The Buffalo Bills season is over and done with, but, it wasn’t brought to its completion without a few thrills along the way. The Bills successfully played the spoiler role against the rival New York Jets, effectively jettisoning them out of the postseason with a 22-17 victory.
The Bills end their year with an even record of 8-8, they finished 4-2 in the AFC East, and now they shift into offseason mode to try and get things turned around for 2016. Before it switches into full-fledged offseason talk, first a review of the team’s victory over thew New York Jets:
1) Sammy torches Revis
- …And it wasn’t even really that close. Last time we left the Sammy Watkins matchup with Darrelle Revis, Watkins had only three receptions, but made a play with the game on the line to help ensure the victory for the Bills during Week 10. This time around, Revis couldn’t get a handle on Watkins at any stage of the game. The wide receiver finished with a career-high 11 receptions, with 136 yards to go along with it. Having burned multiple corners and defenses with long receptions through the second half of the season, the Jets were intent on not meeting a similar fate. The cost of that was Watkins having a lot of success on underneath routes, and as the second-year receiver put it, allowed the Bills to gain 15 yards at a time. Revis is still a good player, but Watkins has every opportunity — and now the trust of the coaching staff and quarterback — to take off in 2016. Since the bye week, Watkins has transitioned himself into a staple of the team’s offense, and they’re throwing it to him in bunches. Of Taylor’s 28 throws on Sunday, 15 were intended for Watkins. They’ll need to keep switching it up to continue the big impact he’s been having on games, but, Watkins can become the dominant player they hoped he would be when they traded up to get him in 2014. It’s just a matter of the offense committing to it in 2016.
2) Fitz Fitzed
- Over the last five weeks, Ryan Fitzpatrick had been the type of player the Bills and their fans always hoped he would be during his time in Buffalo, while putting the Jets on the doorstep of making it to the postseason. In his first trip back to Ralph Wilson Stadium? A similar result: three interceptions in the fourth quarter, a low quarterback rating, and a crushing loss that ended the season prematurely. It’s hard not to feel badly for Fitzpatrick, as good and relatable an NFL quarterback as you’ll find — and one that truly made Buffalo his home the whole time he was here. In the cruel business of the NFL, though, that person doesn’t always end up on top. Instead, Fitzpatrick is on the outside looking in of the playoffs once again, left to think about where it all went wrong in the fourth quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium. To the Bills credit, they read him like a book, got after him to force mistakes, and took advantage of misfires to secure the victory that very easily could have been in doubt.
3) Dareus comes up huge
- As the season has unwound itself, the play of the defensive line has been a major talking point by many fans. Some have even questioned defensive tackle Marcell Dareus’ place in the defense, which is a bit shortsighted based on how much potential the young player has. Under minor scrutiny, all Dareus did was make a humongous play with the game on the line. He tore through the line, got to Fitzpatrick before he released the ball, and affected the throw enough to allow Manny Lawson to get under the ball and come away with the second interception of the fourth quarter. And here’s another thing: Those that believe Marcell Dareus has had a down year, just because the total number of sacks he has this season is down, just do not know what they’re talking about. Dareus has been one of the best players on the team this year and does more things that go unnoticed on the stat sheets to help his teammates make plays against the run. He is a critical piece to the Bills defense moving forward — so don’t believe any of the anti-Dareus rhetoric
4) Mario’s farewell
- With one final game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it likely puts an end to one player’s stay with the organization: Mario Williams. The drama surrounding Williams has encapsulated his season, and instead of being thought of as a strength for the defense, and whether it’s right or wrong, he is now the poster child for everything that went wrong on that side of the ball. To his credit, Williams notched his fifth sack of the season, ensuring that he would avoid his worst total (4.5) in that category since his rookie season in 2006. Williams will likely be released in the offseason, considering how little production there was, how free-wheeling he was with his commentary on the state of the defense through the year, and, with how much the Bills would save on the cap next season ($12.9 million). However, is it just? The most damning factor is the salary cap hit, which would cause many to think about releasing a player over 30 years old. However, is what happened really all Mario Williams’ fault? He’ll be viewed as the scapegoat, but to a certain degree, he was right. The coaching staff failed to adapt their scheme well enough to the players on the field, and that, in turn, helped create an overall disconnect between coaches and players. Could Williams have been less stubborn when things started to go awry near the middle of the season? He definitely could have. However, this is not all Mario’s fault. The coaching staff needs to do a much, much better job of adapting what they do to best highlight the skill set of their players, otherwise, they’ll continue to flop around with mediocre results. They absolutely need to get that turned around for the 2016 season, that’s a given. The other given? We’ll likely see Mario Williams lining up for some other team in 2016.
