Back in September the thought was that Buffalo’s Week 17 meeting with the Jets would set up at the very least a win and you’re in scenario for the Bills. Instead it was the exact opposite – Buffalo was already eliminated from postseason contention and the Jets were the ones fighting for a playoff berth. So the opportunity to keep their rivals out of the postseason with a win, presented the Bills with a small consolation prize for the final game of the regular season. They took care of business, downing the Jets 22-17 to complete a sweep of their divisional foe this season. Here’s some thoughts and takeaways from a mostly positive Bills’ season finale.
1) Sammy Watkins owns Darrelle Revis
Even in their first match-up back in Week 10 where Watkins hauled in just three catches for 14 yards, the second-year receiver showed an ability to shake shutdown, cornerback Darrelle Revis. This play from that Thursday night meeting is evidence…
Yesterday Watkins reaffirmed his dominance over Revis in the Bills’ rematch with the Jets to the tune of 11 receptions and 136 yards, finding space underneath the Pro Bowl, CB all game. While some of that can be attributed to Revis respecting Watkins’ speed in a attempt to take away the deep ball, it’s still uncharacteristic for a receiver to snare 11 catches against the nine year vet, let alone have five-plus yards of cushion to take advantage of. Watkins owned the Jets’ CB on Sunday, establishing a residence on ‘Revis Island’ for the afternoon. It’s a testament to how great of an athlete Sammy Watkins is. This latest performance against one of the league’s best defenders should only solidify the belief that he can be one of it’s top receivers. He’s certainly earning his respect, having piled up over 2,000 yards receiving in his first two seasons combined. Over Watkins’ final nine starts he averaged 5.4 receptions and 100 yards per outing, scoring seven touchdowns during that stretch as well. It’s time to move on from the idea that Buffalo messed up by not drafting Odell Beckham Jr. Everything is going to be okay.
2) The Bills finished 4-2 against their AFC East foes
Generally if a team has a winning record against their division, they’re often a playoff team as well. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case this year for Buffalo, who finished 4-2 against their division – not bad by any means – but scrounged up just four other victories elsewhere. It’s very plausible to think that had Buffalo won just two more games they would have made the playoffs. Looking back the Jacksonville and Kansas City losses are the biggest killers, but the 1-3 record against the lowly NFC East doesn’t look so good either. Anyway, Buffalo showed they can have success inside their division, although a win over New England would surely be appreciated by fans. The next step now becomes beating those teams they’re not so familiar with.
3) The defense took positive steps over the last two week
There is no denying that Buffalo’s defense was an utter letdown this season, but with a makeshift unit these last two weeks they made some progress. In Weeks 16 and 17 combined the Bills surrendered just two touchdowns and 23 points, while holding Kellen Moore and Ryan Fitzpatrick each under 200 yards passing. Neither is necessarily your house hold name at QB, however consider that Moore threw for 435 yards against the NFC East champion Redskins yesterday and Fitzpatrick came into Sunday averaging 300 yards passing over his last five contests. Buffalo did give up 121 and 122 yard rushing efforts respectively in those games, but with the so many injuries something had to give. Anyway, it’s a step in the right direction and perhaps proves that the Bills have some depth on defense.
Again, it obviously wasn’t under the circumstances Buffalo wanted, but Sundays win showed a lot about the state of the Bills moving forward. First and foremost it provided something of a meaningful ending to the season – being able to keep a hated foe out of the playoffs – while also avoiding what could have been a losing season for the 10th time in 11 years.
The win also proved that Rex Ryan never really lost control of the locker room as many people speculated would happen over the final two weeks, nor did the players quit on him. Even after that miserable Washington game, where it looked as though Buffalo had thrown in the towel altogether, they rallied to win the final two games of the season – albeit one was against a practice squad version of the Cowboys. Ryan eluded to the “fight” and “attitude” of his team many times this year, but no game summed that up better than this 22-17 win over the Jets.
Further, Week 17 showed that this Bills team is making strides towards being a winning organization. No the team didn’t quite live up to the hype from August but they did avoid a losing season for the second consecutive year. They did revamp the offense and lead the league in rushing. They did show flashes of dominance on defense despite having to learn a new system under Ryan. And they clearly have roster scattered with talent. Keeping everyone together was the right move by Terry Pegula because it establishes consistency in the front office as they work to build a winner.