Bills just not-yet-ready

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

In the Buffalo Bills' annals of "wide right," Rian Lindell catches a break. He has some rather famous history to hide behind. But everything is relative. In a town that hasn't had a playoff sniff in years, yesterday's chip shot miss probably feels at least vaguely Norwoodian.

The 28-yard clank that would have given Buffalo a 20-16 lead late in the third quarter wasn't, in itself, a dagger in the heart. With 17 minutes left, and ahead by a point, the Bills still were in the game.

Then, amid the gloomy mood, the Steelers ripped off a 58-yard run on the very next play that set up a Pittsburgh go-ahead touchdown. From there, it all came undone.

A fourth-quarter spanking yesterday was a serious dose of reality for the Bills, who came in winners of six in a line and desperately needing this one against a complete team already home and cooled out, to earn their first playoff berth in six seasons.

In short, they were exposed as not-yet-ready by a Pittsburgh team that may not have had a lot of tangible reasons to play hard, but does so as a matter of course.

The Steelers, without their starting quarterback, their starting running back and using a defensive cast almost exclusively composed of backups, were more than the Bills could handle on a day when they should have been motivated as no other.

And that sends a message all its own.

A fourth-string running back torched the Bills' No. 1 defence for 102 yards. A backup linebacker returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown. And the third-stringer became the winning quarterback without even completing a pass. The Steelers walked into Ralph Wilson Stadium with nothing to prove and proved the importance of playing every down with pride.

It isn't as if all the effort was wasted. Buffalo fans were energized by their rejuvenated club and the team now has some substantial results to build upon for next year.

The Bills have made some remarkable progress this season but they still have a lot of work left, especially on the offensive side of the ball, if they're going to get back even some of their past glory.

You have to wonder if all those points they scored against inferior opponents the past few weeks are not a bit of a smokescreen, masking many of the same ills that have plagued the team the past few years.

RENOVATED

Willis McGahee had run well behind a renovated offensive line down the stretch, but yesterday the Drew Bledsoe-led offence was completely ineffective, its ineptitude saved once again only by the turnovers caused by the defence.

In the eyes of many, Bledsoe had redeemed himself this season but on a day when they really needed evidence that he was again a potent force, he failed miserably against some names not even recognized in Pittsburgh.

This second half of the season was supposed to be the time that quarterback-in-waiting P. J. Losman got his feet wet against NFL defences. But when the Bills rallied under Bledsoe that important schooling was delayed. Now, it will likely happen under the gun at the start of next season, with heightened expectations.

Bledsoe looks like the oldest 32-year-old quarterback in football, immobile and indecisive when he plays against strong defensive teams -- like the Steelers or the New England Patriots. It's time to look in another direction.

With one of the strongest defensive units in the entire league, the pressure is now on to revitalize the offence during this off-season. If they don't then it will send a frustrating message to the defence, which continuously provided the offence with great field position, even yesterday.

Maybe, in the long run, Lindell's miss wasn't a major factor. The Steelers have the look of a team that just finds ways to win, no matter what the circumstances.

In the fourth quarter, just when they needed to use some clock, they ordered up a nine-minute drive, grinding it out on the ground behind quarterback Brian St. Pierre and the running of Willie Parker.

I repeat the names: Brian St. Pierre and Willie Parker. Enough said.

For the Bills, the dream was fun while it lasted. Now, the important work begins in turning that dream to reality. 


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