The Extra Point – Week 9: Are the Bills 6-2 or 2-6?

Photo from buffalonews.com.

Howdy, Bills Mafia. My name is Matthew and this is my new weekly post-game Bills column, The Extra Point. Each week, I’ll write a six-pack of game related thoughts, followed by an “extra point”, which will be an over-arching wrap-up or main point of discussion that’s on my mind. You should know that I’m a passionate Bills fan, a relentless optimist, and that I’ve never been known for my brevity. consider yourself warned.

The Extra Point – Week 9

1.) The Bills pretty much are what they are at this point: They have a below average offense that struggles with consistency, is great in the red zone but doesn’t get there often enough, is prone to long stretches of putrid play, but somehow turns it on more often than not in the 4th quarter when needed. They have an above average defense that is prone to getting gashed in the ground game and can be beaten by smart, savvy veteran QBs, but otherwise usually keeps them in games. Their special teams is..well..it’s just there. It doesn’t really cost them many games, but it doesn’t win them any games, either.

It seems reasonably likely that the Bills will make the playoffs. They might even win a playoff game. But while they may grow and progress a LITTLE BIT this season, they pretty much are what they are — for THIS season, anyway. Anyone waiting for a huge evolution or shift in style/effectiveness at this point might want to just accept the 2019 Bills for what they are. Yesterday’s game looked a lot like all the previous games: Some great drives where it looks like the offense can’t be stopped, some long stretches of putrid play, letting an inferior team hang around for too long, and eventually re-gaining effectiveness just long enough to put the game away at the end. Deja vu all over again.

2.) In the “be careful what you wish for” department: Every Bills fan and football analyst coming into the season knew that Josh Allen needed to learn to take care of the football, make routine throws, and keep his offense on schedule. Wouldn’t you know it? That’s EXACTLY what he’s doing right now. He’s gone 13 quarters without an interception, he throws effectively in the short area of the field, he has generally cleaned up his inaccuracy and poor mechanics — save for his fumble-itis and occasional mechanical lapses, he’s become an effective game manager. A look at his QB rating yesterday reveals a quality day from Allen. Indeed, he wasn’t asked to do much, but what he WAS asked to do, he did pretty well. That leads to the big philosophical question, though: Have the Bills coaches taken the Josh Allen out of Josh Allen? He was drafted 7th overall because he’s a competitive, dynamic, improvisational, playmaking gunslinger.

The question becomes, can the Bills coaches effectively turn Allen into a game manager with whom the team can win games NOW without sacrificing for the long term that which made Allen so exciting/promising to begin with? Past Hall of Fame QBs like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have taken the route of being game managers early on in their careers and leaning on defense and a running game, only to turn into game dominators later on in their careers. Is that the path the Bills want to take with Allen? Is that the best path to take? It seemed until just yesterday that Buffalo wanted Allen to throw at all costs, even when it seemed more advisable to run (see Eagles game, week 8). Things changed yesterday. Will that change stick? Allen’s road of development seems to have hit an unexpected turn. Where will he end up, and are the coaches doing the right thing? I don’t have the answer, but it sure is a fascinating question.

Photo of RB Devin Singletary from us.marca.com.

3.) In the “this dude’s got it” department: Devin Singletary looks special. He just does. Not like “oh, he can start in this league for a few years”. I’m talking like SPECIAL. Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, and LeSean McCoy — all men with reasonable cases for the Hall of Fame — have commented on how natural and how special he looks. We all saw it with our own eyes yesterday. There were NUMEROUS plays where it looked like Singletary would be stopped for a loss or no gain, or where he’d be met head on in the hole, only to put the opposing defender through a spin cycle and leave him on the turf, grasping at air. That’s Shady McCoy type stuff. That’s BARRY SANDERS type stuff. I know, I know, I need to slow the hype train. I’m telling you, though, Devin Singletary looks like a great — not just good, but GREAT — player.

4.) Speaking of how great Singletary was yesterday and how refreshing and welcome it was to see him finally get so many touches…a quick reminder: There is only one football, and there are only so many targets to go around offensively. For weeks, we all wanted to see #26 get the ball early and often. Yesterday, he finally did. BUT….by featuring the running game and by giving Singletary so many touches, there were necessarily less targets available for guys like Beasley, Knox, Brown, and McKenzie. I saw two different comments on Twitter yesterday about players that didn’t get enough looks: One about Beasley, one about Brown. It may be true that both of those players DO need lots of targets on a weekly basis, but again, there’s only so many targets to go around. Me? I’d say a day in which your lead running back has 140 yards and a score, Beasley catches a touchdown, and Brown collects another 75 yards (including a game-sealing 3rd and 18 catch) counts as a good distribution/usage of targets. There’s only one football.

5.) It’s amazing that the Bills are able to do what they’re doing defensively this season without a legitimate, high quality edge rushing presence. Jerry Hughes is fine, but has only 2.5 sacks on the season. I like Trent Murphy, but he doesn’t exactly strike fear into the opposition. When your leading sacker is rotational defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, it means you need more pass rushing talent. To have such a good defense in spite of this is a testament to quality coaching and talented players on the back end and at linebacker. But make no mistake, the Bills need to invest top dollar and/or high draft picks into the defensive end position this offseason. For those clamoring for the offense to be top priority this offseason: Don’t be surprised to see yet ANOTHER 1st round pick used on defense. For as good as the Bills defense (usually) looks this season, just imagine how it could look with some truly frightening edge rushers. 

