Why will we say they did it?
Here's my thing: as a fan, you've got to pull for your team to reach the playoffs every year. Otherwise, why watch at all? This has nothing to do with being blind to the flaws of the team, or naive, or homerism. It simply has to do with having the small hope that what occasionally happens to bad teams (i.e. 2008 Dolphins) might just happen, to your team, this year.So what if it happened? What if we win the division or sneak in as a wild card? Or, more importantly, if that does happen, why?
Since it's almost July, which means the sports world is virtually dead to me, and because I suffer from that gut-wrenching Buffalo Bills fan streak of hopefulness that makes me ill in September or October every year, I had a perverse sense of pleasure thinking through this scenario. Here's how I see it, retrospectively:
The Bills won 10 or 11 games this year, making the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. How?
Reason #5 - The new coaching regime created a team mentality and culture that expected winning. The new offensive scheme gave players hope that they could put enough points on the board to beat good teams, and avoid stinkbombs against bad teams like the 2009 Browns debacle. This new mentality also gave the team the confidence to get the Patriots monkey off their backs, finally beating them for the first time in forever. Finally, more often than not, the team had the confidence to pull out close games rather than losing control in the 4th quarter.
Reason #4 - A young wide receiver stepped up and had a breakout year as a true #2 WR. One of the Hardy/Parrish/Johnson trio exploited the defenses that were willing to put 7-8 in the box and double team Evans. They created a threat that not only opened up downfield plays from Evans, but gave the Bills more consistent third-down conversions and thus longer drives. In turn, this kept the defense off of the field longer, allowing them to actually stop the run late in the game--a strange sight for the Buffalo faithful. Even further, this freed up the dangerous three-pronged running attack to be as dominant as advertised.
Reason #3 - The new 3-4 scheme contained the run enough to let the secondary shut down opponent offenses. Although the Bills finished in the middle of the pack on run defense, this was a vast improvement from the woeful effort of 2009. The new scheme still had some weaknesses, but didn't give up the gashing, 10-yards-on-third-and-short, runs that it had a year before. As a result, opposing offenses were forced to test one of the best secondaries in the league--and that usually turned out poorly for them.
Reason #2 - The offensive line stayed relatively intact throughout the season. What was certainly a young, flawed o-line in 2009 gained from a year of experience for its interior as well as the continuity of far fewer injuries. Although not brilliant, especially at the tackle positions, the front five were able to gel throughout the season enough to give the offense a consistent expectation of where the running holes would be and how long the QB could hold on to the ball. There was still much room for improvement, but nothing near the debacle of 2009's decimated line.
Reason #1 - Trent Edwards, with a new offensive scheme to work with, finally found his confidence. With the careful tutelage of Gailey, and the first decent offensive scheme he's had to work with in his career, Edwards was able to finally breakout as the QB of the Bills. He didn't dominate games, but was able to relax enough to find his weapons down the field. This opened up the stellar screen game to Jackson and Spiller, who made Trent's stats look awesome with their YAC. He found it within himself to organize a few come-from-behind victories, reminiscent of early 2008, and didn't back down against even the toughest pass D in the NYJ.
Obviously many other factors (better pass rush, great RB play, etc.) came into play, but these five factors were largely unexpected. They were weaknesses that turned into strengths, allowing the bright spots of 2009 (pass defense, RB play, screen game) to shine even brighter.
In the end, finishing 4-2 in the division, beating the teams they should have beaten (Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, Kansas City), and upsetting a few favorites (Pittsburgh, Chicago), gave the Bills the momentum to break the playoff drought.
Well, that's all I've got. We can dream, right? Any thoughts on the 5 reasons we made the playoffs? Any big gaps?
What would your top five reasons be?