Bills High Hopes Dashed In The End

After jumping to a 5-2 start at the beginning of the season, Bills fans were teased into 'Bill-ieving'. But losing eight of the final nine games and blowing a 21-point lead on the Patriots shows just hoe far the team still has to go.

Great start dissolves into bad finish

   The Bills won two more games than they did in 2010, which is numerical progress, but the way they got there would not qualify as genuine feel-good process. After a four-win season in coach Chan Gailey's first year, the Bills won six times in 2011.

   However, after a 5-2 start that had Bills fans dreaming of a playoff berth for the first time since 1999, they lost seven in a row and eight of their last nine, the final indignity a blown 21-0 lead during their humbling 49-21 loss at New England.

   "It was a big learning experience, and next year it can't be a learning experience for us," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "It's got to be a year we come out and play well all year. We're going to have another offseason in the same system, with the same coaches, with the same guys around. We've got to be able to now take the next step. Starting 5-2 is great, but winning one out of our last nine is not good football."

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Tom Brady passes for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns to help the New England Patriots score 49 unanswered points in a comeback victory vs. the Buffalo Bills.
   WHAT WENT RIGHT: The running game, with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, showed some real flashes of excellence. Jackson was on a Pro-Bowl pace before breaking his fibula, and Spiller, who was looking like a draft bust, came in and played well when he had a chance to be the go-to back. Also, the offensive line came together nicely and was at the top of the league in fewest sacks allowed all season, one of the real surprises of the season.

   On defense, the Bills didn't do much, but they did intercept 22 passes. In the end that wasn't nearly enough to mask all the flaws.

   WHAT WENT WRONG: The defense was once again horrific as it allowed the most yards (5,938) in team history including a franchise-record five straight games where it allowed at least 400 yards. Amazingly, those games all came in the Bills' 5-2 start. In terms of points, the 434 that were yielded ranked No. 2 in team history.

   Buffalo's biggest problem on defense was its woeful pass rush that produced only 28 sacks, 10 of which came in one game against Washington. Rookie first-round pick Marcell Dareus had a decent year, but he didn't make the impact the team was hoping for.

   On offense, Fitzpatrick was given a new six-year, $59 million contract after the hot start and then went into the tank, playing terribly during the Bills' 1-8 finish. He was not helped by another spate of roster-depleting injuries, most notably the loss of star running back Fred Jackson and center Eric Wood. He did manage to finish with 3,832 yards, the third-best season in club history.

   As the Bills move forward, they have gargantuan holes to fill on their roster because not only is their starting talent not sufficient enough to compete with New England in the AFC East, the depth is woeful and they are a team that has been unable to avoid major injuries.

Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills feels the pressure  New England Patriots defense in the first half at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

   --QB Ryan Fitzpatrick closed his season with a two-touchdown, four-interception, 307-yard game that gave him 3,832 yards for the season, third-best in Bills history.
   --WR Stevie Johnson finished the year with 76 catches for 1,004 yards, making him the first Bills player to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
   --LB Nick Barnett finished his first season with the Bills with 11 tackles and an interception.
   --RB C.J. Spiller gained 60 yards on 13 carries and had four catches for 40 yards against the Patriots.
   --DT Kellen Heard recorded the first two sacks of his NFL career.
   --WR Derek Hagan stepped in for the benched Steve Johnson and caught seven passes for 89 yards.


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