The Buffalo Bills are going back to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The laundry list of “it’s been XX years since” the Bills have done this or that they’ve accomplished in 2019 is long. Bills fans are relishing those refreshing signs of new times, as well they should.
Enjoy the novelty of this transition, because all signs point to the reality of being a Bills fan changing right before our eyes.
It really is a New Era
It seems fitting for the Bills’ home field having been renamed New Era Field in 2016; two years after Terry & Kim Pegula bought the team and one year before the hiring of head coach Sean McDermott with general manager Brandon Beane soon to follow. At the time, fans may have allowed their imagination to wonder if Bills Mafia could be so blessed as to experience a true changing of fortunes along with a partnership with New Era Cap. Such serendipitous circumstances are typically saved for feel-good movies, but fans could dream, right?
Just over a short three calendar years it looks like that name change is more and more apt each week. The Bills, starting with owners who deserve equal measure thankfulness and credit from fans for the organization’s change, have found themselves back in the postseason with house money to burn two weeks before the playoffs begin.
A perception problem
Even early in the drought, the Buffalo Bills were an easy punching bag to many. For some, the Bills were known as the four consecutive Super Bowl losers or the targets of the phrase “wide right.” Then came a highlight clip that will never die in the Music City Miracle.
Doug Marrone and Rex Ryan both leaned into the reputation of the Bills and acknowledged there wasn’t just a problem of the on-the-field product, but there was a problem of public perception. No doubt the two were connected, but fixing them proved elusive for all who tried since the first incarnation of Flutie Flakes.
Bills fans were rightfully skeptical when Sean McDermott came to the Bills and the fan base was being sold concepts like “culture” and “process.” Buffalo faithful had seen their share of charlatans claiming to have the secret ingredients it would take to turn around an organization as wayward as the Bills. However, it will soon be safe to say, if it isn't already, that Sean McDermott is the real deal.
Stability for the future
So much of what fans have to be excited about is the future. Of course it feels wonderful to be going back to the playoffs in 2019; it takes some of the fear of the positives being a mirage away from those who have been hesitant to emotionally commit to the team’s success. The real substance of what is different organizationally for the current Buffalo Bills is a top-down cohesive plan that is about getting better today and getting better tomorrow (as Brandon Beane loves to say).
Sean McDermott handles so much of the get-better-today responsibilities by driving his players and coaches to be the best versions of themselves both as individuals and as a unit. His consistency, focus, and dedication appear nearly inhuman. His football sense for putting players in a position to succeed has a rather exciting track record. And this season we’ve seen significant personal growth from him as an in-game decision maker. He gives the players and fans stability from their on-field CEO.
Brandon Beane has assembled a roster and cap situation that not only boasts incredible youth but incredible flexibility to secure those players for the foreseeable future and also make the necessary additions to continue moving the team forward. It may not be hyperbole to talk about Brandon Beane being one of the best GMs in football after even his short stint in Buffalo. He has given the Bills stability in their resources and confidence in their personnel decisions.
Get used to it
It is for these reasons (among others) that this franchise is more likely to ascend than descend.
Good salary-cap decisions will need to be made. Smart coaching hires need to be made. Thrifty personnel decisions will need to be made. Talented players will need to be drafted and signed. The good news for Bills fans is that dozens of decisions like these over the past three years have not just been good, but so good as to turn around a franchise in the circumstances the 2017 Buffalo Bills found themselves in. That’s a hell of a feat that who-knows-how-many combinations of decision makers failed at for nearly two decades.
There is one caveat that can hold this team back from the necessary steps ahead. Josh Allen taking a step back or ceasing to take another step forward could undo all that’s good about the Buffalo Bills.
This podcaster has explored at length with his partner how Josh Allen has shown the ability to get better at things most thought were going to be incredibly difficult for him to get better at. Not only that, but he’s gotten better at them exponentially faster than most thought it would take. So while the jury is out, the arrow is moving in the right direction.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.