McDermott’s way

October 30, 2017
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The Buffalo Bills are 5-2.

I'll say it again: The 2017 Buffalo Bills are 5-2.

Back in August, if you had asked me which was a better bet, the 2017 Bills team winning five games all season or that after seven games they would be 5-2, well I don’t think it would’ve taken me very long at all to throw my money down on a 5-11 season.

That the start to this season is such a surprise to so many is just one reason why this has been so much fun. Good seasons, or at least good starts to seasons, that you never saw coming are one of the best things about sports. Whether or not you are ready to decide that these Bills are in fact good, this has obviously been a very nice start to the season.

5-2 is not exactly uncharted territory for the Bills during the drought. In 2011, the Bills improved to 5-2 when they came out of the bye week with a win over the Washington Redskins. Those Bills had agreed to a contract extension with Ryan Fitzpatrick before that game. They then went on to lose their next seven games in a row, and by the end of 2012, Fitzpatrick was done as the Bills quarterback.

The 2017 Bills are quarterbacked by a player who has already seen the lucrative contract extension come and go. Part of the uncertainty about what kind of season we were looking at centered on the way the organization handled Tyrod Taylor last spring. Walking away from the Taylor extension and then trading down in the draft set many observers of the Bills on a course that seemed destined to end with the team drafting a replacement for Taylor in 2018.

So far this season, all Taylor has done is mostly make big throws when needed, extend plays with his legs and not turn the ball over. Whether or not the Bills still may want to draft an eventual replacement for Taylor in April is up for debate. But what gets harder and harder to foresee as this season rolls on is the team moving on from Taylor. While not being any sort of lock to make the playoffs and end a 17-season drought, the 2017 Bills are tracking towards a season that could make it very difficult to hit reset at quarterback.

A couple of Taylor highlights from the win over the Raiders: The six-yard touchdown pass to Andre Holmes saw Taylor spin around in the pocket to escape some pressure and then take the time to reset his feet and float a perfect pass to the end zone. On the 12-play drive that saw the Bills push their lead to 27-7, Taylor twice made throws to help dig the Bills out of tough down-and-distance situations that arose due to holding penalties. On the first of those throws, Taylor finds Brandon Tate in the middle of the field on a 2nd and 20 and Tate does a great job to turn it into a first down. Then after the second holding penalty, Taylor threw a perfect strike down the sideline to Holmes on 3rd and 13 for 36-yards.

One note on the Tate play: Did you see the Bills sideline after that play? Tate gets pushed out of bounds and the Bills players celebrated wildly with Tate. I can’t tell you if that’s because of Tate’s popularity as a teammate, the significance of the play at the time, the effort it took to make the play, or some combination of all of that. What I do know is that it’s been pretty rare to see a Bills sideline so dialed in to the game to see them react as a large group like that to a non-scoring play in the third quarter of a game. Maybe you get that after a turnover, but I think it’s pretty out of the ordinary for a 20-yard catch and run.

How about the names making the biggest plays in these games. Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, Matt Milano, Leonard Johnson, Trae Elston. Last week, it was Deonte Thompson, Taiwan Jones and Ryan Davis. For a second week in a row, there is a significant “who is that guy” factor at work in a Bills win. Playing on Sunday for the first time since trading Marcell Dareus, the Bills again managed to back up the “next man up” mantra you hear so many coaches, including Sean McDermott, preach.

These last two weeks have really made McDermott’s preaching about culture, competition and family hard to poke holes in. The Bills coach has set about shedding big name players with big salaries who may have carried a sense of entitlement and replaced them with his idea of hard working, team oriented players.

I can be somewhat cynical about culture taking precedence over talent, but right now it is working for Sean McDermott and this Bills team.

At 5-2 through seven games, there really is no mistaking it.

These are Sean McDermott’s Buffalo Bills.

And Sean McDermott’s Buffalo Bills are 5-2.