It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t pretty. It was the Bills.
The Bills’ 2017 season crashed back to earth Sunday, breaking through the atmosphere over northern Florida and landing with a dull thud. Buffalo overachieved en route to its first playoff appearance since January 2000, but ultimately couldn’t make the plays necessary to outgun a powerful Jaguars defense in a 10-3 Wild Card Round loss.
While the season ended in disappointment, it was still a tremendous ride. The Bills ran out to a 5-2 start that put them briefly atop the AFC East, then recovered from a midseason swoon to end the league’s longest postseason drought. Here are the top moments from Buffalo’s affirming nine-win 2017.
Tyrod Taylor was a perfectly cromulent quarterback
Taylor isn’t going to deliver prolific passing performances or lead his team back from a three-touchdown deficit through the air. Instead, he’s going to protect the ball, make the throws he’s confident in, and provide just enough air cover to prevent opponents from getting comfortable or loading up the box to stop the run. The two-time Pro Bowler — which, in fairness, is more a reflection of the Pro Bowl’s lack of willing participants than Taylor’s mastery — was responsible for more than 210 yards per game but lost the ball only seven times thanks to three fumbles and four interceptions.
More importantly, he won games. Taylor went 8-6 as a starter this fall, improving his career record to 22-20. That’s a solid number for a passer at any franchise — doing it with one coming off a 17-year playoff drought is even more impressive.
Zay Jones gave us one of 2017’s top celebrations
Jones was one of the NCAA’s most prolific wide receivers in 2016, but the East Carolina product struggled to adapt in his first season as a pro. His best night came against the Jets in Week 8, when he had six catches, 53 yards, and the touchdown he’d been waiting for his whole life.
He made sure to make the most of the opportunity, staging an epic Star Wars Jedi battle:
LeSean McCoy remained one of the league’s top running backs
Jettisoning McCoy was one of Chip Kelly’s worst moves as an NFL coach, as the former Eagle has proven himself as a reliably elite tailback in each of his three seasons with the Bills. The veteran recorded his sixth 1,000-yard season this season, earning his fifth straight Pro Bowl invite in the process. With a game manager like Taylor behind center, McCoy’s performance is paramount to the team’s success — and he proved worthy of that responsibility in 2017.
The Bills beat the Colts in a dang blizzard and it was awesome
A foot of snow turned an unheralded showdown between Buffalo and Indianapolis into one of the most memorable 13-7 games in league history. New Era Field was painted white as yard markers and end zones disappeared under a winter wonderland.
The game appeared destined to end in a tie, but McCoy’s 21-yard run with only 93 seconds left in the game sealed a Bills win. It was an important one, too — a tie in Week 14 would have meant no playoff trip.
A struggling defense is piecing together a solid core
The 2017 Bills relied on a combination of heady veterans and emerging young stars to stop the ball. Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander provided a steady baseline as the team’s old guard. 2014 draftee Preston Brown continued his emergence as one of the AFC’s most reliable middle linebackers. Free agent addition Micah Hyde proved his worth in the secondary with a Pro Bowl premier season. First-round pick Tre’Davious White totaled four interceptions and led the team with 18 passes defensed while showing an All-Pro ceiling in his rookie year.
But this group still allowed far too many yards, even after shutting down the Jaguars Sunday. Only two teams sacked the quarterback fewer times than the Bills, who managed just 27 during the regular season. There are pieces to build from here, but head coach Sean McDermott still has plenty of work to do.
Bills Mafia remained one of the most entertaining fan bases
To paraphrase Bubba Ray Dudley, “Tyrod… get the tables!” The #BillsMafia loyalty was finally rewarded with a playoff game after years of table-smashing, Fireball-chugging, fireball-lighting antics.
— matt sikora (@mattsikora) January 7, 2018
But Buffalo fans proved to be greater than the sum of their alcohol-soaked parts. They banded together to reward Andy Dalton for pushing their team to the playoffs by donating thousands of dollars to Dalton’s charitable foundation.
What’s next for the Bills?
Sunday’s defeat ended Buffalo’s 2017 season and erased an opportunity to stun the Patriots in Foxborough next week, but this campaign was no failure. The question now is how Buffalo will improve from it.
The biggest uncertainty comes at quarterback, where the team has been looking to move away from two-time Pro Bowler Tyrod Taylor for, seemingly, anyone else. Nathan Peterman was drafted as his heir apparent, but hanging over his head is his spellbinding 14-pass, five-interception starting debut, which doesn’t inspire much confidence about the future. The 2018 draft will have plenty of passers, but the pickings will be slim outside the top 20 where the Bills’ first-round picks land.
Picks, as in plural. Buffalo will hold the 21st and 22nd picks this May, which should give them the latitude to make some immediate improvements. That could include someone to take the weight off McCoy’s shoulders. The veteran back will be 30 years old next season and his 4.0 yards per carry were a career low. A dynamic young runner could help him stay fresh and healthy — and make an occasionally predictable Bills offense even more dangerous.
Buffalo has its share of issues. Addressing a shoddy pass rush and uneven offense will be the team’s top priorities. Even so, the rest of the team’s strengths were enough to lead the team to an unlikely playoff berth. That’s the kind of foundation from which McDermott can build — especially if the Patriots are as close to implosion as reports suggest.
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