Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Bills fans are sensing that they’ve lived through this before. And, boy, haven’t we.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: in a season where expectations are modest at best, the Bills have come out hot(ish) and significantly raised both expectations and heart rates all across WNY.
2016: Rex Ryan’s Bills stumble out of the gate to an 0-2 start before rattling off four straight to be at 4-2, only to lose seven of their last ten games en route to 7-9, and Ryan’s termination.
2015: Ryan’s Bills rally to 5-4 before back-to-back losses to New England and Kansas City derailed the season, ending in a perfectly mediocre 8-8.
2014: Doug “Golden Parachute” Marrone had the squad at 5-3 coming off the bye before a Bryce Brown goal line fumble paved the way for a devastating loss to the Chiefs (which would become a mini tradition of its own). The team finished 9-7, and well, you know the rest.
And so it has gone through the seemingly unending Drought, all the way back to the Bills’ hot start in 2008 with Trent Edwards. The Stanford product led the Bills to a 4-0 start, and looked every bit like the long-awaited franchise savior until a wicked hit from Adrian Wilson on a corner blitz (which would absolutely be a penalty in 2017) knocked him out of the game. Edwards was never the same, returning to the lineup skittish and indecisive, earning derisive nicknames like “Trentative” and “Captain Checkdown”. From 5-1, the Bills lost eight of their last ten en route to 7-9.
Despite Buffalo’s similarities to Winterfell, if the Bills appeared in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice & Fire” they would without a doubt be part of Renly Baratheon’s knights of summer. And winter is coming. If the Bills want to break the infamous Drought, their good fortunes can’t fade along with the warm weather. So is the 2017 squad different from teams past?
LeSean McCoy certainly thinks so. He recently told the media that “we’re not even playing our best ball.” Eric Wood said “I feel like our ceiling is higher than it was last year.” Even the famously stoic Tyrod Taylor said there’s a different feeling in the locker room this year. And maybe there is. How many times in the past have we seen Tyrod and company fall just short of the heroic comeback they pulled against the Bucs on Sunday? Associated Press writer and virulent Replacements enthusiast John Wawrow knows.
The Bills leaders believe, and we certainly haven’t seen any diva histrionics as we did from certain high-profile skill players last season, which is likely due to the man in the headset. Sean McDermott has none of Rex’s flair or bombast (or hair, for that matter), but he seems to have his team believing, and his handiwork is evident in the marked improvement in team discipline this season.
Much has been made of the collective record of the opponents the Bills have beaten. The Jets, Broncos, Falcons, and Bucs are a combined 11-14, which obviously isn’t great. But with the overwhelming parity on display in today’s NFL, the excessive navel gazing about a team’s schedule, especially before the season, is largely pointless. The fact of the matter remains that you can only beat the teams on your schedule, and the Bills have done that twice as often as not thus far.
The bottom line is that the Bills playoff drought is old enough to drive, and nearly old enough to vote. Experience is the harshest teacher, and one could hardly be blamed for assuming the Bills carriage will turn back into a pumpkin in December. There are encouraging signs, but there’s a lot of football to play before that mythical little X shows up next to the logo in the Playoff Picture graphics come late December.