It wasn’t pretty, but Buffalo Bills made the NFL playoffs for first time since 1999.
“The Process,” which new Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott referred to ad naseum since being hired, seemed like a less-than-subtle way of telling fans not to expect any substantial progress in 2017. For many in Buffalo, it was reminiscent of the “Suffering” mantra which ex-Sabres GM Darcy Regier referred to during the rebuilding years,
The pre-season newswire featured:
-Trading away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby.
-The signing and retirement of Anquan Boldin before replica jerseys could be sold.
-Marcell Dareus’ continuing fight against punctuality and his departure during the regular season.
By the time opening weekend rolled around, many fans the felt that the Rex Ryan/Doug Whaley Circus still hadn’t left town.
A game one win over the Jets was dismissed as a gimmie over a team that was viewed as tanking the season.
Yet, when all was and done, the Bills won four of their last six, finished 9-7 and snuck into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They held on to beat the Dolphins in Week 17, highlighted by a Kyle Williams rushing TD. Then the Ravens, after overcoming a 14-point deficit, gave up an Andy Dalton TD pass in the final minute to fumble away a wild card spot to the Bills.
Diminished expectations turned to delusions of grandeur after a 5-2 start found the team tied for first with the Patriots. Hopes were heightened after wins over Denver, Atlanta and Oakland. Unfortunately, the two AFC opponents were on their way to underperforming; fans just didn’t know it at the time.
Then came the three-game debacle where they were clobbered by the Jets, Saints and Chargers. The latter was notable for the decision to start Nathan Peterman at QB over a healthy Taylor, an experiment deemed a failure by halftime. True, there was no way of knowing that the Bills would have won with Taylor, as the defense imploded in those games as well. Yet, it seemed to many at the time that the season was over.
There were pleasant surprises. The secondary was better than expected, with free agent Micah Hyde making the Pro Bowl, first-rounder Tre’Davious White establishing himself as a force and Jordan Poyer coming out of nowhere to start.
LeSean McCoy had a solid year. Taylor kept the turnovers to a minimum, although the prevailing sentiment is that odds are against his being handed the starting job next year as he and Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison couldn’t seem to build any chemistry.
Despite this, the biggest improvement was the addition of McDermott and his coaching staff. Although there were missteps, they brought an air of organization and competence to Orchard Park that wasn’t seen during the Keystone Cops Era led by the Brothers Ryan.
9-7 isn’t indicative of a budding dynasty. They’ve had that record before during the drought. But the bottom line remains: they’re in the playoffs. After 17 years, fans deserve to be happy.
The Bills may be without McCoy, who hurt his ankle against Miami. They now head to Jacksonville to face old friends Doug Marrone and Marcell Dareus.
Presuming Dareus doesn’t oversleep Sunday morning.
So they’re off the schneid. Now the goal is to win a playoff game for the first time since the 1995 season.
In Buffalo, it’s a game of playoff tag. The Bills are off the clock.
Hey Sabres? You’re it.