Bills’ snow game victory marred by questionable play call

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There’s something about lake effect snowstorms that seems to bring out the best in the Buffalo Bills and their fan base. Sunday’s 13-7 snow-filled overtime victory by the Bills over the Indianapolis Colts was memorable for many reasons –  not the least of which was how close the Bills came to blowing the 7-0 lead they held throughout most of the game.

But I’ll leave the details of how it all went down to the folks who write up fabulous comprehensive game summaries. I’d like to focus on a bit of wyobabble regarding the play call when the Bills were in overtime facing a 4th and one at their own 41 yard line.

Before I launch into my thoughts on the matter, let me begin by stating I completely understand why virtually the entire fan base turned as white as the field was on Sunday when Sean McDermott decided to punt the ball. It was a reaction I fully expected when it was made.

How many coaches have we seen over the last 18 years make these kind of conservative decisions only to have them blow up in their faces? Fans have become so sensitized to these calls they have almost a post-traumatic response to them when they happen at this point.

However, the absolute worst comparison any Bills fan can make is to compare any coach to Richard Jauron. That’s like the kiss of death in Buffalo.

Well, here we are, and here it is, though I can already see the rolling eyeballs from my little perch in Wyoming.

So why does Sean McDermott adamantly stick to his rationale despite being repeatedly fried by a sizable majority of the media and fan base?

The simple answer may lie in how McDermott is mentally wired.

Despite the guffaws after Mr. Pegula answered a reporter’s question about why he hired McDermott – the answer in part was because McDermott was a state wrestling champion in high school – there is something significant in this comment that many people aren’t considering with respect how McDermott thinks.

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2017, file photo, Buffalo Bills NFL football team new head coach Sean McDermott poses for a photograph with team owner Terry Pegula. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

Why on earth would Mr. Pegula focus so much attention on McDermott’s wrestling championship and what the heck does that have to do with coaching? And what on earth does any of this have to do with McDermott’s stubborn resistance to admitting an error in judgement?

Please consider this:

As an elderly woman who never wrestled a day in my life, I can only surmise the kind of mindset it takes to take someone down repeatedly all the way to a state championship in a populated state like Pennsylvania. You have to be at the top of your game.

And, exactly what kind of game is that?

I hope someone who was involved in the sport of wrestling will comment here, but it would seem that in order to excel in a sport where you must use your mind as well as your physical attributes to take down an opponent – there’s only a certain mindset you can have to succeed at the level required to be a champion.

Just a guess, but I would think under ANY circumstances you must train your mind to NEVER doubt yourself, ever. 

Not long ago I had a Twitter debate with someone who tried to claim Sean McDermott was similar to Rex Ryan in terms of being egotistical. Oh my, from this old vantage point nothing could be further from the truth.

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Rex Ryan’s ego is built upon false assumptions about himself. His bloviated opinion of himself is evident to anyone who listens to him for more than a minute.

Exactly what has Rex Ryan ever accomplished that affords him the privilege of bragging about himself? Two AFC Championship games and a Super Bowl ring as a defensive assistant coach for the Baltimore Ravens?

Those were not his personal accomplishments, they were acquired by a team.

McDermott does not walk around pounding his chest and making empty proclamations about himself to anyone within hearing distance. He’s a humble man who goes about his business and deflects attention away from himself. That’s his nature.

When it comes to admitting a mistake, I don’t believe McDermott’s refusal to acknowledge his decision as an error comes from a place of ego. In his case, I honestly believe it’s how he trained his mind to work in order to achieve the level of success he accomplished in wrestling.

Admitting an error implies regret, which is something I don’t think a champion wrestler can do without losing their mental edge. 

Photo of Sean McDermott from

Also, let’s remember McDermott is a first year head coach. His clever response when asked – “I don’t regret the decision, I regret the outcome” – reeks of a guy who has trained his mind to respond to adverse outcomes this way. It’s not that he won’t admit he was wrong, it’s more about his unwillingness to acknowledge a weakness within himself in terms of how it sets him up to being vulnerable.

And again, although I’ve never been a wrestler, I can’t imagine that allowing ANY vulnerability to sneak into your mind could be a good approach to the sport.

So, in my long-winded wyobabble way – I think McDermott’s inability to admit errors may come from the fact that he’s not necessarily secure in his job yet (someone like Belichick can feel free to chastise himself publicly because he has the jewelry that proves his worth).

