The Buffalo Bills talked a big game coming into the year, and following Sunday’s result, fell flat on those promises in spectacular fashion. The Bills fell 35-25 to Washington on Sunday, marking their fourth loss in the last five games, and, the end of anything relevant to play for in 2015.
Where do the Bills go from here? Seven observations not only from the game, but in regards to where they go from here:
1) Groundhog Day is upon us
- The December doldrums are upon us. It happens around this time every year, where the Bills put together a bad string of games that ultimately does them in, and rips the hearts out of their fans for another year — with the stinging promise that they’ll be able to switch the course and finally end the drought in the next season. That same song and dance has been proliferated for 16 straight seasons now. The owners, the front office, the players, and the coaches have all changed, but in the past 16 years, two simple facts of life remain very much the same: no playoffs, and the ‘next year will be different’ rhetoric. We already heard it from head coach Rex Ryan after the game, giving the spiel to his players about how there will be drastic changes if there isn’t improvement, and to “read between the lines.” But the simple fact is this: heading into the season, the Bills gave every promise their fans could ever want. Ryan told the Bills faithful to “get ready,” because they were going to the playoffs. He promised an elite defense. They had a new quarterback, new coaches, and new, fresher ideas. Except, nothing has changed except that some contingents of the fanbase feel more bamboozled than ever. This is a team that had a top-tier defense in 2014, a quarterback to play well enough to help get a team to victories, and multiple playmakers that talent evaluators around the NFL drool over. Even with all that working for them, they fell woefully short, and now Bills fans are stuck wondering, yet again, ‘what’s next.’ The mundane malaise of mediocrity has hovered over One Bills Drive for the past decade and a half, and now, it’s here. For the 16th straight season, that dark cloud remains over Orchard Park.
2) Fire Rex? Fire Whaley? What should they do?
- Unlike most weeks, the buildup to the Bills’ game in Washington wasn’t about individual matchups and the overall strategy to the game. Instead, it was about the bigger picture stuff. The Bills, at that time at least, weren’t officially eliminated from playoff contention — they were only presumed dead. Multiple reports came out all within a few hours about general manager Doug Whaley, his future with the team, his relationship with the coaching staff, Rex Ryan, and his future within the organization as well. Keeping up with all of it, there is enough drama to fill an episode of General Hospital (shameless ABC programming plug), but what really should happen? Well, the thing fans need to get comfortable with first and foremost is that Rex Ryan isn’t going anywhere. While he has failed to live up to his lofty promises, there is something to be said of continuity, as well as the Pegula’s feelings on continuity after just one year of working together. That leads us to Doug Whaley, where reports have differed about his ultimate future within the organization. For what it’s worth, if there is a rift between the coaches and Whaley, and if Rex Ryan is looking to get his own general manager in the building, he doesn’t have a lot of clout to lead that campaign heading into the offseason, considering the way this thing sputtered and came to a halt in December. That, combined with the injuries that the Bills have alluded to all year long are two reasons clear as day reasons why Whaley may just get a pass heading into 2016. It’s not as though it would be a stronghold on the job, though. Whaley and Ryan would have to work in unison to turn this ship around, to not let injuries be an excuse for yet another season as it’s likely going to be in 2015, and to end this drought of the playoffs before it goes into a 17th year. While this won’t exactly be popular to the folks that want to blow the whole thing up again, but as it stands now, that duo will likely get the chance to show that they can put 2015 behind them. If they don’t do so by the end of 2016, nobody should be safe at One Bills Drive.
3) The Mother Goose of all laid eggs
- Yes, the odds were stacked against the Bills of making the playoffs in 2015. And yes, they’ve dealt with some injuries heading into the matchup with Washington. However, the Bills came out at FedEx Field flatter than a pancake after it’s pressed down by a spatula. Whether they were still hung up about the disappointing loss in Philadelphia, or it was just a mismatch from the start, the Bills were completely outplayed on both offense and defense in the early going. Washington could do no wrong, and the Bills could do no right. The defense wasn’t getting stops, the offense wasn’t moving the ball, and the Bills found themselves down by 21 points at halftime. To their credit, they fought back and almost made it interesting in the beginning of the fourth quarter, before ultimately falling flat once again and continued the earlier blowout trend. With everything against the Bills, you would think that the most basic of functions would be to come out with a huge effort to try and put pressure on the other teams vying for the playoffs. Instead, we saw what happened on Sunday. And now, mercifully, fans of the Bills won’t have to see their team’s name under the ‘In the Hunt’ category whenever the playoff picture gets shown, because the team that showed up to Landover, Maryland on Sunday doesn’t deserve to make it to the playoffs.
