Here's what the 2021 Buffalo Bills are: Bullies who can't win a fair fight.
They can beat up on the likes of the overmatched Houston Texans, Washington Football Teams, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints of the world all day and all night long. Just like the hard-punching Mike Tyson used to beat the Trevor Berbicks, Michael Spinks', Marvis Fraziers and 39-year-old Larry Holmes' of the world.
But when good teams stand up to them and hit back with advanced skill, the Bills' glass jaw gets exposed quicker than Tyson's finally was by Evander Holyfield.
No amount of facial tattoos will ever be able to mask that reality.
Coach Sean McDermott knows it. His face and his phrases blasted that simple message from the start of his press conference following Monday night's 14-10 home loss to the New England Patriots in a battle for AFC East supremacy.
McDermott flat-out admitted the team is not as physical as it needs to be to win games in harsh, winter conditions at this stage of the season.
Of all the statistical breakdowns from Monday's game, he was most bothered by this one: The Patriots' running backs averaged 5.7 yards per carry, compared to 3.2 for the Bills' running backs.
"Not good enough," McDermott repeated for the trillionth time in what will go down as the title to their 2021 highlight mix. "We've got to be able to run the football, we've got to be able to stop the run. And those things don't change. The message hasn't changed in terms of ... the necessity for physicality and what we do. That's why we start training camp the way we do, with running the football, and you've got to win the line of scrimmage."
What's more, he admitted how fixing that shortcoming will be just about impossible until next summer at the earliest.
"It's tough," he said. "I'm not going to sit up here and lie to you guys. I mean, to fix that part of your game in this part of the year is tough. That's why we try like heck to do it in training camp. That's where you develop the toughness of the football team. And that's why we run the football in training camp."
"... If you were in the team meetings in training camp, you would know what style of offense I want and what style of defense I want, what style of football team I want. And that identity ... is shaped in training camp, and that identity needs to embody toughness.
"I think [the message has] gotten through, but we haven't executed."
On top of perhaps not cracking the whip hard enough last summer, in which COVID-19 concerns kept them from going away like they prefer to St. John Fisher College for training camp, McDermott had a bad game Monday night.
He set a cowardly tone early by going for one instead of two after Buffalo's only TD. That ensured the Patriots would keep the lead in a game where points would be at a premium. He later set an awkward tone of foolish desperation by unsuccessfully challenging the spot on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by New England quarterback Mac Jones, losing a timeout that they could have used to get the ball back for one last shot in the fourth quarter.
But like he said, it wasn't one man, "it was all of us."
Safety Micah Hyde definitely included.
Hyde made a rare overpursuit error to get out of position to stop Damien Harris on a 64-yard run in the first quarter. That turned out to be the Patriots' only TD of the evening.
Hyde's frustrations came to the forefront when he snapped at a reporter for asking a valid question about a defense that despite playing pretty damn well otherwise just wasn't good enough when it counted.
Yet it was the offense that did the most to kill the Bills' chances on this night.
And it wasn't even close.
Tight end Dawson Knox's breakout season was interrupted by a disturbing return to his previous pattern of undependability, with two drops, a false-start penalty that turned a third-and-9 from the Patriots' 13 into a third-and-14 and a weak effort on a contested throw that was broken up by safety Adrian Phillips in the end zone on the next play. A catch by the much bigger and stronger Knox there would have put the Bills ahead for the first time with just 2 minutes to go.
Instead, because the Bills were trailing by four at the time, they were forced to go for it on fourth down, and Myles Bryant broke up a pass intended for Gabriel Davis that he seemed to know was coming before Allen even released it. This was because Patriots coach Bill Belichick was by that time so far inside the head of Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, his longtime former assistant, that he could have been arrested for identity theft.
None of that absolves Allen, whose bloody fingerprints actually were most prominent at the hideous crime scene.
On second-and-goal from the 6, Allen took a 9-yard sack approaching the "bad" end zone, then carelessly and prematurely tossed what he thought was a free pass that fell incomplete after seeing a couple Patriots flinch during his cadence right before the snap, thinking they jumped offside. They didn't.
Fourth-and-goal from the 15.
Naturally, Tyler Bass would have his field-goal attempt from 33 yards blown wide right.
Nevertheless, Allen left the stadium Tuesday morning under the mistaken impression that "everything we want is still in front of us."
Fact is, good teams don't have that many breakdowns in crucial games against other good teams. But with the exception of a 38-20 win at Kansas City that happened two months earlier, it's happened for the Bills every time.
None of their other six wins have come against teams with winning records right now. Their losses have come to the Steelers, who are 6-5-1, Titans (8-4), Jaguars (2-10), Colts (7-6) and Patriots (9-4).
Get the pattern here?
The Bills just aren't sharp enough or tough enough or whatever enough to beat playoff teams.
That will be proved again when they sneak into the postseason tournament because they still have some beating up to do against deficient opponents on one of the NFL's softest schedules — but then fail to advance.
Getting this team tough enough to legitimately contend again is a process that will have to continue into next season and possibly beyond.