(WKBW) — For one final time, the Buffalo Bills took to the field in the 2018 season. With a purpose that felt like it was bigger than just a pair of non-playoff teams playing out the string, the Bills cruised to a 42-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins to complete their season with a 6-10 record.
The Bills waved goodbye to their captain, saw the youth of their organization shine, and got to leave New Era Field until 2019 with a good feeling. How did it all come to be?
Seven observations from the Bills' win over the Dolphins:
1) Kyle's final farewell
- The announcement by Kyle Williams both came out of nowhere and was a long time coming. It was always a question mark as to whether Williams would return for the 2019 season even before the current year began, but Williams ended all the speculation Friday to bring finality to his career and to allow the Bills and their fan base to send him off the way they wanted to. For 13 seasons, Williams has been a mainstay in the starting lineup and for the vast majority, an outright nuisance to the opposition. And they certainly wouldn't allow him to slip out the back door as he might have wanted to. They honored him in a multitude of ways throughout the game, starting with introducing only him ahead of the game and have him run out on the field to see his family waiting for him. As the game went on, the Bills filtered in video messages from past teammates on the jumbotron during commercial breaks, the team worked him into the offensive game plan, and to cap it all off head coach Sean McDermott purposefully kneeling the ball and calling a timeout so that they can give Williams a curtain call. After the game, McDermott told 7ABC after the game that he had hoped all last night that they would be in a position to provide Williams with that type of send-off. With due respect to Fred Smerlas, Ted Washington, Pat Williams, and any others I forgot, from an on-field perspective, Kyle Williams has been the best defensive tackle in franchise history. He was a force to be reckoned with for years on end, and even if he wasn't the same dominant player these past two seasons, the longevity and effectiveness of his career puts him atop the list in my opinion. Either way, the Bills will miss him in 2019 and beyond.
2) Josh Allen ends on a high note
- As the longest-tenured player on the roster bid adieu to the franchise, the most important player for the future of the team put on a show. Josh Allen, from a purely statistical perspective, wrecked the Miami Dolphins in Week 17. He threw three touchdown passes, ran for two others, completed 64-percent of his passes, and racked up 319 total yards along the way. Allen sorely needed a bounce-back effort considering his performance in the first half against New England last week, in which the game seemed perhaps a tad too big for him. However, it wasn't just the pure statistics to be impressed by; it was how he went about it. While he did have the error of throwing his first interception that a defense returned for a touchdown, he also looked confident in the pocket and kept the Dolphins' defense guessing. He was spreading the ball around, hitting his targets in stride with good ball location, and having one of his most accurate performances of his rookie season. For what Allen was in Week Two against the Los Angeles Chargers, and what he progressed into by the final week of the season, you can't ignore the clear strides the rookie quarterback has made in several different areas. His pocket presence, accuracy, decision making, and pre-snap identification all improved as the season went on, and with how much he worked at it, the Bills have to be highly encouraged heading into his first offseason. He'll need to take even more steps for where the Bills want to go with McDermott and GM Brandon Beane, and they'll want him to take over as the full leader now that Kyle Williams has played his last down for the franchise, as well.
3) McCoy's nightmare season
- With the conclusion of the 2018 season, the once top offensive player of the organization saw the worst statistical season of his career by quite a bit. He rushed for the lowest amount of yards in a single season for his career, and he averaged his lowest yards per carry in a single season. McCoy, who will be 31 by the start of the 2019 season, has been frustrated all season by his minimal statistical production. I don't think he's entirely to blame for the down season, considering the offensive line has been mostly horrible since about Week Four. However, McCoy's also to blame for his down season because when he did have room to roam, he didn't take what the offensive line gave him and showed a bit more hesitance than I've seen from him since he arrived in Buffalo. The Bills have staunchly stood behind McCoy all season long -- through the trade deadline, and right down to the end of the season by proclaiming he's a part of their vision for 2019. If that is indeed the case, they need much more from McCoy -- and to pair him with a young running back that they find in the NFL Draft. The Bills could save $6.425 million if they were to release him ahead of the start of the season which would make sense if they were cap strapped, but that isn't the case in the 2019 offseason. Conceivably, they could hang on to him to see if he looks any different in the spring and summer months, but it's hard to justify that much of a salary cap hit going to a player that performed as poorly as he did in 2018. He needs a big offseason, and to look a lot more refreshed than he did over the past four months. We'll see how much of a difference six months makes on a running back on the wrong side of 30.
