October 3, 2017 at 8:00 AM
The Buffalo Bills have gone through many iterations in the past couple of decades, 20 years spent flailing in the wilderness. They have shuffled general managers, swapped coaches and even ownership changed. As the Bills have failed to win even one playoff game, they have been rudderless.
That quality, the one constant that soiled the franchise, may finally be changing. The Bills are 3-1 after four games, and they have shown signs their first quarter-season is more than a fluke. More importantly, they might actually have people in charge who know what they’re doing. The present isn’t so bad, and the future is bright in, of all places, Buffalo.
Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane inherited a mess this offseason. They cleaned house, trading some of Buffalo’s best players — cornerback Ronald Darby, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and linebacker Reggie Ragland — and acquiring a haul of draft picks. The Bills have six picks in the first three rounds in next year’s draft.
When McDermott and Beane launched a rebuild, they may not have expected to be in first place in the AFC East, a game ahead of the Patriots, after Week 4. On Sunday, they scored one of the most impressive victories of the young season, stealing a victory in Atlanta.
There is plenty of season left for the Bills’ expected lack of talent to catch up to them. There are also indicators that they’re a playoff contender. The Bills lead the NFL in points allowed, having yielded 13.5 per game. Their opponents are 8-2 in games played against teams other than the Bills.
After Mary Levy retired in 1997, the Bills cycled through seven head coaches in the next 20 seasons, not including two interims. The list: Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone and Rex Ryan. Only Phillips reached the playoffs or accumulated a winning record in Buffalo.
McDermott, the former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator who served apprenticeships under Andy Reid and Ron Rivera, might be different. Already, he has earned the trust and respect of the locker room. Players have responded to McDermott’s disciplined, detailed approach, crediting his preparation with their surprising start, especially in comparison to Ryan.
“I will say that the things coach preaches throughout the week, the way he keeps his focus and the way he allows us to practice certain situations in games [have changed],” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “Over the past three weeks, we have practiced a number of situations. Ironically, they have happened in the games. We are prepared for it. The coaches are doing a great job of keeping us prepared for games.”
“We practice these situations a lot more than we have in the past,” Bills defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said, per Advance Media New York. “When we get out there, it feels a little bit more comfortable than it did in the past. To be honest with this team, we attribute our success to preparation. I think we prepare a lot differently. Coach McDermott keeps us on our toes in team meetings. He’ll call you out in team meetings and ask a random question about the offense. You have to know the situation and know what the offense is thinking. He just tries to make the game a little slower for us.”
When the Bills beat the Falcons, a reporter asked McDermott whether it might be Buffalo’s biggest road win since their AFC championship years. McDermott kindly suggested he “hold your horses.” The fact the question even got asked showed where the Bills have been. McDermott, a coach who has brought substance after the bluster of recent seasons, shows where they may be going.
>>> Derek Carr has a spinal fracture and will miss two to six weeks, as Carl Steward reports. The Raiders will turn to former Bills starter EJ Manuel, who looked capable filling in Sunday in Denver. The Raiders’ bye is Week 10, and so they could give Carr a full six weeks by waiting until Week 11. Their opponents in that pivotal stretch: Ravens, Chargers, Chiefs, at Buffalo and at Miami. Their Week 7 game against Kansas City is a Thursday game, so it’s hard to see Carr coming back before missing at least three games.
Bottom line: The Raiders were seen as a Super Bowl contender entering the season, and now they’re in a battle to reach the playoffs.
>>> It’s Mitchell Trubisky time in Chicago, Rich Campbell writes. It’s not clear how the entire organization feels about the benching of Mike Glennon. From Campbell’s story:
General manager Ryan Pace initially planned for the team to patiently develop Trubisky in practices. This deviation was triggered by Glennon’s failure to consistently protect the ball during the Bears’ 1-3 start. He has been credited with an NFL-high eight turnovers, all in the last three games, including blowout road losses to the Buccaneers and Packers.
“It was just a decision I thought needed to be made,” coach John Fox said Monday evening on WBBM radio. “We’ve had 10 giveaways in the first four weeks of the season, and you can’t win football games that way. Not that they were all one guy’s fault, but the combination of that, we’re going a different direction.”
Fox, who was not available Monday to reporters who cover the team, said the decisive discussion with Pace about the quarterback situation was part of an ongoing evaluation of Glennon’s play and Trubisky’s growth.
“I think everybody was in agreement,” Fox said. Pace has not commented publicly.
>> Cliff Avril is going to be “awhile,” as Ian Rapoport reports. The Seahawks are going to miss Avril dearly. Last year, he was seventh in the NFL with 11.5 sacks and fourth with five forced fumbles. Seattle has a major test at the Rams this weekend.
>> Seattle offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo suffered a bruised heart Sunday night and had to be tended to in the Seahawks’ locker room. As Seattle’s offense sputters, it needs a dominant defense to keep pace in the NFC West. The scary incident is a reminder of how dangerous it is to play in the NFL.
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