn from their infractions. And though a couple of calls seemed grossly unfair, the Bills unfortunately have developed a bit of a reputation, just like John Bender.
If they keep this up, they’ll be the East Coast Raiders. And players who’ve hung out in the backseats of police cruisers will flock to Buffalo. Draft picks will talk about how their brushes with the law make them perfect Bills.
But at least the team appears concerned.
“Yes, some of (the penalties) were costly,” said Gregg Williams. “We overcame many of them. We emphasized that coming out of the bye week. It’s disappointing. We have to do better than that. We got to improve in that area.”
No one’s disagreeing with that.
Three flags in particular led to 10 Kansas City points. The first was a 15-yard Pat Williams face mask call that turned a harmless 6-yard Priest Holmes second-quarter run into a detrimental 21-yard gain to the Buffalo 48. It gave the Chiefs momentum after the Bills, just a few seconds earlier, had closed to 7-6 on Mike Hollis’ 33-yard field goal. That Chiefs drive ended with a 38-yard Morten Andersen field goal for a 10-6 lead. Buffalo answered with a seven-yard touchdown from Drew Bledsoe to Eric Moulds right before the half, giving the Bills a 13-10 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Buffalo up 16-10, Trent Green threw an incomplete pass on second and seven, but weakside linebacker Eddie Robinson was called for pass interference, giving Kansas City a first down.
On the next play, cornerback Chris Watson was flagged for pass interference also, while covering wide receiver Eddie Kennison. This one was extremely weak. Watson even turned around to knock the ball away, making the contact seem incidental. Didn’t matter, however. That was good for 36 yards, putting the ball at the Buffalo 19.
“There’s several of those I got a no-comment on,” Williams said, mainly in reference to that penalty. He later lamented, “It’s tough, it’s real tough (to cover NFL receivers). Turn your head and make a play on the ball. It’s tough.”
Green scored the go-ahead-for-good touchdown seven plays later, during which Watson was flagged again. That one obviously was declined.
“You hate when the game is on the line for a flag to (decide) big plays in a game,” said free safety Pierson Prioleau. “You like for the referees to let you play. You hope they will let you play.
“Calling Chris Watson for that one penalty was a pretty close call. You would like to see that one be a no-call. I don’t think he could play better coverage than he did. The referee made the call, and then we got a new one … a similar one in the end zone where we’re playing good defense to keep them out of the end zone.”
The good defense went for naught.
Buffalo managed to hold Priest Holmes, among the NFL’s leading rushers, to 104 yards rushing. Too bad he gained 49 of those yards on the Chiefs’ final clock-burning drive when Buffalo was trying its hardest to get the ball back.
Being able to have the top running back run the ball when everyone knows he’s going to run the ball is certainly the mark of a good running team. What that says about the Bills’ defense is another matter.
But Buffalo may simply have been deflated after Bledsoe, with four minutes, 26 seconds left, threw a 37-yard interception to the Kansas City 3 – a pass that was for Peerless Price.
Robinson didn’t think that was the case at all.
“(Holmes) just hit a couple creases and got on the edges and they executed the run plays better,” said Robinson. “They were the same running plays. They’re guys just got our guys, and we didn’t get off the ball soon enough.”
The Bills defense had a chance at forcing a punt if it stopped the Chiefs on third and five from the Buffalo 40 with two minutes, 45 seconds left, but Green again scrambled and got the crucial first down.
“Trent Green made some nice plays, with no place to throw the football,” Williams said. “The coverage was very sound, very good. We utilized a couple of packages that we hadn’t utilized in a couple of years and those guys did a good job in those packages and Trent pulled the ball down and ran, made two big plays. His touchdown was huge, and the third-down conversion at the end. No place to throw it and he was able to make the play with his legs.”
And that was the end of that, basically ending a sloppy effort for Buffalo.
These points underscore it:
On the Bills’ first possession of the second half, they moved the ball 101 yards for a field goal because they had 30 yards in penalties. If they hadn’t had so many penalties that may have been a touchdown drive.
On defense, Buffalo gave Kansas City five first downs on penalties. The team record is 8. The last time the Bills gave up five first downs on penalties was Nov. 11, 2001 vs. New England. That was also under the Williams administration.
“I think (the penalties are) just mental,” Robinson said. “It’s just concentration and practice.”
They need more of both.
The loss dropped Buffalo to 5-5, with five losses in the AFC. In what is shaping up to be a tight race for playoff spots, the conference mark is going to hinder Buffalo.
Also, the next three weeks will be important because the Bills finish their divisional schedule – at the Jets, against Miami and at New England. At 1-2 in the AFC East, 2-5 in the conference, Buffalo can ill-afford to lose any more divisional or conference games.
The heat is on.
“It’s a long season, but it’s a team sport,” said Robinson. “It’s not an offense and defense sport. I think that’s what we as players recognize that sometimes the media doesn’t. But it’s a team sport and that’s how we address it.”
OK team, go get ‘em. Make it a “banner @#$%& year,” as John Bender would say.
Chiefs’ ball, third and nine from the Buffalo 9, five minutes remaining in the game, Buffalo up 16-10.
Kansas City was in a one-back set with Priest Holmes. There were two wide receivers to the left, tight end Tony Gonzales on the right side of the line and a wide receiver going in motion from left to right.
Trent Green got the snap and backpedaled. Despite sending five people out for passes, he found no open because the Bills dropped seven in coverage using their nickel package.
Up front, under tackle Ron Edwards drew a double team and nose tackle Justin Bannan was pushed outside by the Chiefs’ left guard. Left end Grant Irons and right end Aaron Schobel got some push and helped to flush Green from the pocket.
With Bannan led outside, and the Chiefs receivers all running to the edge, the middle of the field was open and Green ran it in for the score. Chris Watson, Pierson Prioleau and Eddie Robinson converged on him, but he was able to duck his head and squeeze into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Watson, incidentally, was called for holding on the play, so even if Green hadn’t scored, Kansas City would have gotten a fresh four plays to put the ball in the end zone anyway.
“What they did is they went man-to-man underneath and we had it isolated over there,” said Green. “They ended up doubling Tony (Gonzalez) and Dante (Hall) was one-on-one and was going to come underneath and (Chris Watson) just grabbed him. I came back backside and looked for my check-down with Priest and they were on him one-on-one and so there was just a lane for me to go. I took off and ran and saw the guys coming at me near the end zone, so I think it's pretty safe to say I just closed my eyes and just dove as hard as I could to get in there.”
“It’s always hard,” said Prioleau, “when you’ve got the right coverage on, people are locked up, and you get the quarterback scrambling (for the touchdown or first down). It’s always frustrating. But I think that’s something we got to put a stop to.”