LANDOVER, M.D. – It’s come once a year for the last 16 years – no, not Christmas – it’s the day the Buffalo Bills (6-8) are officially eliminated from the playoffs. In 2015 that day is today, Sunday Dec. 20, as the Bills defense took an absolute beating by the hands of the Washington Redskins (7-7) eventually falling 35-25 and watching a season with so much potential fade into just another one full of disappointment.
“It pains me that we didn’t deliver the playoffs to our fans this year,” Rex Ryan said following the tough loss. “I thought we had a great week of practice, but did a poor job executing. It doesn’t get much worse than this.”
It was over almost as soon as it started – the Redskins opening drive covered 84 yards in 5:38 and gave Washington a 7-0 lead. It could be described as easy, too easy even, as Redskins QB, Kirk Cousins went a perfect six-for-six for 74 on the drive and found his trusty TE Jordan Reed for a three-yard touchdown to cap it off.
The tone was officially set for a miserable first half effort by the Bills defense, that was dismantled for 182 passing yards, 265 total yards and two more touchdowns in the game’s first two stanzas.
As for the Bills first series, it went about as expected as they showed an ability to move the ball – 10 plays and 36 yards – but as we’ve come to expect from the 2015 Buffalo Bills, two penalties kept them from picking up a first down and they promptly punted.
Even punter Colton Schmidt – one of the most consistent players on the roster this season – made a mistake as that first Buffalo punt traveled just 17 yards after Schmidt attempted to drop kick the ball and bounced it off the turf before booting it away.
Washington would start from their own 29, but yet again the Bills’ defense had no answer for Cousins who marched the Redskins down the field on 11-plays and was able to punch in a 13-yard touchdown run on what was a busted read-option play. The lead was 14-0 with 12:47 remaining in the second.
Exactly four minutes later the Redskins would tack on seven more via a second Cousins-to-Reed touchdown this time from 18-yards out and things were officially out of hand.
On their final drive of the half the Bills offense showed some life taking advantage of a muffed punt by Redskins’ returner Jamison Crowder and marching all the way from their own 43 to Washington’s six.
On first-and-goal Tyrod Taylor would run off the right side and pick up five yards. Promising. Then offensive coordinator Greg Roman would put the ball in the hands of LeSean McCoy on two straight runs, both of which were stuffed for no gain. On fourth-and-goal Buffalo would spread things out, but Taylor’s pass to Sammy Watkins on the left side sailed out of bounds. The goal line stand preserved Washington’s 21-0 lead at the break.
Taylor would finish the half just three-of-eight passing for 27 yards and was leading his team in rushing. By day’s end Taylor had racked up 235 yards and two touchdowns through the air, adding 79 rushing yards for his new single-game career high. Both of Taylor’s touchdowns were hauled in by Watkins who has now scored six TDs in the Bills’ last four contests. Watkins also went over 100 yards receiving for the fourth time this season and set a franchise record for the most receptions by a receiver in his first two season, now with 109.
McCoy would leave the game in the third quarter due to a knee injury with just 29 yards on 10 carries, as it was Mike Gillislee who would finish as the team’s leading rusher with 81 yards and a career-long 60-yard touchdown scamper. At the time, Gillislee’s score – which came with 6:48 remaining in the third – seemed irrelevant, as it cut Washington’s lead to 28-10. However, after forcing the Redskins into their first punt of the day Buffalo struck back again with the first Taylor-to-Watkins touchdown – a 48-yard bomb down the right sideline – and suddenly some hope was restored down just two scores, 28-17.
The ensuing drive for Washington though epitomized the Bills’ defensive performance. Facing a third-and-16, Pierre Garcon found a soft spot in Buffalo’s defense and made a catch over the middle for 18 yards and a first down. In many ways that play was figurative dagger on the Bills’ season.
“That third-and-16 play broke our backs, Ryan said. “We were feeling good about our chances then.”
Buffalo would add another touchdown late via Taylor’s 20-yard pass to Watkins and even grab the two point conversion, but it was far too little, far too late. What’s worse is that as an offensive unit the Bills tallied 452 total yards – 240 of which came on the ground – outgaining the Redskins by 19 yards, yet still lost due to the defense’s inability to get off the field.
For as tense as the locker room mood was following last week’s loss to the Eagles, this week’s was full-fledged frustration as the Bills’ fell to 0-3 against NFC East opponents so far this season.
“We need to forget about anybody’s feelings,” Watkins said. “We need to call people out. If I’m doing something wrong, call me out. If the line is doing something wrong or messing up, call them out. If the defense is doing something wrong, the defensive line, the secondary, call it out. Because at the end of the day, we’re doing it to win, not to get on somebody and make them feel bad. We’re grown men. This is our job. If you’re not going to do your job, cut him. It needs to be a business.”
Speaking of calling out, reports had surfaced prior to kickoff that DE Mario Williams had missed a team meeting due to an illness and that some people in the Bills’ organization didn’t actually believe Williams to be sick. Of the reports Williams said, “I didn’t realize our team had insurgents. How old are we around here? I guess there’s a bunch of younger people around I didn’t realize. That’s not adults.”
The 10-year veteran is due to make $19.9 million next season with Buffalo and was also asked about the possibility of taking a pay cut. His response, “If this is the turnout of our defense, how does that even sound right?”
With playoffs now out of the question, these final two games will serve as an evaluation tool for the Bills’ front office to determine who should and shouldn’t be part of the team in 2016. Williams is just one of several players that the organization has to consider cutting ties with at the conclusion of the season, in order to open up some much needed cap space.
“This is the NFL, Ryan said assertively in his postgame presser. “Unless we get a heck of a lot better, I told [my players] there will be drastic changes. Anytime you don’t reach your expectations you’ve got to look deep. Everything has to be looked at.”
So the door has essentially closed on the season that began with so much optimism for a Bills’ roster scattered with talent. Talk has officially transitioned from ‘keep fighting’ to ‘we’ll get them next year.’ Sadly, that’s a narrative Bills’ fans know all to well. In fact it’s been the only one they’ve heard around this time of year for the last 16 seasons.