Despite an earlier playoff exit, Brandon Beane does not believe Bills took step back

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

ORCHARD PARK - After thanking the Buffalo Bills players, the coaches, the training staff, the equipment staff, and owners Terry and Kim Pegula, genuine emotion gripped general manager Brandon Beane when he thanked the fans Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m sick to my stomach that we lost the other night, but I am so appreciative, our building is so appreciative,” he said of the support the Bills received during the 2021 season, his voice cracking ever so slightly. 

“It’s painful, and for people to show up at the airport at three in the morning (following the heartbreaking 42-36 loss to the Chiefs), I don’t know what the temperature was, but I wanted to hug them all.”

Bills Mafia had quite a season. With three games in Florida, others in favorite travel destinations Nashville and New Orleans, and then Sunday’s showdown at Arrowhead Stadium, planes were filled with fans in their Bills gear spending their money to cheer on the team and Beane was admittedly moved by it all.

“All year long, no matter where we went,” he said. “We lost in Jacksonville and that was probably the most painful game other than the other night. And so many of them stayed and were like chanting for us. I mean, I would have been booing us; I was booing myself. And it just says a lot to who they are and I’m sorry that we didn’t get it done. We’re all hurting and I’m just sorry.”

Brandon Beane held his annual end of season press conference Wednesday.

Sean McDermott was apologetic as well when he spoke to reporters Tuesday, and for good reason. Having taken a 36-33 lead with 13 seconds remaining, the Bills should have beaten the Chiefs. No one can deny it, probably not even the Chiefs.

“That game could have gone either way,” he said. “I truly believe if we played them 10 times, it’s probably five to five. That’s my heart of hearts; they may think different, but that’s how I see it. If we had just finished that game the way we know how, we’re not sitting here right now, we’re preparing for another one.”

Alas, Beane was sitting there in the press room for more than an hour, answering every question fired his way. Here were some of the highlights:

Beane didn’t think the Bills took a step back

Bills quarterback Josh Allen goes deep to Gariel Davis for a 75-yard touchdown .

The Bills achieved the first of their seasonal goals by winning the AFC East for the second year in a row, but in the final analysis, 2021 was no match for 2020.

The Bills lost double the amount of regular season games, and lost to the Chiefs again in the postseason, only this time it happened in the divisional round, but Beane wasn’t ready to characterize that as regression.

“No, I don’t think it’s a step back,” he said. “You go through adversity and various things happen during each season. Sometimes you’re in a funk or you lose the wrong players at the wrong time (that lead to losses). It’s a matchup league, and sometimes you match up against certain opponents better than you do other opponents.”

For instance, he pointed to the windy home loss to the Patriots where he acknowledged that, “The weather probably suited how they were built better than we were at the time.”

What hurt the Bills were a couple bad losses to Pittsburgh and obviously Jacksonville, and those cost Buffalo the opportunity not only for the top seed in the AFC, but at least the No. 2 spot which would have meant playing the Chiefs at Highmark Stadium.

But while the 11-6 record could have been better, Beane said it was good to see the Bills come on at the end of the season, starting with the second half of the loss at Tampa Bay.

“The light came on there,” he said. “You know, look what we just did in the second half, let’s get back to that, let’s be ourselves, let’s be loose. Maybe we were a little bit tight, I don’t know, but I thought we were really playing good football down the stretch. And I think you saw it the other night, that was a heck of a game.”

Pass rush was good, not great

Chiefs Patrick Mahomes runs around Bills Jerry Hughes.

Beane has invested loads of capital on the defensive line in the last few seasons, both in the draft and in free agency. And while the Bills closed with a fury and made 19 sacks in the final four regular-season games for a season total of 42, he admitted that the front four was a bit inconsistent.

“I think in certain games we did (get good pressure), and I think there were some games that we would have liked to have had more, if I’m being honest,” he said. “Consistently all year, probably not as much, but I think they did some really good things.”

