Being a Bills fan is tough – you know it, I know it, everyone knows it. On Sunday ex-Bill and CBS commentator Steve Tasker said that at this point, Bills fans are “90% scar tissue”. On Monday Adam Schein tweeted “You poor people of Buffalo…” and I don’t think he was referring to city residents on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
Look, I’ve come to enjoy, in some weird sense, the pain of being a Bills fan. You can wear it as a badge of honor – something that says, “look how bad my team is and I’m still a fan – never question me”. The Bills being bad allows me to be cantankerous and expose the dark humor I enjoy so much. But let’s get real – this stuff is getting old.
I try not to get too excited at the start of a given season – I’ve been burned too many times before. The minute you start to believe you’ve found a way out of the wilderness you get smacked back to reality. At this point the Bills are strictly a “show me” team – I won’t believe they’re good until they are.
As the season started I felt that the Bills could possibly end their playoff drought, but a lot of things would have to go right for them. I expected the usual .500 type season, but if things went well perhaps they could get to 10-6 and collect a wild card spot. The Bills are not a dominant team, but they do certainly have talent – it’s tough to argue that they don’t have the talent needed to be a wild card team.
And then it began – key pieces acquired in the draft sidelined due to injury – the Bills would get nothing out of Reggie Ragland and limited snaps from Shaq Lawson, a rookie who missed all of camp and the start of the regular season recovering from shoulder surgery. Then you had numerous suspensions and realized that some guys, even though they’re gown men in the NFL are really knuckleheads who value the bong more than the team. The team seemed to fall apart before the season even started.
The season finally started – and it wasn’t good. Two AFC losses to teams the Bills should be able to beat. These are precisely the games teams like the Bills can’t afford to lose each year but do in fact lose. Every year you find a group of games that, had the Bills managed to win, would have been enough to break the playoff drought. Then Sammy Watkins' foot started hurting him and suddenly we starting hearing terms like Injured Reserve – things went downhill, fast.
The Bills ended up having the season I thought they’d have, although you hardly need to be a clairvoyant to peg them to finish one or two games the either side of .500. Sadly, things ended up on the worse side of my expectations and the improvements I was hoping to see from Tyrod Taylor and the defense never materialized.
Taylor was a major storyline. In the preseason he had a great game where he avoided a sack, rolled out, planted his feet and threw a great touchdown strike wo a streaking Charles Clay – I thought to myself, “that’s it – that’s what I need to see from Tyrod and he’s done it – he and Clay could do great things this year”. Sadly, that play might have been Tyrod’s best all season, and it was in the preseason. He showed that as a quarterback he’s hit his ceiling – what you see is what you get. You get a guy who can run and make some throws, who keeps a defense on its toes. You get guy who doesn’t kill you with turnovers. But you also get a guy who makes quick read progressions and if he doesn’t find anyone wide open he’s going to tuck and run – count on it. He lacks patience in waiting for his receivers to come open. He has poor field vision and misses open receivers. He won’t throw a receiver open. He won’t throw much over the middle. He doesn’t put the ball into a tight window. He isn’t going to lead you on the game winning drive when the game is on the line. For the most part the offense did its job and although I wanted to see more from Tyrod, in the end I can’t blame the season on the offense.
The defense, on the other hand, was frustratingly bad, especially when you see so much talent on the roster. It’s hard to imagine with guys like Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams the defense could be so bad, but it was. That stupid train whistle on third downs became the signal that the Bills were about to allow a third down conversion, regardless of distance – man it was frustrating seeing that unit fail to get off the field time after time.
I get that the Ryan defensive scheme was likely to blame – it was complicated and relied too much on cornerback talent I don’t think the Bills necessarily possess, but it’s mind-boggling that it performed as poorly as it did. I want to punch a wall every time I think about a game the Bills could have won if only the defense had played even a mediocre game – probably enough games to end the playoff drought.
It wasn’t all bad news. LeSean McCoy showed that he is a special player. Regardless of what people say about running backs being a dime a dozen, McCoy can do things other backs can’t. His shiftiness and big play ability drove the offense in a number of games – say what you want, but the Bills got the better of the Eagles in the trade that brought Shady to Buffalo.
Another bright spot was Alexander, the oldest man on the roster. Signed at veteran minimum to a 1-year deal to play special teams, Alexander was pressed into service due to injury and had a Pro Bowl season. The Bills found a gem in Alexander – without him the defense would have been even more pitiful than it was.
Alas, the season quickly devolved into a raging dumpster fire. The Bills got absolutely pounded by the Dolphins for a second time this season as Santa brought coal to Bills fans across the land. 38 points and nearly 600 yards of offense and the Bills still lose. The back-breaking play came when the Bills allowed a 51-yard run in overtime because they only had 10 men on the field. Buffalo’s had bad losses over the years (you’ve undoubtedly lived through many), but how can that not rank up there as one of the worst ever? The Bills then fired the Ryan brothers because they were officially out of playoff contention (seriously – if you thought the Bills were going to the playoffs by the Miami game you’re the type of person who honestly believes you’re going to win Powerball every time you play). In a final season-ending insult the Bills also got ripped by a 4-win Jets team after a nightmare-resurrecting game by EJ Manuel (turnovers, missed open throws) and early exits by McCoy and Watkins.
As if the final season swan dive couldn’t be outdone, the Bills as an organization failed to explain anything about the firing of Rex Ryan, the plan for how to move forward or even give anyone an idea of who actually does what in the front office. General Manager Doug Whaley sat in front of a large press core and tried to explain that he controls everything in the front office, but strangely was not privy to the decision to fire Ryan. He did not speak about plans for the future. He essentially played The Great Oz – he with the booming voice and fire-breathing head who is actually being controlled by someone else – someone who doesn’t like to talk. It was pathetic. For a franchise that I was hoping might finally be pulling up and out of a spiral of perpetual mediocrity, it showed that the club was far from a class organization with its act together. Dumpster fire!
Now the offseason begins. I feel much worse about this team than I have in a long time. While the status quo was clearly unacceptable, making change for change sake and not having a clear plan going forward seems so much worse. The Bills are without a coach, and although players commented that they feel the need for discipline and accountability, the Bills will be severely hampered in their coaching search because it is clear that the coach will just be the coach and that football operations including personnel will be handled by the general manager. First-time coaches may agree to the arrangement in Buffalo, but experienced winners will not. A new coach is going to come in with new schemes – does Buffalo have the players to run them? Can we really wait a few more years to acquire the pieces that will be needed? The thought of more sub-.500 seasons just to gear up for something new makes me want to barf – when does this end?
Also left undecided is whether to retain Taylor. If they let him go they have absolutely nobody at quarterback (unless they convince Kyle Orton to come out of retirement again – yikes). Cardale Jones is still a project. Better talent simply isn’t available in free agency. If they keep Tyrod they pay him a lot of money to be the same guy you saw the last two seasons – sad to think that is potentially the best option on the table. This seems to be a true case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
And so we go forward as we always do, but being a Bills fan isn’t very much fun these days. Usually I can muster up some sense of excitement for the draft and a hope of what could be next season, but I don’t have that same sense of excitement this season. The Bills need a new coach and I’m not very hopeful the move solves the organizational rot plaguing the Bills. I had great faith in the Pegulas to turn the Bills around, but the odd behavior of the club this week and their relative silence is disconcerting at best. As an organization the Bills looked terrible this week and that hurts when you’re a fan – a fan that deserves more answers than fans are getting. Maybe I’m just stunned from standing to close to a dumpster fire, but I’m not feeling the same sense of hope that usually keeps me going this time of year – I hope it returns, because that’s usually all I’ve got.
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