It may sound crazy, but it's reality: Bills have a tough road just to make the playoffs
Look, things could be worse, right?
The Buffalo Bills aren’t the Detroit Lions, they aren’t the New York Jets or Giants, the Houston Texans or the Jacksonville Jaguars, though I include that last team while ducking because after all, that awful team did happen to beat the Bills.
That said, this 2021 season is on the fast track to becoming one of the most disappointing in Bills history because at this point, the one-time national media darlings are a shell of the team most of us thought they would be.
To clarify, it’s disappointing not in terms of wins and losses because the Bills have had countless years where their record was laughable. It’s disappointing from the standpoint of what this season looked like it would be after the win in Kansas City, but which it certainly is not.
And as the Bills continue the toughest portion of their schedule as they go on the road for what is now a vastly underwhelming Thanksgiving night matchup against the Saints who have their own problems with a three-game losing streak, Buffalo is a team in crisis, and a team that is now very much in danger of missing the playoffs.
Imagine that. The Bills, who were the unanimous preseason choice to win the AFC East, the odds-on favorite of some of the betting sites as recently as three days ago to be the AFC’s Super Bowl representative, might miss the tournament altogether.
Is that crazy? A massive overreaction?
If the season ended today, the Bills would be in the playoffs, just barely sneaking in as the No. 7 seed in the AFC. But the season doesn’t end today.
The Bills still have to play the Saints which, despite their recent struggles, will be a tough game in the old Superdome. Then they play two obvious Super Bowl contenders in the Patriots and Buccaneers in a span of six days, come home to play the unpredictable Panthers, then go on the road the day after Christmas to New England.
Given the way the Bills are playing, losing four of those five is entirely possibly, and if that happens, see ya.
Their 41-15 loss to the Colts took me back in time to the playoff drought years because that's what it felt like watching the Colts dismantle the Bills in every phase of the game. Dick Jauron or Chan Gailey might as well have been coaching Sunday.
“It's a journey every season,” McDermott said. “It's going to ebb and flow. That to me, is part of the challenge, and I love that challenge, to be honest with you. Not that you want to lose, but making those adjustments to get our team exactly where it needs to be and learning who you are as a team, and we continue to grow and move forward. We'll see where we are. We'll see where we are after Thursday night, and just looking at it one week at a time right now."
This season has certainly been a journey. It just hasn’t followed the same GPS coordinates that most fans thought it would.
Here are some other takeaways I had from the game:
A nice thought if it was possible
The Bills, quite obviously, were a topic of conversation on Sunday Night Football prior to the Steelers-Chargers game, and Tony Dungy made a comment that, on paper, makes sense, but in reality, does not.
“I’ve got some advice for the Buffalo coaching staff,” Sunday said. “I know you love Josh Allen – we love Josh Allen and all that talent – but you called eight runs for your running backs (Sunday). You can’t win like that in Buffalo in December and January. You’re going to have to be balanced, you’re going to have to run the football to win.”
It’s one of the oldest bromides in football – run and stop the run. I get it. But here’s the thing: The Bills can’t run the ball. They can’t run it at all with two running backs who have become borderline incompetent, trying to operate behind one of the physically weakest offensive lines in the NFL.
“Off his game. Josh Allen was careless with the football throughout,” chimed in Chris Simms. “The Bills offense didn’t look good and it’s too Josh Allen-centric.”
And this from Drew Brees, who will get a first-hand look at the Bills Thursday because the Saints are honoring him that night: “They don’t have much of an identity. They haven’t been able to run the ball consistently with anyone other than Josh Allen.”
Dungy and the others can preach all they want about the value of a running game, and they aren’t wrong. Look what it does for the Colts. But the Bills do not have a running game, and they will not have one the rest of the season because they don’t have players who are good enough to make it work.
Allen is virtually the entire offense, and when Allen struggles as he has recently, the Bills are in big trouble.
The COVID-19 situation hurt the Bills
No one has any official numbers, but it has been assumed all year that the Bills have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the NFL. And with the virus still so prevalent, especially in western New York where it is spiking again, it was foolhardy to believe the Bills were going to get through unscathed.
I’m sick and tired of debating the vaccine issue. I am pro-vaccine and I can’t understand why anyone would decline it. But there are several members of the Bills who don’t feel the same way.
McDermott has bitten his lip all year when he has been asked about it, but you know where he stands. He says he understands it’s a personal choice and he respects that, but he’s not happy with the guys who left themselves more vulnerable because he knew that at some point it was going to affect his team.
Sunday, it did. Two players who we can be nearly certain aren’t vaccinated, offensive tackle Spencer Brown and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, missed the game, and they were missed.
Without Brown, the offensive line is a mess because his absence affects both right tackle and right guard and weakens the unit as a whole. Lotulelei has one job on the defense – to be a run stuffer, and without him, the Bills were gashed for 264 yards on the ground, 185 of that by Jonathan Taylor.
Would the Bills have won if both players had played? Probably not because the entire team stunk. But that isn’t the point, really. And I have to imagine there are vaccinated players in the locker room who are disappointed with the decisions made by some of their teammates.
How can Stefon Diggs have just 23 yards?
Just when we thought Allen and Diggs had rediscovered each other during the rout of the Jets, on Sunday against Indianapolis, Allen targeted his most dangerous weapon just six times and Diggs caught four for 23 measly yards. Yes, he did have two TDs, but isn’t it logical to believe that if Diggs was more of a priority for Allen that maybe the game wouldn’t have gotten out of hand?
Allen loves to say he throws to the open guy, to where the read takes him. Hey, memo to the quarter-billion-dollar man: Throw the ball to Diggs because even when he’s not open, chances are pretty good he can still make a play. Not throwing to him makes that impossible.
The time has come for Matt Breida to be the No. 1 running back. I’ve seen enough of Singletary and Moss. Breida has played only 26 snaps in the last two games but he has eight carries for 79 yards, four catches for 38 yards, and two touchdowns.
I’ve been trumpeting Dawson Knox all year, and six catches for 80 yards looked nice and led the Bills in both categories, but dropping three passes is not ideal.
Penalties continue to kill this team. The Colts were awarded four first downs thanks to Bills penalties, two of those coming on third down when the Bills had made the stop and the Colts should have been punting.
Less of Mario Addison at this point is probably a good thing. He’s the lowest-graded edge rusher on the Bills roster per Pro Football Focus, he’s 34 years old, he was brutal against the Colts with a whiff on a sack and dumb roughing penalty. He played only 18 snaps, and that should probably stay the same moving forward.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.