TAMPA, Fla. -- Hard-boiled Buffalo Bills fans who had endured 13 consecutive non-playoff seasons entering 2013 could have predicted this was going to happen, and now it has. The Bills have officially imploded, and with a 4-9 record they will sit out the postseason for a 14th consecutive year, with not a lot of hope moving forward that No. 15 won't happen in 2014.
"I'm sure they're upset, but so are we," running back Fred Jackson said of the fans after Sunday's 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that started the season 0-8 and was playing in front of about 30,000 seats at Raymond James Stadium that were either empty or occupied by vacationing or transplanted Bills fans. "This isn't just about them, this is about us, too. We don't want to be part of this situation, this isn't how we want to be remembered for our 2013 season. I'm sure fans are going to start throwing in the towel and saying, 'We're the same old, same old Bills' and they have every right to do it. That's fine. We're going to keep working."
And there's plenty of work to do, because rather than showing progress, the Bills have regressed as the season has gone on. After starting 3-4, they have now lost five of their last six.
"There's a lot of little things that really need to be fixed on and off the field with this team," said safety Aaron Williams. "We talked about it as a team. As long as we fix the little things, the inconsistency will stop. The captains know what's going on and they voiced it out. The losing is just getting tiring."
Coach Doug Marrone turned the locker room over to the players, and captains Fred Jackson, Eric Wood and Kyle Williams conducted the post-mortem following the game as the media sat outside a good 25 minutes waiting to enter.
"He wanted to see what we had to say," Jackson recounted. "That's the first time since I've been here where the coach gives us the floor, and gives us the opportunity to talk amongst ourselves and see what it is we feel like."
What they felt was embarrassed and miserable. It was an utterly brutal performance that included 214 yards on offense, five turnovers (four interceptions by rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and a muffed punt by Leodis McKelvin), 1-for-11 on third down and 11 penalties for a season-high 114 yards.
"It was one of the worst offensive performances I've been a part of since I've been in Buffalo," said Jackson, a mouthful for him considering he's in his eighth year with the team. "EJ is going to catch the heat, but we didn't do anything to help him. We just didn't get the job done (Sunday). We looked like crap. Bottom line, we did not play well. I can't think of anything we did right. That's something we've got to take ownership for. There's no one finger that needs to be pointed at anybody. As a team, we looked absolutely horrible, and the score showed it."
That was the general consensus all across the locker room. The Bills were inept and found a way to lose to a team quarterbacked by rookie Mike Glennon, who passed for just 90 yards on nine completions.
"I find it very difficult after that game to stand up here and defend a lot of things," Marrone said. "I thought we played poorly. I shouldn't say 'I thought;' I know we played poorly in all three phases. We had penalties, we had turnovers, we had misreads, we had missed tackles. It hit all at once in this game."
The Bills have another trip to Florida where they will play the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, another team that lost its first eight games but has now turned it around and won four of its last five and has the same 4-9 record as Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
-- Marrone said the coaching staff may have to dial back the game plans for Manuel because he may be suffering from a bit of information overload. This is certainly a disappointment because by now, Manuel should be processing information quicker and be able to handle more of the playbook.
"We've been giving him more and more, and now it's a point where you have to re-evaluate that," Marrone said. "We've been going fast with his progression, and now we just have to look at it and get him started again. It's not starting over. Don't get me wrong. We've got to look to see what we can do and probably cut down on what we're doing."
Manuel had his worst game of the year with a passer rating of 31.2. He was sacked seven times and half of them were a result of indecision and holding the ball too long. He also threw four interceptions.
"A disappointing day in my performance," Manuel said. "It starts with me, especially on offense. I'm the quarterback. I'm the leader. These guys feed off of me, and I was supposed to be facilitating the ball to these guys. I didn't do a good job (against the Bucs), plain and simple. Got to get better, plain and simple."
-- CB Ron Brooks was injured by a shot to the head on a punt return, but he was able to return to the game.
-- WR Marquise Goodwin was limited due to a calf strain.
REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- This was by far EJ Manuel's worst game as a pro. He was inaccurate, he showed no pocket presence and it was a big step back. Manuel completed 18 of 33 for 184 yards with four interceptions, though two of the picks weren't his fault as Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods mishandled balls right in their hands. Manuel didn't get much help, though, as he was sacked seven times, hit on 13 drop-backs overall and the offensive line committed six penalties. Johnson caught five balls for 67 yards, while T.J. Graham was blanked for a second game in a row.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Bills wanted to establish their fourth-ranked ground game, especially on the road, but they were never able to do it, and it wasn't all because of the score. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson (34 combined yards on 16 carries) were rendered useless all day by a stout Tampa Bay front seven, and then when the Bills fell behind 24-3 at the half, there wasn't much running after the break.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Bills didn't have a sizable task dealing with Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon, but while they held him to 9 of 25 passing for 90 yards and two picks, he also threw two touchdown passes. Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore had the interceptions, but the Bills' league-leading pass rush managed only one sack, that by Marcell Dareus.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Bucs gained 165 yards on 36 attempts, and that was because Bobby Rainey broke an 80-yard TD run on the game's second play. Obviously you can't ignore that, but the math says that without that run, the Bucs had 85 yards on 35 attempts. One bad mistake was costly, on the scoreboard and on the stat sheet. Rainey finished with 127 yards on 22 attempts. Kiko Alonso, who misread the Rainey play, had six tackles, as did Manny Lawson.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- K Dan Carpenter was the lone bright spot as he made both his field-goal attempt to move past 100 points for the season. Leodis McKelvin fumbled a punt return, though the Bucs did not score because of it. Otherwise, there were no highlights in return or coverage. P Brian Moorman drew a 15-yard roughing penalty, and averaged 40.7 net with three of his seven punts being downed inside the 20.
COACHING: D-minus -- This was Doug Marrone's worst day as Bills coach. He did not have his team ready to play, there were penalties all over the place, and the team's effort was clearly lackluster. The regression was tremendous, and this team seems to lack resiliency. On offense, coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had no answers to help Manuel when the Bucs took away his first read and forced him to hold the ball which led to seven sacks.