MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- In a span of just five days, the Buffalo Bills have gone from contenders to pretenders.
Dropping back-to-back games this week -- the latest a 22-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night -- has set Buffalo back in a way that relegates the AFC East's third-place team to the fringes of the NFL's playoff picture.
In short, the wheels have come off the Bills' season.
Now 5-5, the Bills have little hope of overtaking the New England Patriots for the division title. Meanwhile, their chances for a wild-card berth are fading. With a 2-5 conference record and their head-to-head advantage over the Dolphins gone with Thursday night's loss, the Bills might need a miracle to win a tiebreaker against the other teams in the hunt.
There is little mistaking how the Bills have arrived in this unfortunate spot. Much like in their 17-13 loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills made the touchdown seem like a lost art in Miami. Held out of the end zone by the Dolphins, Buffalo has now gone 21 consecutive possessions without a touchdown.
You can't win that way, and you certainly can't get into the postseason like that.
The promise that Kyle Orton showed by kicking off his stint -- however long it might last -- as the Bills' starting quarterback with a 3-1 record has evaporated. His completion percentage has hovered at or below 60 percent in each of his past three games, and while Orton hasn't thrown an interception in that span, he's done little to inspire confidence.
Asked after the game if Orton could turn it around in time to save the Bills' season, center Eric Wood stood up for his quarterback.
"I'm very confident," Wood responded succinctly.
"I knew you were going to ask that," Wood said. "He's an experienced player. He's made a lot of plays in this league. As he plays, the rapport with his receivers will keep getting better and better. And we gotta do a better job of protecting him."
Coach Doug Marrone said that the thought of going back to EJ Manuel hasn't crossed his mind. It's hard to blame him; the Bills weren't going anywhere with Manuel at the helm earlier this season.
But where are they heading now? It's looking more and more like the Bills have two backup quarterbacks on their roster -- and no starter.
It doesn't matter how many sacks the defensive line racks up -- they tallied another five Thursday night -- or how much big league talent Sammy Watkins flashes. Without a quarterback, the Bills are stuck in the mud.
There are only six games remaining and precious time is slipping away for the Bills. They'll get a reprieve when they return home next week to host the New York Jets (2-8). But after that, watch out.
Playing four of their five games against winning teams and two of those on the road -- against the Denver Broncos and the Patriots -- the Bills have a steep, challenging path to the playoffs.
For a team that was as much a contender a week ago as any other, the Bills have unraveled in just five days. Until proven otherwise, they're pretenders, not contenders.