The Bills’ defense had a profoundly frustrating time Monday night, in a surreal 14–10 home loss to the division-leading Patriots. Frustrating, but not exactly bad: The wind-aided Buffalo defense held the Patriots to 241 total yards, a ghastly 2-of-12 conversion rate on third downs, and one touchdown. That should’ve been enough to win, but Buffalo’s wind-addled offense stunk real bad, failed to match Bill Belichick’s run-only adaptation, and managed just one touchdown of its own, on a one-play drive following the Patriots’ muffed punt return. This left Buffalo’s defensive personnel in a somewhat sour mood.
One person may have matched Bills players for postgame grumpiness: Jerry Sullivan, a reporter for WIVB News 4 Buffalo and a contributing columnist for The Niagara Gazette. Sullivan was on the scene Monday night in his capacity as a journalist, and appeared most irritated by his own inability to will the Patriots into throwing the ball, through the strength of his tweets. The campaign started simply enough, with Sullivan positioning Belichick’s single-mindedness as a lack of confidence in rookie quarterback Mac Jones, as if to goad the Patriots into foolishly airing it out:
Sullivan’s preoccupation with the passing attack occasionally extended to both sidelines. With the first half winding down and the Bills down four points, our man Jerry felt that Josh Allen’s large contract obligated the home team to throw the football into sustained 35-mph winds, an opinion that was evidently shared by Bills head coach Sean McDermott. But Sullivan’s main focus was on the Patriots, and their steadfast refusal to let him call the plays:
As the final score would later illustrate, you in fact do not have to take at least one shot, not in a game where wind gusts are touching freeway speeds. Sullivan was slow to internalize this lesson, and continued to insist that the winning team was somehow doing something wrong:
Sullivan was so convinced that Belichick’s offensive strategy was doomed and foolhardy, he felt comfortable predicting that the universe itself would swoop in and rub the hated coach’s nose in his own mess:
That is not how things played out. Allen indeed seemed poised to lead a stirring go-ahead drive, but three consecutive incompletions killed the momentum and the Bills turned it over on downs inside the red zone to functionally end the game. Sullivan, practically whistling like a pressure cooker with pent-up frustration over the refusal of the result to confirm his all-too-certain concept of sound football strategy, made his way to the bowels of the stadium for the usual postgame reporting duties, absolutely spoiling for a fight.
Here is where a pandemic-era peculiarity put Sullivan on a path to disaster. As he noted later Monday night, reporters are currently denied their usual access to the postgame locker room. Under normal circumstances they would have the option of asking pointed and even difficult questions of specific personnel, quietly, person-to-person. Instead, player interactions are confined these days to time-limited press conferences, and press access is limited to whoever’s made available for questions. For the Bills yesterday, those appointed leaders were safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, two of the handful of people on the planet who were in a grumpier state of mind than Sullivan about the game’s result. As you can imagine, this made them extremely poor targets for Sullivan’s sloppily vented frustrations:
Sullivan’s question starts out harmlessly enough: “It’s been 40 years since a team has won a game running that few times in a game—I mean, passing that few times.” He had been tracking and hyping that angle all night, and the historical context of Jones’s three total pass attempts in a victory is something about which Bills players might have some interesting thoughts. This could’ve gone in a lot of different directions, many of them perfectly interesting and benign. Instead, Sullivan’s question was, “Is that embarrassing?” It’s loaded and openly confrontational, the result of Sullivan stewing in his own incredulity for a period of hours. This interaction was doomed from the start.
Instead of slinking away in the face of a strongly negative reaction, Sullivan doubled down, saying that “the nation’s gonna be criticizing” Buffalo’s defense, and therefore naturally he would overtly suggest to a couple of players that they should feel embarrassed for their performance. For this, Sullivan received a final scolding from Hyde:
Was Sullivan chastened by the confrontation? Were lessons learned, perhaps about approaching postgame interactions and rushing statistics alike with a level head? Certainly not. You see, Jerry Sullivan is a true Man of Takes. It’s the take that matters. The take must be protected at all costs.