April 24, 2018

NFL Story
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: January 10, 2018 04:48:39 PM

Key for Bills was snapping playoff drought

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- 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 which now can be put behind as the Bills 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.
--The Bills made the playoffs despite an offense that sputtered all season, especially in the passing game, ranking 29th in total yards, 31st in passing yards, tied for 26th in first downs, and 22nd in points. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison came under fire from fans and media for some of his play-calling and personnel usage decisions, and for the fact that he could not raise Tyrod Taylor's game to a new level. His future with the Bills seems to be in doubt, but head coach Sean McDermott said three days after the season ended that no decisions have been made.
"It's early in the process right now," McDermott said. "I'm not going to get into speculation and that's what that is, speculation on coaches, players, and their futures as Buffalo Bills.
"Brandon (Beane) and I communicate on a lot of things and evaluations are a part of that, and the reason we do that is we're building this thing together. We're aligned philosophically on how we believe it should look and how the building process should take shape."
Interestingly, there are three coaches with ties to McDermott who are, or will be, available. His first choice for offensive coordinator when he was hired last year was Mike McCoy, and he's now available after being fired in Denver. Carolina fired Mike Shula, and Rob Chudzinski is expected to be let go in Indianapolis after its new head coach is in place.
--General manager Brandon Beane did not lay all of the blame for the offense's failures on quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
"We're not satisfied with the whole offense, and it wasn't just about Tyrod," Beane said. "There's a lot of hands in the cookie jar, so to speak, and Sean and I know we have to get better on offense, on defense, on special teams.
"We're far from a finished product, and I don't know if you're ever going to hear us say we're a finished product. We have a lot of work to do, we know that."
Beane praised Taylor's approach to his job.
"Tyrod has a lot of ability, he really does, and we saw some of those things," Beane said. "But he'll tell you he has weaknesses to work on just like a lot of other guys. You can never question his work ethic ... he does so many good things, gives himself the best chance to succeed on the field because of what he does off the field."
--If defensive tackle Kyle Williams wants to return to play in 2018, Beane said he'd be welcomed back. Williams is a free agent, soon to be 35 years old, who is contemplating his future. He might decide to retire, but he played a pivotal role on the team in 2017, not only on the field, but off, and Beane appreciated it.
"Who doesn't love Kyle Williams?" Beane said. "I've got nothing but positives to say about Kyle. To see that moment in the locker room, him and his sons, and what Kyle has meant to this city, he is a big-time leader. I had a good conversation with him yesterday. He was a big part of the leadership, not only of our defense but of our team, so you definitely want that back, but it's a two-way thing.
"He's going to reflect, we'll give him time to sit back. After a long season and a long career, he needs to sit back and at the right time we'll get together, but we'd definitely love to have Kyle back.

All Times Eastern