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Penalties, a muffed punt and offensive deficiencies ultimately led to defeat for the Bills, who watched their playoff hopes slowly fade away following a 23-20 Philadelphia Eagles’ victory. It certainly wasn’t the homecoming that running back LeSean McCoy was expecting and he left speechless, throwing a tantrum as he exited the field and blowing off the media. That frustration was a shared feeling around the entire locker room as player after player echoed the theme “we beat ourselves.” Here’s what we learned after Sunday’s loss…

Three Takeaways:

1) Don’t be fooled; the 2015 Buffalo Bills are an undisciplined bunch

After putting together four straight games with nine penalties or less called against them – three of which featured just five flags going against the Bills – it looked like Rex Ryan had finally got through to his team with his push-ups for penalties tactic. In Week 14 though, it was back to old tendencies as 15 penalties added up and well, cost Buffalo the game. Four of the penalties accessed against them were neutral zone infractions, four more were false starts and another three were for offensive holding. For those math pros out there the final four penalties were for illegal use of hands, illegal motion, defensive pass interference and an offensive face mask. In general all very avoidable mistakes.

Sunday marked the sixth time this season the Bills were flagged for double-digit penalties in a game, a bad tendency that has cost them wins in four of those contests. People want to pin the excessive penalties on Rex Ryan but in reality that isn’t fair. Over the last six seasons Ryan’s New York Jets’ teams have ranked in the top 10 for penalties against just once, in 2010. It’s more likely that this is just a current Buffalo Bills personnel thing, considering they’re on their way to finishing in the top 10 for penalties against for the third straight year. This season in particular – whatever the reason may be – it’s been at it’s worst. When people reflect on the the 2015 season, trying to pinpoint what exactly went wrong, penalties will be remembered as one of the most critical problems.

2) Minus punter Colton Schmidt, the special teams units need some serious revamping

People understandably want to start looking ahead to next year following yesterday’s loss and if you’re wondering where Buffalo needs to improve, look no further than special teams. Outside of Colton Schmidt – who has been tremendous this season in helping flip the field – there hasn’t really been much positive special teams moments to talk about. Three different returners – Marcus Thigpen, Denarius Moore and Leodis McKelvin – have each had their fair share of costly mistakes. Kicker Dan Carpenter has missed four field goals and extra points this season and is slowly becoming expendable considering he’s only on the team for one job. If Carpenter goes that means kickoff specialist Jordan Gay is a loose end since he is also only on the team for one reason. Best case scenario the Bills find someone who can combine both those roles into one, like most teams have. That would also open up an extra roster spot – Lord knows they could use it.

Thigpen’s muffed punt is just the latest example of what’s been a disastrous year on special teams. Changes are coming this off-season and frankly they have to.

3) Even Richie Incognito has a bad day occasionally

It’s rare to see Incognito get beaten off snap of the ball and commit silly penalties, but that’s what a tremendous player like Fletcher Cox will make you do. Incognito looked overmatched on a number of plays against Cox, whiffing on his blocks and allowing the 2012, first round pick to wreak havoc in the backfield. Here’s one such play where Cox slipped past Incognito and blew up a sweep play to McCoy for a big loss.

That was Incognito’s day in a nutshell. On another play Cox used a swim move to get around the Bills guard and had a free rush at Tyrod Taylor for his lone sack of the contest. After the game Incognito owned up to his rough day saying, “he [Cox] ate my lunch today.” Fortunately this isn’t a usual occurrence for the nine year veteran who without question has been Buffalo’s best lineman this season. He’s been so reliable in fact that the Bills need to make re-signing him this off-season a top priority.

Final Thoughts

Today is the day Buffalo fans have become all to familiar with over the last 16 seasons – the day they realize their beloved Bills will likely be missing the playoffs, yet again. It’s sickening because it begins the murmurings of ‘next year’ talk, despite three games still remaining on the schedule. One day this drought will be broken, but barring a miracle it won’t be in 2015, so sadly, looking ahead to 2016 is somewhat justified.

With that in mind, there are some major issues the Bills need to address starting with the re-upping of some key players which include cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, the aforementioned Incognito along with tackle Cordy Glenn, punter Colton Schmidt and depending on what’s left over maybe a Nigel Bradham or Bacarri Rambo. It’s a situation every team goes through each year but bringing back some of those very important pieces is first and foremost. One possible move that could open some serious cap space for Buffalo is cutting ties with DE Mario Williams who has pretty much been a non-factor this season. Should the Bills elect to do that they’d open up over $12 million in cap space for themselves. Considering that Williams has expressed numerous grievances with the defenses play calling and seems ill-equipped for Ryan’s 3-4 scheme it’s very plausible that Williams won’t be back next season.