Nearly two decades of frustration and ineptitude came to an end on Sunday for the Buffalo Bills.
Not only did they defeat the Miami Dolphins 22-16 to move to 9-7 in Sean McDermott‘s first year as head coach. They got the help that they needed with the Baltimore Ravens falling to the Cincinnati Bengals. As a result, the longest playoff drought in the major North American pro sports is officially over.
The clinching moment arrived in spectacular fashion. After the Bills wrapped up their win, all eyes turned to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. With the Ravens sporting a 27-24 lead and Cincy facing a fourth and 12 with under two minutes left, things looked bleak. Then Andy Dalton found Tyler Boyd downfield, who proceeded to dodge a slew of Ravens players en route to the end zone.
And so the confluence of factors the Bills needed to make playoff football a reality went in their favor. It sets up a road trip to north Florida for the wild card round as the sixth seeded Bills will take on the three seed in the Jacksonville Jaguars. But for now, let the celebrations begin. Because it’s been a long time since fans have been able to utter the following words: the Bills are in the playoffs.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s historic win.
Week 17 Buffalo Bills Takeaways
Tight Ends Shine
2017 was an up and down year for Bills tight ends Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary. For Clay, he certainly opened up the season on a high note with two touchdowns in the first three games and 112 receiving yards in a win over the Atlanta Falcons. But he also missed time due to a knee injury suffered against the Bengals. In O’Leary’s case, the 2015 sixth round pick out of Florida State saw the most targets of his three-year career thus far. That said, he still came into this game sixth on the team with just 21 receptions.
Both made a meaningful impact on this game. Clay finished with six catches for 64 yards while O’Leary helped the Bills open up the scoring with a 26-yard touchdown grab in which he was wide open in the end zone. Clay’s role was noteworthy in that Tyrod Taylor utilized him quite a bit on underneath routes as the Dolphins corners shadowed the Bills receivers on the boundary. It led to a lot of yards after the catch on Clay’s part. And with his grandfather, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, in attendance, O’Leary’s second touchdown catch had to have felt special.
All in all, the tandem accounted for 44 percent of Taylor’s 204 yards through the air. Clay’s yardage haul took him to 558 receiving yards on the year, the third best total of his career. O’Leary also reached a career milestone of sorts with his 322 receiving yards a career high. Both have carved out unique roles within the framework of the Bills passing game. They’ll need to continue to do so against the Jags.
Status of Shady
There’s no doubting the elation and euphoria the Bills and their fans are experiencing given the cessation of the drought. But their first playoff game since the Bill Clinton administration might be taking place without their bell cow running back. Early in the third quarter, LeSean McCoy suffered an ankle injury and had to be carted to the locker room. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported after the game that an X-ray on the ankle turned up negative. Nevertheless, it’s pretty much a certainty he’ll be on the injury report leading up to next Sunday’s game.
Even before he got hurt, it was an ineffectual outing for Shady. He finished the game with 10 yards on 11 carries, marking just the third time in his nine-year career that he finished with under a yard per carry. The good thing is that other players stepped up. Marcus Murphy, signed off the practice squad after Travaris Cadet‘s season-ending injury last week, carried the ball seven times for 41 yards. Taylor and Mike Tolbert also contributed, accounting for a combined 74 yards at 5.69 yards a pop. In total, Buffalo managed 126 yards on the ground, in line with their seasonal average.
Still, there’s no doubt that McCoy will be missed if he’s ruled out of Sunday’s clash in Jacksonville. You simply can’t replicate what he brings to the field from an overall skill set standpoint. Though injuries are part of the game, not having their run game talisman for such an important game would certainly be a bitter pill to swallow.
Playoffs? Talk About Them!
Apparently three times is indeed a charm. Before this season, the Bills finished with a 9-7 record twice since their last playoff appearance (2004, 2014). On both occasions, it wasn’t good enough to make the postseason. That all changed today. Baltimore’s loss was Buffalo’s gain as they slotted themselves into the six seed due to the strength of victory tiebreaker. And since there was a four-way tie at 9-7, head-to-head doesn’t apply. So the puzzling decision to start Nathan Peterman ended up not coming back to bite McDermott.
In the end, one of the most poignant examples of American sports ineptitude is at an end. No longer is “the Buffalo Bills haven’t made the playoffs since when?” a thing. Though there’s no chance of New Era Field hosting a game given their seeding, the fact the Bills made it lends perspective as to the direction of this franchise under McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane. That latter figure must be feeling high levels of vindication over the wheeling and dealing he undertook in unloading Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby and Marcell Dareus.
Not only did those moves net the Bills a boatload of picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. They didn’t affect the team’s ability to play competitive football this year. Buffalo won nine games, one of which came on the road against the defending NFC champions. They swept the Fins and hung with the New England Patriots for a half in both games. And if they can upend the Jags in one week’s time, it sets up another clash with Tom Brady and company in the divisional round.
For now, Bills fans have some celebrating to do ringing in the new year after the team’s most successful season in recent memory. You know what that means. Those foldable tables ain’t safe.
Happy new year!