Patrick Crawley is a programming coordinator at NFL.com. We're not sure what that means, but we do know he's a diehard Buffalo Bills fan so we let him do the honors of dissecting his team's downfall.
As a Bills fan, it pains me to do this. But the time is right. At 5-8, it's time to put the playoff dream to rest. The postseason train has left the station with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co. standing on the platform with baggage-filled arms -- the 13th train in a row the Bills have missed.
Blame Chan Gailey for reading the schedule wrong. Or Stevie Johnson for tweeting to distraction. Or Fred Jackson and Aaron Williams for ambling too slowly on their wrecked knees. Whatever the excuse, the fork looms. And if it's going to be delivered, I'd rather lower it lovingly. Quickly and painlessly. At the hand of a friend.
What went wrong
From the first game, that 48-28 shellacking to the New York Jets, it was clear the Bills were a flawed team. But at 3-3, there seemed real promise for the season. Then came the brutal one-point loss to the Tennessee Titans and back-to-back routs against the Houston Texans and New England Patriots. And the unraveling was complete.
Gailey has been a mess this season. His play-calling has been terrible. The Bills' best playmaker, by far, C.J. Spiller has had only one game of 20 or more touches (a win over the Miami Dolphins) and six games of 15 touches or less. The fact he touched the ball just eight times against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday is beyond comprehension. Especially considering the way Fred Jackson was hobbling around the field.
Ryan Fitzpatrick shoulders a portion of the blame as well. Fitzpatrick has cut down on interceptions this season, but losses to the Titans and Indianapolis Colts were affected largely by picks he threw in the fourth quarter. And his difficulty executing in the red zone is legendary -- the Bills have scored a red-zone touchdown on just 48 percent of tries this season.
Throw in the Bills' miserable conversion rate on third down (38 percent), a beaten-up secondary (second cornerback Aaron Williams has missed five games in a row with a knee injury) and a linebacker corps that looks perennially out of sorts, and you have a team destined for mediocrity.
Editor's note: Also, the Bills' defense didn't show up for games until November. So that seemed to be a factor.
What went right
Safety Jairus Byrd, guard Andy Levitre and cornerback Leodis McKelvin. All three have a legitimate chance to make the Pro Bowl.
Levitre is popping up on Pro Bowl ballots all over the place for his work in the Bills' run game -- Buffalo ranks seventh in the league in rushing yards per game. And McKelvin is one of the league's most feared return men.
The defense also has shown progress after an early stretch of blowout losses. The Bills have reduced their points against average from 32.8 points in their first four games to 16.8 in their last four. Free-agent signee Mario Williams is the first Bills defender since 2009 to have 10-plus sacks in a season.
And, of course, Spiller been a bright light. With 1,298 total yards of total offense, he'd likely be Hawaii-bound if given a larger share of the offense.
What still matters
First-round draft pick Stephon Gilmore has shown great promise as the Bills' primary cornerback. He'll continue to gain experience in the final three games by covering opposing top receivers. Spiller, too, will benefit from more time as a featured back while Jackson nurses a re-injured knee.
What changes are coming
There are only so many ways a coach can say he messed up. And Gailey has exhausted them all.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has made progress in his first season with the Bills, but he could be on the way out as well. In which case his mustache will be missed -- if not the communication breakdowns in the Bills' secondary.
Finally, Fitzpatrick's job certainly is in jeopardy. General manager Buddy Nix has voiced a desire to be in place to pick the quarterback who fixes everything. Ostensibly, Fitzpatrick is not that quarterback, but he is owed a great deal of money, and the draft looks slim on difference-making QBs on the level of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Replacing or keeping Fitzpatrick promises to be an intriguing offseason storyline.