On the morning of Sunday, April 30th, 2017, the Buffalo Bills made an organizational change that left all suffering Bills fans scratch their collective heads and sigh together, “here we go again.”
That particular morning happened to come just after the weekend of the NFL’s annual reunion party and rite of spring, as the league was barely recovering from a three-day mosh-fest in Philadelphia for the newest and most successful version of the NFL Draft. When Bills fans started reading the news on that fateful Sunday, they barely had enough time to think about newest draft pick and speedy wide receiver Zay Jones sprinting down the sidelines to catch a Tyrod Taylor bomb when they learned they no longer had a general manager. The embattled Doug Whaley had just been unceremoniously ‘relieved of his duties’, as it were, by owner Terry Pegula. This move was a shock to just about everyone, of course, because, frankly, who does that? Fire your general manager the day after the draft? What? The most loyal of fan bases could only hope and pray that there was some plan of some kind, anything at all to rationalize what, on the surface, appeared completely….irrational.
Get Used to It: The New Look Buffalo Bills are Here to Stay
Whaley had been a lame duck for a period of time, but the timing of the move was questionable on many levels. Then, in just under two weeks, Whaley’s successor was named, and in time, Bills’ fans would begin to understand where the whole thing was going in the first place. Fast forward to May 9th and the Bills introduced Brandon Beane, formerly the assistant general manager of the Carolina Panthers, as the man to replace Whaley. Beane found himself reunited with Sean McDermott, the recently-hired head coach, whom he worked with in Carolina where McDermott served as defensive coordinator. Clearly, Pegula was installing not only a new regime, but facilitating a complete shift in organizational culture. Gone were the clown antics of Rex Ryan, replaced by the no-nonsense and all-football mindset of two hardcore football obsessives. But the changing shape of the team was just beginning.
Move to August 11th, and once again the fan base was reeling by headlines they only hoped would have some hidden meaning they could not decipher at the moment. The Bills announced that talented but always-injured wide receiver Sammy Watkins had been dealt to the Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second rounder, while popular cornerback Ronald Darby was shipped to Philadelphia for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third rounder. It soon became clear that the Bills finally were moving towards something that had been lacking for what seemed like forever: absolute synergy between the ownership, front office, and head coach. The fans would be even more excited by the quick turn the perennial losers took on the playing field.
Heading into this evening’s tilt in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets, the Bills stand at 5-2, one-half game behind the vaunted New England Patriots. Having started the season at 2-1, sporting two modest home wins against teams since proven to be substandard, the Bills provided the fans, and anyone else paying attention, with a statement win in Atlanta against the defending NFC champion Falcons. On this day, they were faster and more aggressive on both sides of the ball, and most impressively, more physical in the trenches.
Following a close loss against the Cincinnati Bengals the next week, the Bills reeled off two solid home wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, both of those teams expected to do much more then they have in 2018. A visit to Buffalo didn’t help either’s cause.
Even at 5-2, the Bills aren’t resting on their laurels. As this past weekend brought the 2017 trade deadline to pass, the Bills jettisoned the maligned defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville while acquiring Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Both the Watkins and Dareus moves were clearly addition by subtraction, holdovers from the Whaley regime and each tagged with the dreaded label of under-performing malcontents. With Benjamin, they fortified the receiver position with a player well-known by the football brain trust. Taylor, who is likely playing for his future on the Bills and anywhere else, now has a formidable threat to range across the middle, as well as take the top off the back end of the defense when needed.
Tonight’s Jets game almost qualifies as a must-win, as the upcoming schedule provides no easy opportunities. They will host the much-improved New Orleans Saints next week, then embark on two difficult road contests at the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. There’s also a little team in Foxboro, MA they have yet to play. The Bills will find out exactly what they are made of with two games against the powerhouse Patriots in December.
Pegula, Beane, and McDermott seem to all have a common vision, and judging from how averse to complacency they appear to be, this thing looks like it’s being built for the long run. Finally, Bills fans can get excited to read the news when they see the team in the headlines, for a change.