In a strange set of occurrences, this writer was at the Jacksonville Jaguars vs Buffalo Bills playoff game. One hour before kickoff, a friend walked into my house waving tickets that her customer just gave her because she decided not to go.
The mad dash we embarked on was one that would’ve won the Great Race. Sometimes everything goes your way, from green lights to little traffic to finding the perfect parking spot because one person inexplicably left. We watched the first three drives on my phone as we walked from the car, and up the ramps. In one hour and ten minutes, we got dogs out, two females change (including make-up), stopped for cash and drove 23 miles. It was worth it!
I’m sure the Bills Mafia will be out in full force based on how quickly the seats sold out. They are ending their own playoff drought and are overwhelmingly and understandably excited about this game. However, Jacksonville is pretty stoked as well. It’s going to be a loud game. Believe it or not, Jaguar fans have caused delay of game calls due to the noise. Two of my sons will be there, as long-suffering fans who’ve been to a lot losing games, they’re beyond excited. And they’re raucous like their mama!
Along with the turkeys, Christmas lights, and the shopping frenzy of late November/early December comes another seasonal hallmark: the posting of the NFL playoff rankings during the televised broadcasts.
You have your three columns: Division Leaders, Wild Card, and, the ever-hopeful, “In the Hunt.” Over the last 17 years, the Bills have become such regular members of the “In the Hunt” club, the players should be issued camo and a tree stand along with their helmets and pads.
Head Coach Sean McDermott stunned everyone at his morning press conference announcing he was making a change at quarterback, benching quarterback Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman. McDermott said it’s about “becoming a better team.”
There has been a lot of wheeling and dealing this week! The San Francisco 49ers have a new quarterback in Jimmy Garrapolo, running back Jay Ajayi is now with the Philadelphia Eagles and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is now with the Buffalo Bills! For some teams, this bye week is a welcome time of rest and rejuvenation.
Now there are six teams on a bye deserving some much needed rest: Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is one of five team captains that make up what Coach Sean McDermott calls his“Leadership Council.” Alexander, along with quarterback Tyrod Taylor, kicker Stephen Hauschka, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, and center Eric Wood, are the players that McDermott says he depends on to be a “sounding board … in terms of what’s going on, how the team’s reacting to things.”
This sounding board was particularly valuable when the team was sorting out its response to the anthem protests going on around the league. Prior to the Bills-Broncos game in Week 3, a long meeting was held in which McDermott, all the Bills players, general manager Brandon Beane, and team owners Kim and Terry Pegula were able to respectfully discuss their viewpoints and work out a mutually agreeable solution. On Game Day, Alexander was one of 12 Bills players who knelt during the anthem, while McDermott and the remaining players linked arms along the sidelines in a display of solidarity.
Alexander commented on his reasons for taking a knee that day. “We have great privileges here but as … a U.S. citizen I [wanted] to call or bring attention to things that need change. With that, today I kneeled but I won’t continue to kneel. [Today] I kneeled to show those guys …that I am with them.”
A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.
A journey into a wondrous land of imagination…”
It began after the final second elapsed on the Bills 23-17 win over the (formerly) undefeated Atlanta Falcons. All around Western New York, a low murmur of voices were expressing wonderment. Disbelief. Excitement. Almost every caller to the local radio post-game shows began their comments with, “I know there’s a lot of the season left, but do you think…?” Or, “I know I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up yet, but…” Or, “The team wasn’t supposed to be any good this year. How do you explain…?”
It does feel as if we’ve entered the Twilight Zone. Staring at the AFC East standings, seeing the Buffalo Bills, 3-1, all alone at the top of the heap, is nothing if not surreal. The previous week’s win over the Denver Broncos was a terrific accomplishment for coach Sean McDermott’s team. But getting a win on the road, against last year’s NFC Champions is something else altogether.
Since taking over the leadership of the Bills, General Manager Brandon Beane and Head Coach Sean McDermott have begged both players and the fan base to “Trust the process.” Trust them during the NFL draft, when they swapped their No. 10 spot with Kansas City and dropped 16 places in exchange for the Chief’s 2018 first-round pick. Trust them when they traded starting cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick. Trust them when they absolutely stunned both the fans and even the Bills players by trading wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E. J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round draft pick.
Beane assured Bills fans that their plan was to do everything necessary to get to the playoffs this year. But, at the same time, they traded away established players for future draft picks. Confused? Just trust us, they say.
The first two games of the 2017 season were a shaky win over a “tanking” Jets team, and an abysmal offensive showing in a loss to Carolina. These did little to inspire confidence in the new regime. Fans were quickly resigned to the idea that the 17-year playoff drought would eventually turn 18.
The perfect trap game? We won’t know until Denver plays a few more. A trap game implies or infers, depending on if you’re reading or hearing it said, that a bad team surprises a good team.
Whether Denver got out played by a better team, or shot themselves in the foot, we will know soon enough. For me, it was about being out coached.
Rick Dennison knew exactly how to beat Trevor Siemian and Mike McCoy either had more faith in his quarterback than it warranted or he got out coached. In my keys to the game with our Buffalo Bills reporter Mary Pesarchick, it was exactly what Buffalo needed to do. They loaded the box and made Siemian throw where he’s not comfortable. The loaded box stopped the run (sort of), but also stopped the short pass game because the receivers couldn’t get YAC (yards after catch). This forced Siemian to take chances that weren’t successful.
They also gave him Emmanuel Sanders for much of the game until he became Siemian’s first read and then starting jumping his routes. The result was two interceptions, as well as two dropped ones, but Siemian was also off on most of his throws all day. This could be because they played Zone and kept giving him one look pre-snap and then changed it post snap.
I asked Mary Pesarchick her thoughts on the upcoming game. Denver (2-0) travels east to take on the Bills (1-1) in an early 1:00 game (10:00 MST). She interviews me for hers, so make sure to read Mary, too.
Jules: Which of your players who may miss Sunday are you most concerned about?
Mary: Left tackle Cordy Glenn definitely. Unfortunately, he’s been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Our O-line is much better when he’s in there (even on a bad ankle) and given Denver’s defense, I’d feel better for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy chances if he was in there.