Getting slapped around FedEx Field for most of Sunday afternoon made it official—the Buffalo Bills’ season will end, as it has for each of the last 16 seasons, when the regular-season schedule concludes.
As local native, former colleague and stand-up comic Ernie Green put it, “The #Bills playoff drought is so old, you can legally have sex with it in 30 U.S. States.”
Green’s Tweet (you can find more of his material @RealErnieGreen, right after you follow @DavidStaba) nailed the bright side of the local football team’s unyielding futility. The Bills have found so many ways to raise, then snuff, expectations that you have to laugh. That, or work yourself into a froth and call a radio show and/or post poorly spelled online diatribes on your message board of choice.
You could also just try to ignore them.
That was the plan on Sunday, and it worked out pretty well.
Since Buffalo entered Sunday’s game at Washington with a 2.5 percent mathematical probability of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since a few days before HBO debuted a mob-procedural series called The Sopranos, plans were made that did not involve a careful watching of the game.
My sister, Lori, visited from out of town for The First Annual Buffalo Musicians Christmas Party at the Sportsmen’s Tavern on Amherst Street (which was terrific, incidentally), and we decided warm up by meandering in from our headquarters at Gary Marangi Tower in downtown Darien, catching what we could of a thoroughly futile contest along the way.
We started at The Blue Dog Saloon in suburban Attica, so I could introduce Lori to the life-changing lasagna soup developed by the joint’s owner, Shannon. As we sat down, I looked at a television for the first time all day, just in time to see Kirk Cousins toss his second touchdown pass of the afternoon to Jordan Reed, putting Washington ahead 21-0 not even midway through the second quarter.
We had avoided seeing Rex Ryan’s increasingly permissive defense allowing three long touchdown drives on as many Washington touchdown drives, as well as Colton Schmidt’s badly botched, grass-cutting 17-yard punt. Ignoring the game to this point had clearly been the right decision.
The soup lived up to the hype I had given it on the way there (I’m pretty sure you could survive on nothing but—OK, you might need some water, too). Since we were kids, Lori has actively loathed football, so it was easy to not pay attention to the screen. The next time I looked up, the Bills were driving with a chance to cut the margin to two touchdowns by halftime.
Which looked like a sure thing, when they got to second-and-goal from Washington’s 1-yard line. But these are the rapidly disintegrating Bills we are talking about here. Even given an extra crack at it by a defensive offsides penalty, LeSean McCoy got stuffed three times before travelling the required 36 inches. Then, Tyrod Taylor—whom you would think would been a viable option on one of the previous three plays—sailed his fourth-down throw over the head of Sammy Watkins.
So Lori and I headed for Buffalo, full of lasagna soup and very confident we were not going to miss anything.
By the time we reached Hertel Avenue and settled in at M.T. Pockets about 45 minutes later, McCoy’s medial collateral ligament had been torn by a shot from Washington’s Mason Foster; his replacement, Mike Gillislee had run 60 yards for Buffalo’s first touchdown; and Taylor had accurately thrown a much deeper pass than the fourth-downer he botched to Watkins for a 48-yard score.
So, we missed a little. But, as it turned out, nothing that really mattered.
That was because, desperately needing a stop to have any hope of wiping out the rest of Washington’s now-11-point lead and saving their spiraling season, the Bills promptly surrendered a 13-play, 80-yard drive, which included Cousins hitting Pierre Garcon for an 18-yard gain on third-and-16 and again for 5 yards, his fourth touchdown throw of the afternoon. Of course, Buffalo was glad to help with a pair of penalties worth 20 yards because, well, that’s what this team does.
Fortunately, our chicken wings were served shortly thereafter. I’ve long considered the wings at M.T. Pockets, particularly as prepared by Cheryl, our bartender on this and just about any Sunday afternoon, to be Buffalo’s finest. Perfectly crisp skin surrounding perfectly moist chicken, nicely sauced and drained of excess grease, Cheryl’s wings shame the offerings of some of the area’s more famous wing factories.
As we were finishing up our mediums (and a shared steak sandwich, which was also very, very good), Taylor directed the sort of late scoring drive that has been making Buffalo losses seem far more competitive than they actually are since the 20th century.
When Taylor connected with Watkins for a 20-yard touchdown, then ran it in himself for a two-point conversion that made the score 35-25 with 1:26 to play, our fellow patrons who were still paying attention issued the first real reaction I had heard all day, a louder cheer than seemed appropriate under the circumstances. Looking over, I realized most of them were laughing.
Which is about all there is left to do.