4) Bills defense in 2015 summed up spectacularly in two plays
- When Rex Ryan promised to turn the defense from a top-tier unit into a top-two unit in the NFL, he put unreasonably high expectations both on his players, but on himself as a play caller. He said he wouldn’t try to fit square pegs into round holes, and to instead play to the strengths of his defense. Swing and a miss on both accounts. The Bills went from a sound defense that could get after the passer, to one that rarely got pressure on the quarterback in 2015, and one that suddenly forgot how to tackle. Two defensive plays not only defined the Bills performance on Sunday, but their 2015 output in totality. The first: the final play of the third quarter. With the Bills only down by 11 points, they stopped Washington for two straight plays, and got a penalty on top of it to force a 3rd-and-16. They looked like a different team at that point in the game. And then, when the defense needed a stop, they let Kirk Cousins find a weak spot in the zone, get a first down, and let the air out of the balloon of the Bills’ comeback efforts. Just four plays later, the Redskins called a run play for rookie Matt Jones, who proceeded to go out wide to his left. Leodis McKelvin missed the tackle, linebacker Preston Brown was slow getting over, missed the initial tackle, and then was flagged for a facemask. All three 2015 issues on one, fantastically infuriating play: missed tackles, a penalty, and being late to the ball. You really can’t make this stuff up.
5) Mario sounds off
- For those that held on to hope that Mario Williams might restructure his contract just to stay in Buffalo, you’re likely out of luck. Williams, the defensive end that carries a cap hit of $19.9 million for the 2016 season, effectively ruled out taking a pay cut just to stay on board in Buffalo — and why should/would he take that reduced salary? Although still an efficient run defender, Williams has been a total non-factor in getting to the quarterback in 2015, while openly criticizing the scheme and what they ask their players to do. After the game, Williams’ points were simple. He essentially said that he has no problem with conforming to a defense, so long as it works and the team starts posting victories and plays effectively on defense. Neither of those objectives have happened in 2015, whereas they did under 2014 defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. So has Williams been miscast? Has he declined in his ability? Perhaps both contribute to the factor, but, Williams hasn’t had the appearance of a player that was on board with the scheme, really since October. It all comes back to Rex Ryan promising that he wouldn’t try to fit square pegs into round holes. Well, with Mario Williams as the shining example, he has effectively done that. And while the Bills are adding the likes of no-name 3-4 friendly players like Lavar Edwards, T.J. Barnes, and Max Valles, he’s also effectively alienated a bonafide double digit sack pass rusher. The two sides are almost certainly headed for a split, as the Bills will save $12.9 million on next year’s cap to cut him. However, perhaps if there was a little give from both parties, it didn’t have to come to that. Instead, the Bills will try to reformulate and rebuild their defense with the players that Rex Ryan needs to run his brand of defense, as opposed to using a once great defense to the best of their abilities.
6) The offensive line falls woefully short
- In the game against Washington, Tyrod Taylor was sacked a total of five times. While yes, that’s a lot, it probably should have been way higher based on the way the offensive line was playing — specifically on the right side. John Miller and Jordan Mills struggled for much of the day, forcing Tyrod Taylor to scramble and run for his life. He gained yardage on the ground not out of designed plays, but because of self-preservation. Starting in a game just three hours away from his hometown of Hampton, Virginia, Taylor gave it everything he had to keep plays afloat. The offensive line just didn’t get him the time he needed and tons of yardage fell to the wayside.
7) What went right: Gillislee, Watkins
- The Bills playoff chances are dead, yes, but they were greeted by a few solid performances in the game that helped keep them in it when everything else was signaling otherwise. Taylor’s scrambling ability was very good, even though he missed some throws. Once LeSean McCoy went down with a knee injury early in the second half, former practice squad player Mike Gillislee filled in admirably, including a 60-yard touchdown that kept the Bills alive and somewhat relevant to the game in the second half. The man that took over the game, though, was none other than wide receiver and burgeoning offensive star Sammy Watkins. Taylor and Watkins connected on two bombs to give the wideout two touchdowns, 111 yards and five reception on 10 total targets. With Watkins starting to discern himself as one of the league’s better receivers, it’s time to take the reigns off in 2016 and allow him to truly dominate games like so many other receivers in the NFL do. They just need Taylor to get the ball there, and allow him to go to work.
Bills MVP: WR Sammy Watkins
- The Bills have a star on their hands in Watkins, and his progress over the second half of the season has been fascinating to track.
Bills LVP: HC Rex Ryan
- A team coming out as flat as they did represents and embodies the man that they play for. In this case, it is none other than Rex Ryan.
Up Next: Sunday, December 27 vs. Dallas (4-10), 1 pm
- Another year has come and gone, and another year where the Buffalo Bills will be without a spot in the playoffs. It’s a tiresome and frustrating exercise for fans of the team that believe the year is going to be different based on all the changes they made, only to come crashing back to earth by the end of it. Will the Bills make the playoffs someday? Absolutely they will. It might even happen as early as next year with the type of talent they’ll still have on their roster. However, this year, there were notable missteps by both the coaching staff and the players that has led everyone to where we are today: Sunday, December 20, 2015, the day the Bills were eliminated from the playoffs for the 16th straight season. The focus will shift to the future of Doug Whaley, how Rex Ryan can fix the defense, and how much the offense can grow with Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Sammy Watkins. There is reason for optimism in that respect. However, in this season, when the playoffs were talked up more than at any point in the past sixteen years, the Bills fell woefully short of the mark. As is the case in every non-playoff year, the offseason is sure to be an interesting one with all sorts of different twists and turns. However, the Bills are eliminated with two games to go in the season — and that in itself should bring on changes — whether it’s coaches, coaching styles, players, or schemes — for them as they move forward to the 2016 season, and the eventual hope of ending the longest playoff drought in the NFL.
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