And so goes the 2013 NFL Regular Season. Once again, 3/4 of the division is left with naught but disappointment and draft prospects to occupy their thoughts as they look back over the ups and downs of their schedule and what might have been if only…
The Buffalo Bills 2013 Season Results: 6-10 overall, 3-3 division, 4th place in the AFC East
The Bills were never given much of a chance in 2013. In fact, most of those in the know (or those who think they are in the know) had them projected to be a bottom 5 team in the NFL, lucky to get a 4 win season. You couldn’t fault the logic behind those predictions, they were a young team without a QB, no one knew if Kevin Kolb would be under center in Week 1 or if the freshly drafted EJ Manuel would win out the camp competition. They had a rookie coaching staff, including a new head coach with no NFL head coaching experience. They had a lot of things stacked against then, so you could say that by making it to 6-10 with the first .500 division record in god knows how long, 2013 was technically a success. But for fans of the team, 2013 will always be a season filled with regret, regret at all of the games lost by a handful of points or given away by rookie mistakes and poor play calling.
However, as always, Bills fans have plenty to be hopeful about, whether it’s false hope manufactured by desperate fanaticism or hope that actually has a firm basis in reality. The first is the defense, a unit that took major strides in 2013. They were historically bad in 2012 and ended up, somehow, at 10th in the NFL in total defense, a massive leap from the 22nd they ranked in 2012. Of course, that’s just yards allowed, important, sure, but games are won and lost by points. Still, they went from 26th in points allowed to 20th, not spectacular but still an improvement. The weakness, as in 2012, remains in run defense and big play vulnerability. The Bills are a “home run” defense, they either shut you down entirely, through sacks, superb pass defense, and turnovers, or they let you break out big time plays down field. The consistently bright spot was the defensive line being what we thought we bought when Mario Williams came to town. The Bills set a franchise record for sacks with 57, good for 2nd in the league and were also second in INTs, a indirect result of consistent, ferocious pressure on the quarterback.
If you watched the games, the Bills seemed to regress on offense. They didn’t have the highlight reel of CJ Spiller, they didn’t put up big points in losing efforts like they did with Fitzpatrick under center, and they didn’t dominate on the offensive line as they had in the past few years. Statistically, they were nearly identical in terms of total yards and points per game. To me, that is a matter of talent overcoming inexperience, to a degree. The offense is undoubtedly talented, but it lacked the cohesion previously seen under Chan Gailey and Fitzpatrick. Manuel is a more talented QB (when healthy) and the new WRs are a big boost in the most skill-deficient area on the offense, but they didn’t have enough playing time to build the kind of rapport that made Fitz so successful when targeting guys like Scott Chandler and Stevie Johnson. If Manuel had played all 16 games, perhaps that would have been different, but we won’t know until 2014 now.
Usually when I look back on yet another unsuccessful season, I can narrow down a few games that should have been won. I feel that way for a variety of reasons, usually because I think we were the better team or we had an advantage of some sort, but this season is unique to me in that I can narrow it down to a handful of individual plays that cost us 3 or 4 games. Week 1, the final Patriots drive that won them the game, where the Bills couldn’t stop them on 3rd and 13. Week 3, the two deep passes that Geno Smith completed on Justin Rogers. Week 5, the play that knocked EJ Manuel out for 5 weeks, which lead to the pick 6 from Tuel in the final drive. Speaking of Tuel’s pick 6’s, the pick 6 he threw against KC, missing out on a wide open Stevie Johnson, a 14 point swing that would have won the Bills the game. The back to back fumbles on Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler that first forced overtime and then gave the Falcons field position to win in OT. 6 plays that were the difference between 11-5 and 6-10, the kind of thing that could drive a fan mad if he were to dwell on it for too long.
One thing remains certain, though. I’m still a Bills fan, whether it drives me insane or not, and I’m already counting the days until the 2014 kickoff and building up my hopes for finally making the playoffs.