4) Edmunds saves his best for last
- When the season began for 20-year-old rookie middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, there was quite a bit of trepidation in his game. He was hesitant and looked as though he was in his head, and I distinctly recall GM Brandon Beane saying that he expected Edmunds to make a jump forward in the second half of the season. To Edmunds' credit, middle linebacker in Sean McDermott's defensive scheme is one of the most difficult to understand cover to cover, and for a rookie thrust into the spotlight that early into his career, there were going to be some growing pains. While Edmunds isn't all the way where the Bills want him to be from a consistent basis, you can also see the signs of growth and potential that Josh Allen has also flashed. Edmunds was everywhere in this game, whether it be reading the quarterbacks eyes to redirect to a different area of the field and then using his ridiculous length to corral an interception, or by making his presence known in the backfield. I would still like to see him be quicker in the diagnosis of plays -- but that's something that comes with time. I think the area he needs to work on as much as possible is in block shedding. If he can improve on those things, the sky is the limit for the 20-year-old. Even as just a rookie that made mistakes, though, he was a dramatic improvement from what the Bills had at middle linebacker in 2017.
5) Young corner duo flashing potential
- Coming into the 2018 season, we knew the Bills had one of their cornerback positions spoken for with an ascending player that turned into one of the team's best during his rookie year. Tre'Davious White came in with the top billing and didn't disappoint. And even though he had to exit the game due to a concussion, White managed to show how good of a player he was by jumping an out route against Miami for the interception -- the only part of his game that had been lacking in 2018 mainly out of lack of opportunities above all else. White will be back for his third season, and he might have a young running mate to go along with him, and the Bills found him essentially for free. Undrafted rookie Levi Wallace has gone from practice squad player to solid starter, and now to someone that shows potential to be a starter into 2019 and potentially beyond for how well he's played. He had a pair of big pass breakups against the Dolphins and was heavily involved in thwarting the rushing game for Miami as well. Wallace has all the traits that Sean McDermott loves in cornerbacks. He's tall, he's got long arms, he tackles well, and he has an acute spatial awareness in a zone defense. If there is one position group that I won't question Sean McDermott's ability to identify and cultivate talent, it's with the defensive backs. Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tre'Davious White, and now Levi Wallace all look to be potential long-term starters in a grouping that was a significant liability back in 2016. Wallace and rookie nickel cornerback Taron Johnson might wind up being the finishing pieces to that group. At the very least, Wallace must be in a competition to start in 2019 -- unless the Bills stumble upon a draft value that they didn't think would be there in the first or second round. You can't overstate the find that Wallace has been as an undrafted player, however.
6) Is Shaq Lawson making the Bills ponder their upcoming decision on him this offseason?
- For all the young players that flashed potential in the season finale, the one that might have some long-term repercussions is former first-round pick, Shaq Lawson. He had a pair of sacks and forced a fumble, showing the one part of his game that was missing in the 2018 season. Lawson, without question, has been the most improved player on the Bills roster and deserves a lot of credit for changing the course of his career. Lawson rededicated himself and just got back to who he was at Clemson, as opposed to the pressure that came with being a first-round pick. The tricky thing for the Bills, however, is that they must decide on Lawson this offseason. After the third year for first-round picks, that is when teams must declare if they choose to use the fifth-year option. Before the 2018 season, it was laughable to think Lawson would get that. However, he outplayed Trent Murphy all season long and had turned himself into one of the five or six best performers of the season in 2018 for his work against the run and batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Sneakily, that's one of the most compelling in-house decisions the Bills must make. They could always decline using it and make Lawson be hungry and earn it in the fourth and final year of his contract to push the decision down the road, but these are one of the right problems to have for the Bills. Lawson has been outstanding in 2018, and I give him a lot of credit for that.