I believe in time McDermott will likely become more comfortable with being open with the media when he makes dubious calls on the field. Right now he’s relying on what got him where he is today – a man with a solid history of success through the policy of never letting them see you sweat.

Editor’s babble: If you made it this far through my winding wyobabble, thanks. You can also find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.

21 Replies to “Bills’ snow game victory marred by questionable play call”

  1. I for one would have made some different choices throughout the game. However, it’s a lot easier to do that from the comfort of my couch. I think McDermott does trust his gut a little to much at times and I do like that you reference his wrestling background.

    I mean not for nothing we are 7-6 in the thick of a playoff hunt despite all the things going on with this team.

    • Thanks so much, Nick. I really think McDermott is finding his way like every first time head coach in his rookie year. Do I agree with the call? No, not really.

      But… I also understand his logic regardless of whether people agree with it or not.


  2. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good or correct… If one thing has changed, it’s their luck thus far. Previously they’d come out on the wrong side of luck. This year they’re regularly coming out on the right side of it…

  3. the call absolutely stunk and the fans were absolutely pissed. on the TV i heard someone yell “you suck mcdermott”. but you can’t argue against it because of the outcome. we lose.

  4. Good morning…

    Let me get this straight the Bills are at their own 41 with 4th and one. The conditions are poor at best where a slip, a missed block, a bad snap could happen and the Colts end up with the ball almost in FG range. Their RB Gore was having a terrific day a couple of runs and the Colts could strike. So the Bills punt and the results turn into a Bills win and we are questioning whether to go for it. I’m with McD punt the ball and get it out of my own end–thank goodness the punt went well.

    The Breaks have been going the Bills way but isn’t this what McD and Beanie wanted to change the culture and preparing the Bills to win! None of us thought the Bills had a chance to win 7 games and we still have 3 to go…
    “Tell the NFL the Bills are coming and Hell is coming with them” !!

  5. goose the problem is that the bills had momentum on that drive, and the defense had just given up a long, long painful scoring drive to the colts.
    in the snow it took so long to move the ball downfield. painfully long. we were worried that if they punted, we would not get the ball back, so it seemed worth the risk at the time.

  6. I didn’t like the decision to punt it at that time. It reminded me of last year’s debacle in OT vs Miami. I thought it was way too conservative and if McDermott is “trying to win now,” he should have went for it. It was a Jauronesque type of decision. Luckily, it worked out, but how many times have we’ve seen it go the other way.

    Looks like the Dolphins games are no gimmies. It’s always good to see the Cheatriots lose. I’m still hoping Peterman plays the rest of the season as I’d like to see if he has potential to be a franchise QB or just another backup.

  7. The Bills got lucky as F. Just because they got lucky doesn’t mean it was correct. If they had punted on 1st down and still somehow pulled a win out of their arse, does that make it the correct decision? McDermott was playing for the tie and admitted as much. What the McDumbass doesn’t seem to realize is a tie puts them at like single digit odds of making the playoffs. You know what odds are significantly better? Converting a 4th & 1… If this same scenario happened another 10 times, I’d expect it to ‘work’ 0 more times…unless you count getting the tie as ‘working’. The reason you should be concerned despite it miraculously working this time is more scenarios are going to come up in the future and so far McD doesn’t often choose the better option. Once that horseshoe passes, he’s going to start looking like your typical crappy Bills coach making typical bad decisions.

    • “Once that horseshoe passes, he’s going to start looking like your typical crappy Bills coach making typical bad decisions.” Agreed Joma. So far, the Bills have been very lucky in several wins this year, especially this past Sunday, between the questionable pass interference penalty on the Colts two point conversion and in OT. If the Bills haven’t had that lucky horseshoe this year, they would be a four win team. McDermott can have all the great “coach speak” in the world to pump up his players, but if he doesn’t learn as he goes and continues to make gaffes like he did in OT (lining up to punt, wasting a timeout, then electing to punt), he’ll be another one in the long list of bad Bills coaches.

  8. in hindsight the decision was not that bad- luck or no luck- it was a move that showed faith in his defense to set the offense up for a chance to be the hero.
    since it took nearly 6 of the 10 OT minutes just to get to the 40 (i thought it was closer to mid field at the time) the defense would be rested and the colts offense would be cold. the D made the stop and the rest is history.

