No need to belabor the obvious. The Bills were a disappointment as the season wore down. Josh Allen said they “ran out of gas.” Well, okay. You have an indicator signal in your car when you are getting close to empty. It means it’s time to fill up the tank. Didn’t the coaching staff notice the team was getting close to “E” before they stalled out?
Damar Hamlin’s near tragedy and miraculous recovery to date certainly has been difficult for the team, the community, and even the nation. I disagree, however, with the recent Buffalo News headline: “The year Bills’ fans learned the hard way that football is not life and death.” Not true. Most fans have always known that. Family and health always come first. The sun always comes up the next day (okay, that is when the clouds let it shine.) As to football wins and losses, disappointing ends to previous games and seasons have also made keeping football-in-proper-perspective notion part of this community’s DNA for a long time.
Maybe it was all the hype about being the Super Bowl favorite, starting even before the season began, that makes the loss to Cincinnati all the more difficult to accept. The hype wasn’t just local. National pundits and oddsmakers drummed that into us for many months.
I posted at the beginning of the season that I thought the team would only lose three or four games, but I was also looking for a season that would end with a Super Bowl win. Maybe we should have paid more attention to the awful way that playoff game in Kansas City ended last season – poor strategizing and clock management when it was needed the most. I also thought the Bills could beat the Bengals, but like many others I was stunned by how they were manhandled on both sides of the ball.
A friend noted to me that sometimes you can be deceived by a team’s previous record to give credibility to wins the following season. This season many took a lot from the big wins against LA and Tennessee, but in reality those teams were not good, nor was Green Bay. They clobbered the Steelers, but that was Kenny Pickett’s first game and they were without T.J. Watt. They struggled with both the Jets and Miami and also had close games against the Browns and Lions. Their best wins were against KC and New England. What would have happened if Hines didn’t have two kickoff TD’s?
All season long they were saying that Allen should take the shorter completions, but against the Bengals he seemed to take or look for the long ones, which take longer to set up and depend on better line protection. Allen missed Beasley, who was previously dependable on short routes. Crowther got hurt early, McKenzie wasn’t dependable, and Shakir was a rookie finding his way. Gabe Davis didn’t live up to expectations after three years invested in development.
Going forward, everyone has their own ideas about what is needed to do better next season. Another prime receiver; a better running back; help on the D line; a healthy Von Miller; and a few other holes to fill. Brandon Beane reports that the team is currently millions over on the NFL’s new $224.8 million salary cap . We will likely say goodbye to several of this year’s players. Some contracts will need to be re-negotiated to spread out the costs.
Free agency shopping will not help much because the available stars will not be affordable. We will draft late in the league lineup so the pickings there may not be all that great either.
The statistics of the season suggested we had a great team.
The offense Allen ran up some impressive numbers. The defense was ranked high. So what?
Because of those stats, it is not likely that there will be any significant changes in the coaching staff; the team dropped their safeties coach last week. Standing pat after three successive disappointing, too-early ends to the season makes a fan wonder if it is really a good idea to avoid hard decisions about the coaches.
In football lore, when thinking about head coaches, there has been a category of HCs that should be noted. Marty Schottenheimer and Chuck Knox, both with Buffalo connections, come to mind. They were great regular season coaches. They got their teams into the playoffs. But they could never win a championship. Sean McDermott is not going anywhere at the moment, but he has yet to emerge from the Schottenheimer/Knox category of coaches.
There has been a lot written and spoken about how Stefon Diggs carried on near the end of and after the Bengals game. I think he got the frustration part perfectly right. Everyone connected with the team – the coaches, players, administration – should have the same fire. Despite what they have said about Diggs, that is not really evident.
Hope springs eternal. In two short weeks the focus will shift to the 2023 season. For this fan, though, it is going to be hard to jump on the Super Bowl bandwagon again. The Eastern Division will be much more challenging. The Bills are no better than third best in the conference as the 2022 season ends. That may or may not be true next season.
I think the Bengals would have won the AFC championship but for a bad referee call or two. Eagles by four in the Super Bowl.