Rookies Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham, and 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa combined for eight sacks, Rousseau getting half of those. Ed Oliver had a fine season but had only four, Jerry Hughes had only two, while Mario Addison led the team with justs even.

“They were kind of a blend with some aging vets and young guys, but I like where we’re at and I like where we’re headed,” he said. “I’m always going to put resources in the front; that’s just how I believe it should be built. Don’t ever be shocked if you see us trying to add there, free agency or the draft at any point.”

This will be an interesting offseason because Hughes, Addison, Vernon Butler, Harrison Phillips, Justin Zimmer and Efe Obada are all unrestricted free agents and the Bills aren’t exactly flush with salary cap room so the defensive line room might look very different in 2022.

Beane seemed non-committal on Cole Beasley 

Bills receiver Cole Beasley  gains yardage after a catch.

Beasley has one year remaining on the four-year deal he signed in 2019 and he’ll cost $7.5 million against the cap at age 33. However, if the Bills decide to move on, they’d save around $6 million because the dead cap hit is just $1.5 million.

Beasley matched his 2020 total of 82 catches, but his yardage fell from a career-best 967 to 693, a drop of more than three yards per reception. It was clear he was still able to find holes in zones, but against man coverage, he wasn’t separating the way he used to. When he was asked about Beasley, Beane made an interesting comment. 

“Cole can still play and he’ll continue to play in this league,” he said. “He’s still under contract; I didn’t sit down with Cole at the end and see where he was at or things like that. But I would anticipate Cole being back.”

Read between the lines: He didn’t say he’d still be a part of the Bills, and really, moving on from Beasley -- after all the drama that surrounded him during the season because of his COVID-19 vaccination status -- isn’t a bad idea, especially factoring in the monetary savings.

Preparations in the works if coaches leave

Leslie Frazier is still in the mix for multiple head coaching jobs.

Brian Daboll and Leslie Frazier are still in the running for multiple head coaching positions, though nothing has happened as of yet. If and when it does, Beane said he and McDermott have a working file of coaches to interview.

“Sean and I have talked about a list of candidates for if we lose Leslie Frazier, if we lose Brian Daboll,” he said. “The rules are such that no matter what, you have to interview from the outside anyway for a coordinator position. So we would follow all of those. We have a list of some guys. We’re kind of in this wait and see mode because at this point Brian and Leslie are still in the interview mode.”

Beane said they would obviously consider in-house candidates as well.

“We always want to look inside, too. We would want to look at what do we have - whether on the defensive side of the ball or the offensive side of the ball -what do we have on staff here that we think could handle Brian’s job or Leslie’s and then who are the candidates out there that we’ve coached against, played against, whatever it is.”

Tremaine Edmunds is still learning

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is tackled by Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

The fourth-year linebacker is always a hot-button item for Bills fans who believe, as a former first-round draft pick, he hasn’t played up to that status. Beane doesn’t buy it, though.

“Tremaine has done some really good things,” Beane said. “I thought his physicality improved this year, getting off blocks, I thought all that improved. There’s still things that he wants to get better at and we think going into next year, he’s a young player still, but going into year five, we think he’ll be even better.”

Beane was asked specifically if playing instinctually, and reacting faster to what’s happening is an area Edmunds needs to be better.

“As a young player, some things come faster to others,” he said. “I think Tremaine has definitely improved his awareness, his instinct of what to see. I think like anything sometimes you face an offense that does a lot more. You got to remember, too, he’s also the quarterback of the defense. He’s calling, he’s checking, he’s doing a lot pre-snap to get us lined up. 

“It’s a hard job; I think Tremaine does a lot with the whole operation that doesn’t get noticed because maybe he didn’t quite get through the B gap in time to make the play or he was late. He’s a heck of an athlete. I think he has improved a little bit each year to where he’s at. He’ll be the first to tell you though, there’s plays that he wants back.”

As for working on a contract extension with Edmunds heading into his walk year, Beane said those discussions haven’t taken place yet.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.