7) Charles Clay's Bills career likely ends without a whimper
- In a potential fitting end for Charles Clay -- although active and listed as a starter -- he finished his 2018 season with a game in which he didn't record a single target or reception. Even though he had a reception called back on a penalty, it wouldn't have changed much in the way of his not-so-distant future. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time with the Bills and Clay, with the 2019 offseason being the first time the team could logically get out of the contract while saving money. Unless something bizarre happens, releasing Clay ahead of the start of the new league year appears to be the likeliest course of action. In doing so, the Bills would save $4.5 million on the 2019 salary cap, and to finally have the ability to hit the restart button at a position that can be a game breaker for teams if you find the right player. If the lack of production and the team making him inactive in Week 16 didn't convince you that the Bills are poised to move on from Clay, a shutout of targets and receptions should be the proverbial nail in the coffin.
Bills MVP: DT Kyle Williams
- The day was all about him, and I'm not sure the Bills would have had the type of motivation they exhibited had they not known this was the last game of Williams' career. On any normal day Josh Allen probably gets this award by way of five touchdowns. This wasn't any normal day.
Bills LVP: P Matt Darr
- A mediocre season of punting was capped off by another poor showing from Darr. The Bills have two young punters on Injured Reserve that they've hung on to, so I'd imagine a punting battle between Cory Carter and Corey Bojorquez is on the way in the summer of 2019.
Draft Pick Update: The Bills will select 9th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. After some confusion on Sunday, here's why. The first tiebreaker is the strength of schedule, to which the Bills and Broncos are both tied at 0.523, and since they are in the same conference, it goes to conference tiebreakers. The second tiebreaker is conference record, in which both teams have an identical 4-8 record. From there, it goes to record in games against common opponents, to which both sides have a 1-4 record. The final deciding factor is the strength of victory, to which the Broncos' opponents that they've defeated have more total wins than the teams that the Bills beat. Therefore, the Bills get the 9th overall pick, and the Broncos get the 10th overall selection.
Up Next: It's all over. The Bills clean out their lockers on Monday, and the next we'll hear from the Bills will be down in Mobile, Alabama for the 2019 Senior Bowl.
- And here we are, another season has come and gone -- though this one feels a bit different than the rest, at least in the nine seasons that I've been covering the franchise. For the first time in quite some time, the Bills are on track with a plan that they established in the previous offseason. They have a progressing quarterback to build around, they have several young pieces that have stepped up as the season has gone along (see: Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Shaq Lawson, Tre'Davious White, Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Taron Johnson, Harrison Phillips, and Levi Wallace), and they have a head coach and general manager pairing that understood that the growth of the team is what 2018 was truly all about. Best of all, those two main entities didn't waver from the plan of the 2018 season, and that has brought them to a great jumping off point. Now, the Bills are armed with a top ten draft selction, nine other draft picks besides that one, and what could be $100 million in cap space -- which is the NFL equivalent of a blank palette waiting to be painted on. The progress, specifically over the final six weeks of the season, gives reasons for optimism as long as the youth of the franchise continues on the same path that they established. The pressure to win, especially with as many additional pieces as they'll have following the offseason, will undoubtedly increase for McDermott and Beane. However, all they can hope is the base that they've built in 2018 carries over with the young leaders becoming the established voices, continuing the proliferation of the message that McDermott has tried to establish over the past two seasons. Last offseason was a fun one because we all knew they were going all in on drafting a quarterback, but this one is equally as entertaining because they can go in many different directions in both the draft and free agency. It's not crazy to think that this could be the most important offseason of the McDermott and Beane era, because this is the one where they have all the resources to form the team around their hopeful franchise quarterback. If they do it well enough, their visions of sustained success and challenging for the ultimate prize down the line is attainable. If they fall into the same pitfalls as the ghosts of Bills GMs past, the prevailing thought will be "oh, what could have been." Either way, it's setting up for an incredibly active offseason for fans to see the McDermott and Beane plan to take shape and take the next step. To fulfill what their vision for the franchise was all along -- which is to, one day, get the Bills back to the Super Bowl and in doing something no other team in franchise history has done before.