Are you an optimist? Welcome to the club; I'd much rather treat you to stories like this than the one you're about to read. But when the Buffalo Bills finished with a losing record for the third straight year - and missed the playoffs for an eighth - you knew we'd have to talk about them. The lowlights of the Bills' 2007 season.
So let's get this over with. Earlier today I posted 7 highlights for 7 wins; now, I present you 9 lowlights for 9 losses:
#1 - The Kevin Everett Injury.
Upon exiting his post as Bills GM, Marv Levy made the case that the Bills need a tight end. Sadly, folks, the Bills lost an athletic presence at that position that the coaching staff felt was ready to blossom when Kevin Everett's spine injury ended his playing career.
Yes, the miraculous recovery that Everett has made has been inspirational. Yes, Buffalo will always be a city that has an emotional connection with Everett, no matter where life takes him. But from a very basic standpoint - a selfish one, even - Everett's injury cast an early shadow over the Bills' season, and cost them a fine developing player as well.
#2 - The Slow Start.
Dick Jauron has coached in Buffalo for two seasons, and in both campaigns, his Bills got off to incredibly slow starts that ultimately kept the team out of the playoffs. In '06, the Bills got back to .500 by Week 15 after starting the season 2-5; in '07, it was a 1-4 start - including two one-point losses - that doomed their playoff chances. Until the young Bills can win some of their early games, they will perpetually face a season-long uphill climb to the playoffs, as they've had to endure (and nearly accomplished) the past two seasons.
#3 - The Downfall of J.P. Losman.
Back in training camp, NFL pundits everywhere - most notably ESPN's John Clayton - were claiming that the Bills' offense, led by J.P. Losman, would be scoring in bunches in 2007. Early struggles, combined with a knee injury and the steady (if unspectacular) play of Trent Edwards, forced Losman into yet another on-the-bench, off-the-bench season.
It's not that Losman doesn't have the tools. Most of Buffalo's coaches and personnel men still swear that they believe Losman has what it takes to succeed at this level. But that's not the point - after being handed the opportunity to be this franchise's savior, he let the opportunity slip through his fingers. Now, question marks have resurfaced at the position.
#4 - The Prime-Time Meltdowns.
Yes, the Bills played both of their prime-time games this season against the two teams many say will be in the Super Bowl (Dallas and New England). That doesn't matter - despite sellout crowds, Buffalo found new, grueling ways to disappoint in both contests. While the Dallas game may have been fun, and proved that Bills fans deserve some respect, the last-second loss off the toe of rookie kicker Nick Folk sent Bills fans into a manically depressed bye week.
A month later, the outcome was - if possible - worse. Riding a four-game win streak, the Bills were absolutely annihilated by the visiting Patriots, who themselves were coming off a bye week (for a fourth straight season). It's not that the Bills lost that game - let's face it, they were going to anyways - it's that they barely showed up for the contest. That loss left far deeper wounds than the Cowboys loss earlier in the season.
#5 - The Rash of Injuries.
If you hear any of your friends that cheer on other teams complain about injuries, feel free to put them in their place. No NFL franchise came close to encountering the mass of injuries that the Bills endured this season. 17 players wound up on Injured Reserve this year, including 10 players who were regular participants throughout the season.
What's worse is that many of these players are not yet fully developed pro prospects. Two of those, FS Ko Simpson and MLB Paul Posluszny, hurt in particular; these two were expected to be cogs on the defense, making quick strides to become leaders on the club. Instead, Simpson will be facing a position battle next season, while Posluszny will re-acquire his middle 'backer position with just three pro games under his belt. That's valuable experience lost for young, vital players to this organization.
#6 - The young vet disappointments.
I'm calling out three individuals here - and yes, it may be a bit unfair, but I'm doing it anyways. Defensive ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay, along with wideout Lee Evans, were expected to provide the young vet leadership - along with improving production - on a young team. They did fine in the leadership department. They fell far short, however, in production. Far short.
Schobel finished the regular season with 6.5 sacks - tied for his career low, which he amassed in his rookie season. Kelsay had just 2.5. That's 9 total sacks from men who will collectively make $74 million on their current contracts. In a Cover-2 defense, where pass rush is premium, that's not close to the type of production we need. Evans, if possible, was even more disappointing - he followed an 82-catch, 1200-yard 2006 season with a 55-catch, 850-yard season. He was not close to being the dominant presence many felt he could be; now it's unclear whether or not he can fill that #1 role in seasons to come.
#7 - Poor Play in Poor Weather.
It's not a shock that Buffalo's most important games in 2007 were played in awful weather conditions. This is a team based in Western New York, after all. In two games - a Week 15 loss to Cleveland and a Week 16 loss to the New York Giants - the Bills played a total of 7 quarters of football, coming away with 7 points in the process. (The first quarter of the Giants game was fair weather.) Buffalo's offense was problematic all year, but poor weather shut them down at the most critical of times. This young team needs to learn to beat the elements and their opponents.
#8 - The end-of-season demise.
Going hand-in-hand with the poor weather lowlight, the Bills finished their season with three consecutive losses after fighting tooth and nail to get back above .500 at 7-6 by Week 14. In 2006, they fought tooth and nail to get back to 7-7 - and promptly lost two straight. If Jauron has a check mark in my book, it's that his Bills have collectively gone 1-5 in the final three weeks of the season since he's gotten here. That needs to change no matter how the first three quarters of a given season goes - no team likes backing into the playoffs. Just ask Pittsburgh.
#9 - The remaining question marks.
2007 also saw the escape of offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild and GM Marv Levy. Both positions will likely be filled in the very near future; no matter how they shake out, though, there will most definitely be question marks at those two spots heading into 2008. Will a new GM want a new head coach? Jauron is certainly safe for '08, but how well he meshes with a new boss is still unclear. Can a new offensive coordinator put pedigree behind him and make the Bills' offense... you know... score points? These are the biggest questions that need quick answers as the Bills head into the off-season.