NFL Wire News

Bills’ 2014 Analysis: Progress, but not enough


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — There were not a lot of smiles at locker clean-out day Monday, which was nothing new in Buffalo.

After all, this day has occurred for the Bills for 15 years in a row before wild-card weekend, the longest active playoff drought in the league.

Yes, the Bills were pleased that they defeated New England in the season finale, their first victory at Gillette Stadium in 13 tries. And it was a good feeling to have produced the first winning record (9-7) since 2004 and just the second in this millennium.

However, the fact that they were packing up their belongings gnawed at the Bills because this was a season that they feel should not be over.

“I think it’s definitely more on the bitter side or the sour side because, yeah, I haven’t had the opportunity to walk out of here with a winning record before, but more important than that I haven’t had an opportunity to play a Sunday game in January in the playoffs so more bitter than sweet,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said.

General manager Doug Whaley added: “Encouraged, not satisfied. We took a step forward, but we did not meet our stated goal of making the playoffs.

“We want to be consistent, and across the board with this team we weren’t good enough to attain our goals.”

To be sure, the Bills endured their share of upheaval in 2014. It all began before the season when team owner and franchise patriarch Ralph Wilson passed away at the age of 95, thrusting the future of the team in doubt.

After much worrying about Bon Jovi moving the team to Toronto or Donald Trump turning the Bills into a new reality TV show, Terry and Kim Pegula won the bidding war at a record $1.4 billion, and they promised to keep the team in Buffalo for as long as they are in charge.

That news helped provide an early surge of energy for the Bills and they won their first two games with 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel at quarterback, and looking fairly competent.

However, succeeding back-to-back losses to San Diego and Houston were enough to convince coach Doug Marrone to pull the plug on Manuel and turn to veteran Kyle Orton, who was a late August addition to the roster.

Orton started well, winning three of his first four starts, including last-second comeback victories over Minnesota and Detroit, but the second half of the season was a struggle for the offense.

The Bills went 4-4, although one of the victories came against the New York Jets in a home game that was moved to Detroit’s Ford Field. The Bills were forced to play there because of a historic mid-November snowstorm that buried their facility under seven feet of snow and prevented them from practicing for four days until they were able to escape to Detroit.

The Bills reached December with a 7-5 record, severely wounded by losses to Kansas City and Miami five days apart coming out of their bye week, which downgraded their playoff chances to slim, especially with games against Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady looming in the final four weeks.

The Bills managed to upset the Packers at home, but a crushing loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders in Week 16 eliminated them from the postseason, rendering even their victory over the Patriots in Week 17 meaningless, outside of securing the winning record.

Looking ahead to 2015, the Bills are again handcuffed at quarterback. Orton surprised the organization by announcing his retirement on Monday, leaving only Manuel and Jeff Tuel on the roster.

Even with Marrone’s lack of faith in Manuel, it’s hard to fathom that he would be the No. 1 quarterback going into training camp, meaning the Bills will be on the prowl for an upgrade.

“We’ll leave all options open for acquiring a quarterback,” Whaley said. “We’ll look at it throughout this offseason. By sheer numbers we’re going to have to add one, maybe two.”

While the offense ranked 18th in scoring, 26th in yards, 25th in rushing, and 28th in first downs, the defense was playoff-caliber in every way.

Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Bills ranked fourth in points allowed and yards allowed, and first in sacks and third-down efficiency, plus created 30 turnovers — third-most in the NFL.

Had the offense been only a little better on a few days, the Bills would be gearing up for a wild-card game this weekend.

“We have a lot of talented players on the defensive side of the ball,” Marrone said. “We went through two coordinators, two schematic changes and still got better production and it’s still a credit to the coaches, still a credit to the players on that side of the ball.”

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