ORCHARD PARK, NY – NOVEMBER 3: Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) is sacked by Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White (27) late in the 4th quarter during the Buffalo Bills defeat of the Washington Redskins 24-9 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY on November 3, 2019 . (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post).

6.) Tre Day with another big play in the 4th quarter. People often throw around the term “playmaker” in the NFL. But what does it mean? Well, clearly, it should mean a player who makes a play when it matters most, when the game is on the line, and who can singlehandedly change the outcome of said game. Tre’Davious White is a playmaker. He has singlehandedly won the Bills several games throughout his career, beginning in his rookie season and continuing into this year, where he saved The Bills in the Dolphins and Bengals games. And yesterday’s effort? It may not have been an interception or forced fumble, but it was a VERY timely sack at a point in the game where the Redskins only needed a touchdown and 2-point conversion to even up the score. Big Play Tre. Playmaker.

The Extra Point

Somewhere along the line during the past 20 years of losing football, a lot of Bills fans forgot how to behave when the team actually wins. If you went on social media during or after the Bills game, you would have had a hard time deciding whether the Bills were 6-2 or 2-6. The amount of venom, negativity, overreaction, hyperbole, and downright ANGER were astonishing. I saw calls to “Fire Daboll!”, “Bench Allen!”, “Strip Frazier of playcalling duties!”…I mean…WHAT?! To be honest, the over-the-top reactionary lunacy and suffocating negativity are both confounding and embarrassing.

When did so much of Bills Mafia become so insufferable and unreasonable? Now, to be clear: It is absolutely ok and fully legitimate to point out needed areas of improvement after a game or to discuss things that disappointed you. It is ok to say that the offense isn’t where it needs to be, that the play-calling needs to improve, that the QB needs to improve, etc…But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. The WRONG WAY is to fall into the trap of extremes.

Just because the play-calling needs to be better doesn’t mean we should fire Brian Daboll. Just because the QB needs to improve doesn’t mean he’s a bust. Just because the Bills are taking advantage of an easy schedule doesn’t mean they’re fully illegitimate Paper Tigers. Recognizing that the team has much room for improvement is possible WHILE ALSO enjoying the fact that they’re winning football games. It isn’t an either/or proposition! 

Photo of Bill Callahan (L) and Sean McDermott (R) from WTOP.com.

What fans’ reactions to this Bills team really come down to are their expectations. Me? I do not expect this team to be elite week in and week out. People seem to forget that they are in year three of a complete teardown and rebuild. And it’s important to keep perspective in mind when considering where they are as a team: In year one — the teardown year — they made the playoffs.

In year two, they had a losing record, but acquired the two most important pieces of the team: The quarterbacks of the offense and defense. In year three, they are on pace to possibly make the playoffs, but they’re lacking on offense and, at times, on defense, too. But here’s the thing: the year three Bills are NOT a finished product. No one at One Bills Drive said “we’re going to completely turn over the roster in three seasons, with only two players remaining, and by year three, it’s Super Bowl or bust!”.

I realize that some fans may WANT that to be the case, but it’s simply not. Beane and McDermott said time and time again that they want to build this team for long term, sustained success. Sometimes that means having mid-season growing pains. Sometimes it means not trading for an Emmanuel Sanders or signing a Josh Gordon. But their goal — and it is beyond obvious that they do HAVE a clear goal towards which they are logically and methodically working — is a team that can compete every single year.

This year? The Bills are ahead of schedule. They are 6-2. SIX AND TWO! Think of where you were in your life the last time the Bills were 6-2 through eight games, in the year 1993. Think about that! 26 seasons come and gone from then until now.

Think of all the Dick Jaurons, Mike Mularkeys, Chan Gaileys, Jon DiGiorgios, Kelly Holcombs, Shaud Williamses, and Ko Simpsons that have rolled through Buffalo in those years. Think of all the long, cold drives home from Orchard Park you’ve made after another losing effort, despondent in the knowledge that the Bills were having another losing season, that there was no hope on the horizon.

Think of all the times Bills talk turned to the upcoming draft before Halloween even hit. Think of all the wasted seasons. And now? 6-2, with what looks like a really bright future and a bright front office and a bright coaching staff and a possible franchise QB….and a lot of Bills fans can’t or won’t enjoy it. A real shame. Life is short, and of all things, following sports is supposed to be FUN! If you can’t have fun while your favorite team is 6-2, then when CAN you have fun?

Bills fans: It’s okay to want improvement. It’s okay to want a Lombardi trophy. But for your own health and happiness, and for the sake of the rest of us who just want to enjoy this winning season: Learn to enjoy the ride! Learn to want better for your team AND be happy that they’re winning games. And if you can’t do that, at least try not spewing your venomous negativity on the rest of us. After all, it could be ANOTHER 26 years before we see 6-2 again!

Editor’s babble: We are honored to bring Matthew Rule’s “The Extra Point” to our blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @MatthewtheRule and he also posts on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.

About Matthew Rule

Matthew Rule is a long time diehard fan of the Buffalo Bills, former season ticket holder, relentless optimist, and survivor of the 6 to 3 Bills-Browns game of '09. These days, he lives with his lovely wife in Portland, Oregon.