Bills missing an identity

Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress runs into Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin at Ralph Wilson...

Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress runs into Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Nov. 6, 2011. (DOUG BENZ/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:52 PM ET

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - The New England Patriots are all about hoody-clad coach Bill Belichick, their three Super Bowl rings and pretty-boy Tom Brady, who could very well be the best quarterback to spin a spiral in the NFL.

The New York Jets are all about chatty, swagger-flaunting coach Rex Ryan, all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis and a smashmouth defence that takes great pleasure in beating up opponents.

Yes, heading into the second half of the 2011 season, we certainly know that, come crunch time, these are the identities of the Pats and Jets, long-time bitter AFC East rivals.

Having said that, what are these Cinderella Buffalo Bills about?

Through the first eight games of the season, we do know this: these Bills collectively have big stones and lots of heart, characteristics on display during incredible comeback victories over the Pats and Oakland Raiders. Led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo’s never-say-die attitude has been embraced by a community that values will as much as talent.

At the same time, there is an undeniable sense in western New York this week of uncertainly, of a future full of questions, and of the frustration that goes along with an opportunity lost.

By absorbing a physical 27-11 beating at the hands of the bruising Jets on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills now find themselves in a three-way tie for top spot in the AFC East at 5-3 with the New York Ryans and the New England Hoodies. A win would have put the Bills up a game on the Pats and two on the Jets, but, as we all know by now, all the Bills were left with once the final gun had sounded were individual helpings of humble pie.

What we don’t know, however, is how this young, talented team will respond in this three-team race for AFC East supremacy, especially as it braces for three consecutive road games.

Brady and Belichick have been here before. Revis and Ryan too. But for a Bills team that has not been to the playoffs since the 1999 season, the jury is out.

Will these Bills thrive or dive down the stretch? Because they have very little history or experience in these matters in recent times. Even Jets linebacker Bart Scott is intrigued at which fork in the road the Bills will take from here on in.

“It could go one of two ways — you could be overconfident or you could be underconfident,” Scott said. “Some people can always relish being the underdog and can’t handle being the favourite.

“They’re still a quality football team. Whenever you have hope and belief, you have some of the wins and comebacks that they’ve had. They’ve always been a feisty team. They’ve always played hard.”

The Bills cannot be slagged for a lack of effort against the Jets. But in terms of execution and of punching back at an opponent that bullied them in their own house, the Bills came up short.

This was Buffalo’s biggest test on home turf since 2004 and it flopped. From here on in, with the spotlight that accompanies a playoff race becoming more intense with each passing game, can the Bills learn to win when the stage continues to grow?

In the mind of Bills linebacker Nick Barnett, they have to.

Barnett is well schooled in what it takes for a team to answer the bell for big games. He was, after all, part of last season’s Green Bay Packer championship squad, although he spent the final few months on injured reserve.

“We didn’t play well,” Barnett said. “And big games like this, when we’ve got to have it, we’ve got to show up.

“We’ve got eight more games. We’re not going to throw it all away, not going to cash it in right now. We’ve got a lot of football left and I’ve got a lot of confidence we can come out with those wins.”

History dictates that the Pats will go as far as Brady takes them; the Jets as far as Ryan’s defence takes them.

The Bills? Since there is no precedent here, all we can do is sit back and see, starting with next week’s game in Dallas.

Will the real Buffalo Bills please stand up?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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