If ever there was an opportunity for the Bills to start winning over their comparatively indifferent fans in Toronto, there’s no better opportunity than on Sunday, when they face the Chicago Bears in Buffalo’s new home away from home. The Bills are playing eight games in Toronto over five seasons.
“We’re trying to make that another home situation and it doesn’t feel like that yet,” Coach Chan Gailey said. “We’re not doing our part right now, but it can be a very exciting proposition.”
The Bills will be without their new acquisition, linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was claimed off waivers last week. But they still have a chance to go “Lights Out” on their own, as a victory would certainly help liven up the Rogers Centre.
It’s a cavernous domed facility that lacks the raucous atmosphere and intimacy of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. And it’s a place where fans haven’t been getting their money’s worth in paying an average $185 per ticket and watching the Bills lose their first two regular-season games since the Toronto series opened in 2008.
Of course, the Bills (0-7) have proved incapable of winning at Orchard Park, on the road, in regulation or their past two in overtime in getting off to their worst start in 26 years. And it’s not lost on the suddenly slumping Bears (4-3) that a change of scenery could benefit them as well. After getting off to a 4-1 start, they return from their bye week still smarting after losing two straight at home.
“I was up in Canada this summer. Does it help me?” Bears Coach Lovie Smith said, seeking an edge. “I think just getting away from it during the bye week, as much as anything else, should cure a lot of our ills.”
There’s plenty of pain to go around between two teams who are playing against each other in the regular season for only the 11th time, and have far different reasons to seek a midseason kick-start on foreign soil.
The Bills’ objective is a simple one. It starts with winning their first game in a season that, barring a miracle, will end with Buffalo missing the playoffs for an 11th straight year.
The Bears head to Toronto with a chance to climb back into the North Division race in which they sit a half game behind first-place (5-3).
“Mentally, we were exhausted a little bit,” Smith said before the break. “Guys are recharged and ready to go. Football really starts in November.”
If the Bears are going to mount a turnaround, it begins with addressing an offense that has proved one-dimensional under coordinator ’s pass-happy style, and has made quarterback Jay Cutler an easy target for opposing defenses.
Cutler was knocked out with a concussion late in a 17-3 loss to the Giants on Oct. 3, and missed the next week’s game. It didn’t get much better upon his return.
In his past two games, Cutler has been sacked 10 times and thrown 4 interceptions — all to Washington’s DeAngelo Hall in a 17-14 loss on Oct. 24.
“We’ve been kind of inconsistent offensively,” Cutler said. “We get some big chunks and then we’ll have a turnover or a sack and kind of throw ourselves back. That’s kind of what we’ve been fighting this year.”
Martz described Cutler’s struggles as “a phase” every quarterback goes through.
“We’ll get him squared away,” he said.
As for his offensive approach, Martz added, “Absolutely, we need to run the ball more.”
A run-first approach has certainly worked against a porous Bills defense. Buffalo is allowing a league-worst 188.7 yards rushing a game, including a season-worst 274 against Kansas City.
Smith doesn’t consider the Bills the pushovers their record might reflect. What encourages him is having the game played at Toronto, where he expects to have a large contingent of Bears fans in the stands.
“We definitely like playing there instead of Buffalo,” Smith said. “Hopefully, it will be more of a neutral site.”
The Bills are well aware of their struggles in Toronto. A less than capacity crowd watched them lose, 19-13, to last year. And then there was their 16-3 loss to Miami in 2008, a game in which the got nearly as many cheers as the Bills did.