The Buffalo Bills started out slowly, but gradually pulled away in a meaningless 28-9 win over the New York Jets in each team's season finale.
It's hard to get excited about this win.
The New York Jets were without their MVP, cornerback Darrelle Revis, this time around. Mark Sanchez transformed from a competent quarterback during Week 1 into one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league in Week 17. The Tim Tebow time bomb detonated inside the Jets organization two weeks earlier. This wasn't the same Jets team.
The Buffalo Bills were different, too. The Week 1 version of Buffalo was optimistic. Teams sometimes get thrashed in Week 1, and Buffalo had an easy schedule. 16 weeks later, the Bills were out of the playoffs again. The story was the same as it's been for years. Will head coach Chan Gailey get fired? Will GM Buddy Nix go too? Does Buffalo need a new quarterback? How could Buffalo finish so poorly, again? All the hope of the season turned into the char of Week 17. It's hard to get excited about this 28-9 win.
The Good. Buffalo's best two offensive players, C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson, came to play. Spiller may be retired from "The Good" section shortly, as he's here seemingly every week. The Jets defense hasn't been up to normal standards this season, but it's a Rex Ryan defense, and he can usually shut down who he wants to. Spiller didn't have his normal rushing numbers, but showed everyone, again, that he's virtually matchup proof. He broke some good runs and took a corkscrew to the middle of the Jets defense in the second quarter, toting a screen pass 66 yards for a touchdown. Spiller needs only one play to impact a game. It's hard to defend that.
Johnson was even better. On a day where he improved his own Bills record with three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, Johnson put up good numbers against a stingy Jets passing defense. Matched up some of the time against Pro Bowl corner Antonio Cromartie, Johnson caught first downs, climbed the ladder for some big receptions, went deep, and made another one-handed circus catch. Whoever is coaching the Bills next season should keep Johnson in the slot. He's been almost uncoverable since he moved there a few weeks back.
The Bad. Buffalo would have been in trouble had anyone but Sanchez been at quarterback. The defense again couldn't stop the Jets running game. Until Spiller's touchdown, it looked like the Jets were going to pound their way into Nick Folk field goal range every drive, and grind out an ugly win. Buffalo did stiffen late in the game, but that was only after Sanchez proved that he wasn't going to beat Buffalo in the air, and Wannstedt regularly put an extra defender in the box, leaving only Jairus Byrd deep most plays.
Buffalo needs to figure something out on defense. The common thread between all the failed Bills defenses of recent memory has been one-gap schemes. The Tampa 2, their one-gap 3-4, and Wannstedt's defense are all supposedly gap sound because they put a defender in each gap. That's proven untrue. I'm all for continuity, but Buffalo needs a different scheme. The players were making mistakes earlier in the season, but it looks mostly scheme-based now to me. Wannstedt, if he's retained, needs to figure out something different next season.
Let's Not Overreact. Buffalo's draft position went from sixth overall to No. 8 with the win. Arizona and Cleveland leapfrogged Buffalo in the draft order. It's not a big deal. If Buffalo really wants a player ahead of those two teams, they have all the value in the 2013 NFL Draft to get right back ahead of them. Buffalo's first and second rounders get them to the No. 4 pick. Their first and third rounders get them to the sixth pick, ahead of Arizona if you're looking at the draft from a quarterback perspective. The win might cost Buffalo a third rounder. Not good, but not the end of the world.
Overall. With that, Buffalo's normal regular season begins. Rumors swirl about. Is Ralph Wilson selling the team? Will Nix still be the GM in a week? If he goes, will Doug Whaley replace him, or will it be an outsider? Will Gailey remain as head coach? Will Nix still be around to go get his quarterback? Those topics will dominate the coming weeks, mostly because the 2012 version of the Bills only won six games. And until they win more, these topics will continue to come up.
On my final The Morning After of the season, I want to thank all of you for staying with me for these 17 trying weeks. It was as hard for me to write these some weeks as it was for you to read them. I'll now put down my analysis hat and put on my favorite hat: my draft cap. Thank you, and Happy New Year!