Under new coach, are Bills finally contenders?
Someone forgot to tell Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills that rebuilding projects are supposed to feature hard-to-watch defeats, apparent steps backward and more questions than answers.
The first-year coach led his team to a 35-14 blowout victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, improving his record to 5-2 on the season and 4-0 at home. It’s the Bills’ best start since 2011 and their first 4-0 opening at home since 1995.
Up in Western New York, the long-suffering fan base is holding its collective breath, unsure if this success is for real. McDermott’s postgame news conferences feature questions from local reporters asking why they should believe this team is different from years past, as the franchise holds the longest active postseason drought at 17 years.
As he repeated Sunday, McDermott won’t compare his squad to its predecessors. He is concerned only with building this team and laying a foundation for success in years to come.
He appears to be well on his way toward doing just that.
The foremost priority has involved changing the culture. The former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator has persuaded players to buy into his “One-11th” mantra, which means each member of a unit has to focus on doing his respective job while remembering that he is part of a group and his contribution leads to the greater good.
Working alongside another former Panthers figure in firstyear general manager Brandon Beane, McDermott hasn’t been afraid to make unpopular decisions. He opted against re-signing cornerback Stephen Gilmore and linebacker Zach Brown. He traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins, defensive back Ronald Darby and, most recently, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.
Leaning heavily on defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, McDermott has built an aggressive and opportunistic defense that’s limited opponents to 16.4 points while recording a leagueleading 17 takeaways.
Meanwhile, with Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy leading the offense, the Bills have found balance, particularly in the last two weeks when they scored 30 and 34 points, respectively.
The Bills will be tested in the second half of the season with two games against the New England Patriots and one against the New York Jets, whom they’ve beaten once, as well as matchups with the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers.
McDermott and the players like the direction they’re headed.
“When you put the time in and you care about one another (and) you detail your work, you give yourself a chance,” the coach told reporters.
MORE THAN BREES
Don’t look now, but the Saints extended their winning streak to five games with a 20-12 win over the Chicago Bears to move to 5-2.
Yes, much of New Orleans’ success has come thanks to the heroics of Drew Brees and an offense that’s still among the league’s elite with 390.4 yards and 27.3 points per game. But the Saints also can thank an improving defense for much-needed support.
The unit stumbled out the gates, giving up 32 points per game during a 0-2 start. But in the five games that have followed, the Saints have limited foes to an average of 16 points while recording 11 takeaways.
Sunday’s performance from the group was crucial because the offense turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans’ defensive players took a bit to jell this season; they have taken strides each week and have grown a more aggressive mind-set.
“The confidence you gain is through experience,” coach Sean Payton explained after Sunday’s win. “You start to see it in front of your eyes, the growth and the confidence. Hopefully we can continue that. ... They were up for the challenge.”
NO BRYANT, NO PROBLEM?
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers appear to have weathered another bout with dysfunction, and Pittsburgh extended its winning streak to three games after topping the Detroit Lions 20-15 Sunday night.
The offense did just fine with disgruntled Martavis Bryant benched. Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster recorded seven catches for 193 yards and a touchdown to serve as a strong complement to Antonio Brown.
There seems to be enough balls to go around for these three receivers, if Bryant can accept that. If the coach can maintain cohesion, Pittsburgh should run away with the AFC North.
Coach Sean McDermott and the Bills are 4-0 at home for the first time since 1995. Buffalo’s 5-2 start is their best since 2011.