It’s been a long time coming, but the Buffalo Bills – now sporting a 4-2 record after a 26-17 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs at their friendly confines of Bills Stadium in suburban Buffalo on Tuesday (Australian time) – have been viewed as a team on the rise.
But until they can beat the NFL’s elite teams – or even those in the AFC – they’re not quite in the conversation as far as belonging in that next higher group.
Coach Sean McDermott’s team does possess Super Bowl potential, provided that come the end of the regular season, things go its way.
The last time the Bills were Super Bowl contenders, harken back to 1994, when – after having lost the previous three NFL title games – Buffalo native superfan and the late, great host of NBC’s “Meet The Press” program Tim Russert, with his father alongside him, attempted to lead the nation in prayer to will the Bills to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII.
“Now, it’s in God’s hands,” Russert controversially told the American viewing public on Super Bowl Sunday, “and God is good, and God is just. Please God, one time, go Bills.”
(For the uninitiated, this would be the equivalent of David Speers using his Sunday morning pulpit on the ABC to get the whole of Australia to pray for Collingwood, or Richmond – or whatever AFL team the “Insiders” host barracks for – ahead of a grand final.)
Alas, it didn’t happen. And not by a long shot.
Losing four straight Super Bowls, from 1990-94, has made the Buffalo Bills the butt of many jokes over the years, jokes about losing, jokes about unmet and unfulfilled expectations, but above all else, jokes and jibes about never being able to win “the big one”.
The Bills were even on the receiving end of the “Music City Miracle”, in a playoff game against the Titans which seemed impossible to lose, yet were beaten by an upstart Titans team that eventually fell one yard short of winning Super Bowl XXXIV.
The Bills would not make the playoffs again until 2017, losing the wild-card playoff game 10-3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, then after a year’s absence, losing another wild-card game to the Houston Texans 22-19 in overtime.
In short, alongside the laughs, the jokes, the pain and frustrations, and their trials and tribulations, it’s been a long road back for the Buffalo Bills.
But for all of their potential, they are falling short – as consecutive losses to the Titans and Chiefs have demonstrated.
So what do the Bills need, to take that next step?
First of all, let’s talk about their defence: currently, they cannot stop anyone.
Even in their four wins to start the season, the Bills’ defence has surrendered a lot of points, to the tune of 25 points per game – far from efficient, but it gets worse when surrendering 68 points combined against the Titans and Chiefs.
A deeper examination into the Bills’ defensive woes reveals more:
On total defence, after allowing 466 total yards to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Bills are allowing 387.5 yards per game – 23rd out of 32 teams
Against the pass, the Bills’ defence allows 254.7 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks (even if the 212 to Mahomes may be seen as a slight improvement)
And against the run, the 245 yards allowed to the Chiefs – on 46 rushes for a 5.3 yards-per-rush ratio – extended their poor total average to 131.3 yards per game.
Opponents have converted 47 out of 85 third-down plays into first downs, a 55.3 percent rate of efficiency.
The Bills’ running game hasn’t done them any favours, either.
Part of this is due to fate – with Zack Moss missing games early in the season due to injury, having been out since Week 2 with a toe complaint, Devin Singletary has been on the field for a greater number of snaps, and leads the team with 302 yards rushing, and moreover only has a 3.7 yards-per-attempt average.
In saying that the rest of the Bills’ rushing attack behind Singletary and Moss having just returned to gameday fitness has lagged a bit is putting it lightly – so much that quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo’s top ball carrier against the Chiefs with 42 yards on eight rushes, is the team’s second-leading rusher for the season.
Which brings us to the plight of Allen, the third-year quarterback having to carry the team’s fortunes, in light of shortcomings on defence and in the running game, two KPI’s traditionally viewed as cornerstones in building a Super Bowl contender.
The Bills’ future fortunes are tied to the strength of his right arm, throwing the ball downfield – but his accuracy suffered against the Chiefs, completing only 14 out of 27 passes for 122 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while entering the game with a 72.2 percent completion percentage, and by averaging over 330 yards per game in the air and throwing 12 touchdowns against two interceptions.
When Allen’s stock was being evaluated ahead of the 2018 Draft, his throwing distance potential was well-noted.
Against the Chiefs, Allen could have easily overthrown three despotic governments as well as Bills receivers Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley.
“We weren’t good enough – I was not good enough. I’ve got to do a better job, it’s plain and simple,” Allen said after the game.
“I didn’t play very good tonight. I know that. I understand that. This team can’t afford to have me play poorly,” he added.
To be fair, Allen is a maturing work-in-progress for the Bills and McDermott. The games like the ones he’s had against the Titans and Chiefs will be chalked up as learning experiences.
Also to be fair to McDermott and the Bills, without gamebreaking influences on defence and in the backfield which may recall fans’ memories of Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas from the Bills’ Super Bowl visits, they will continue to be just a “good” team thirsting for credibility at the next level.