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Playoff drought is over, Bills can move on
Losing is never a good thing, but the Buffalo Bills really couldn't be disappointed by their first-round knockout in the AFC wild-card game at Jacksonville because, in this rare instance, getting to the playoffs was just as important as winning the game.
The Bills desperately needed to end the franchise's 17-year playoff drought because it was hanging over the team, even though most of the players had very little to do with it as only a handful have been in Buffalo three years or more. It was a blight on the organization, and now they can put it behind them and move forward with a front-office structure and coaching staff that all seems to be aligned.
There are big decisions to come, most notably at quarterback where the Bills have to figure out what to do with Tyrod Taylor - bring him back or release him and find his successor, be it in the draft or free agency. The popular theory is that he will be cut, the Bills will try to pick a quarterback in the first round, and also acquire a veteran who could perhaps be the placeholder until the rookie is ready.
Offensively, the Bills have been held back by their remedial passing game, and Taylor had a large role in that for three years. However, he's not solely to blame because, particularly this year, he had almost no help from a lackluster group of wide receivers, and an offensive coordinator who didn't always put him in the best situations to succeed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Bills turned almost their entire front office and coaching staff over, and with everyone working from the same playbook, the Bills finally looked like a cohesive organization, with a true vision for the future. Head coach Sean McDermott changed the culture, general manager Brandon Beane made several moves to clean up the roster, and he also positioned the Bills for a critical 2018 draft. The bonus was that the Bills ended their playoff drought while planning for the future.
WHAT WENT WRONG: After a 5-2 start, the Bills suffered through a damaging three-game midseason losing streak when the defense was utterly horrible. Beyond those three games, what held the Bills back the most was an offense that could not finish drives, and never scared anyone in the passing game. Buffalo ranked 31st in passing, after ranking 28th and 30th the previous two years. The common denominator was Tyrod Taylor.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Wide receiver Zay Jones, a second-round pick who set the all-time college football record for pass receptions, struggled mightily as a rookie and fell far below expectations. He caught only 27 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, and had four games where he didn't catch a single pass.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Free safety Jordan Poyer came to Buffalo as an unheralded free agent from Cleveland, coming off a serious injury in 2016. All he did was become a starter from day one and was one of the most important and productive players on the Buffalo defense. He finished with 95 tackles, five interceptions, one fumble recovery, 13 passes defensed, and two sacks.
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Defensive backs coach Gill Byrd took a secondary that was entirely new - every player, starter or backup - and molded it into a unit that was a big part of the defense's improvement in 2017. He helped turn rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White into a possible multiple Pro-Bowl player in years to come.