5) O-Line keeps Tyrod clean
- The Buffalo Bills helped themselves to a winning record in the AFC East, and the biggest part of that was the ability to move the ball through the air effectively enough. Though Tyrod Taylor only threw for 182 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown pass, he had as much time as he needed in the pocket to operate, and to more importantly get Sammy Watkins the ball at critical moments of the game. Last time around the offensive line couldn’t do much against the Jets’ defensive front, and it nearly cost the Bills the game. This time around, the Jets defenders were frustrated by their inability to get to the quarterback, despite their success in limiting the run game. It’s just another feather in the cap for Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, and Eric Wood for the above average season they’ve had in 2015.
6) Banged up defense steps up
- By the time the Bills got to the final game of the season, they were without five separate starters on the defensive side of the ball once Ronald Darby had to leave the game due to re-aggravating his groin injury. Darby, Kyle Williams, Aaron Williams, Nigel Bradham, and Stephon Gilmore were all injured, which led to an inexperienced and less talented crew facing the Jets in Week 17. Best yet, that depleted defense had those replacements step up in clutch moments at the end of the game. Leodis McKelvin, starting for Gilmore, had an interception. Mario Butler, on the field in place of Darby, made a key pass breakup on a could-have-been Kenbrell Thompkins touchdown with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter. A.J. Tarpley, on the field in place of Bradham, secured the victory with an interception of Fitzpatrick in the final moment of the game as well. It was a high quality team victory, and one those younger players should be proud of based on the efficient offense they were up against.
7) Carpenter struggles again
- The tough season for kicker Dan Carpenter has gotten even tougher after the Week 17 finale against the Jets. Carpenter missed his sixth extra point attempt of the season, which still keeps him behind Jason Myers of Jacksonville, but still puts him in contention for one of the worst extra point kickers in the NFL. With his type of salary, the Bills have to provide some competition for him in the spring and summer of 2016. The Bills know he can kick in the elements and be the accurate player they desire, because he has done it before. However, he hasn’t been able to get out of his head all year long, and it all came to a head when he slammed his helmet down in disgust after the extra point miss. With the type of money he’ll account for on the cap, he’ll need to fight for his job.
Bills MVP: WR Sammy Watkins
- 15 targets, 11 receptions, 136 yards. Watkins should be on every watchlist for breakout player of 2016.
Bills LVP: HB Mike Gillislee
- Gillislee came crashing back to earth against a great run defense, gaining only 28 yards on 24 carries.
Draft Order Update: The Bills will select 19th in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
- Another season has come to its conclusion in Orchard Park. With the victory over the New York Jets, the Bills secured an 8-8 record, and their second consecutive non-losing season. At the expense of a better draft position, the Bills came away very pleased with ending the season on a high note, and on a two-game winning streak to go along with it. Now, we shift into the all-important offseason, and with the salary cap restrictions that the Bills have, 2016 will be a crucial one to make all the right moves heading into next season. The window for the Bills certainly hasn’t closed, and they’ll be a competitive team that will once again have legitimate postseason aspirations in the coming year, but they’ll need to fix all the poor parts of their season. They must make decisions on both left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Richie Incognito. They must shed salary. They must find defensive players who properly fit Rex Ryan’s scheme, seeing as how the scheme was unable to adapt to the players the Bills had on their roster in 2015. And most importantly, they must help progress Tyrod Taylor into the next echelon of quarterbacking in the NFL. If they don’t, they’ll just be the same team trying to rely on their defense and run game in a league where your teams need to put up points in bunches. In case Taylor isn’t the answer, they need to add to the position behind him and develop what could be the answer. Easier said than written, of course, but that’s why the decision makers are in the positions that they hold. Who might be out of a job? Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman is the likeliest to be given the pink slip, but it’s looking like Doug Whaley, Rex Ryan, Greg Roman, Dennis Thurman, and most of the band will be back together. The pressure is on for them in 2016, and it all starts right now.
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