  9. Agreed, Steve. To some extent you make your own luck like the Bills making plays and pulling out an uncharacteristic win over the Bucs…Tyrod playing like a legit QB and tying the game up late, then the Bills causing a TO to pull out a last minute win. But in other cases, they were just the beneficiaries of highly questionable calls that went their way and directly resulted in wins, like the Falcons game and the other day. They also got a questionable call or two in the Broncos game that greatly aided them in pulling that one out. It’s great the Bills are finding good luck for a change, but it kinda sucks it comes in a year where they’re not very good, have no chance of making any noise, and in a year where it would have actually benefited them losing and getting a higher pick instead of finishing a lucky 8-8. Is it still “lucky” when it ultimately results in about the worst possible outcome?

  10. Nells, the decision was horrible. If he trusts his D, why not trust them to make the stop if they come up short? The Colts need to gain a good 35 yards to have a realistic FG opportunity. Plus, if you’re going to punt and hope to get the ball back, why the hell are you burning a time out? Them pulling out the win was beyond improbable. McD doesn’t get credit for that. All he gets credit for is being beyond lucky.

    If Tyrod comes back and wins the Los Diego game, do you give McD credit for the decision to start Peterman?

  11. And just to clarify, the decision was HORRIBLE because of the playoff implications. On its own, you can debate how a coach should handle that situation, whether to play for a tie vs a risk/reward decision on a makeable 4th down and going for the win…but when it has such an incredible impact on your playoff chances, where a loss OR tie puts you in the mathematical odds category, that’s where it becomes an inexcusable decision…near Wrecks-like.

  12. Oh my goodness, Yea just fire them all let’s blow up the coaching staff an beanie in the front office and while we are at just go out and find a franchise QB because it is easy to do..

    if they have went for it and where stopped you would be bitching that he is a McDumbass for going for and should have punted to pin the Colts back.

    It showed confidence in the D and they held up and the offense took over and won the game..

    I guess every win this year is because they were lucky and the it was due to the other team making bad decisions.

    To compare McD to Jauron is pathetic and wrong !! They are opposites Jauron was the Crip keeper on the sideline McD is energetic. Will he make mistakes hell yea is there a coach out there that doesn’t –if so please point him out.

  13. “if they have went for it and where stopped you would be bitching that he is a McDumbass for going for and should have punted to pin the Colts back”

    I certainly wouldn’t have bitched… How does that even make any sense? They won so it worked out and I’m saying it was the wrong decision… because it was and I call it like it is. No one said anything about firing him either…

    • That’s your opinion it was the wrong decision, the coach went the safe mode on that play and it worked out. Defense stopped them like he planned that they would and his offense won the game…

      The Bills are 7-6 in the playoff hunt when we all thought they may win 4-6 games that is quite an accomplishment…

  14. Better to be wrong and lucky than right and come up short…

    What’s funny is you’d probably be blasting him for it had he not tripped over a horseshoe into a 4 leaf clover patch because it was a bad call.

  15. McD is getting it done (for the most part) with talent that is running on fumes. When this team gets loaded- should be something to see.

  16. Well, he’s sort of getting it done this year. Getting more out of this team than anyone would expect. Whether he continues to over-achieve remains to be seen…but we’ll find out. Whether it was a good thing he got more than anyone expected also remains to be seen. If they miss the playoffs, yet are still picking late in the first round and don’t get a QB worth being excited about…

    I saw one mock draft where they had the Bills trading up to #4 and landing Sam Darnold. Who knows if he’ll even come out, much less the Bills be able to pull it off, but I’d sign up for that.

  17. As I have said, I don’t know how you can expect players and coaches to tank a game(s).

    Also, there are reasons that you and I are watching the game and not coaching. They know a lot more than you and I when they are trying to make that decision to go for it. With the footing really bad, they probably figured that if they lined up 11 on 11 that the odds might not be as good as normal.

  18. You don’t have to have coaches and players tank a game. Don’t bring back Tyrod this year and trade McCoy and it happens naturally.

    “They know a lot more than you and I when they are trying to make that decision to go for it.”

    Doesn’t mean they always make the right call. For sure coaches know more about football, X’s & O’s, teaching, etc than I do. Doesn’t mean they’re always going to make the statistical right call. They usually don’t. Hell, McD’s call worked out! Unless he can read the future, though, it still wasn’t a good call. He makes the same decision 10 more times in those conditions he probably ties in 8 of them and loses 2. When a tie effectively ends your season, it’s a bad decision. He got away with it so he’s not getting crucified for it. But if we’re having a conversation about it, I’ll continue to say it was a bad decision and don’t like it if that’s the kind of thing he’d do under similar season ending circumstances.