NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

25 Jan

The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 season ended abruptly on Sunday in a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City. The game was an all-time classic, a duel between 2 young quarterbacks that ended with the Bills being eliminated for the second straight year at Arrowhead Stadium, this time one round earlier than last season. With the season now over, it’s time for our annual four-part review of what the team accomplished and what needs to be done to continue the climb to the final destination that they seek – a Lombardi Trophy to display at One Bills Drive. Part one, as is the case every year, looks at the front office and coaching aspects of the team. General Manager Brandon Beane and his staff deserve kudos for the job they have done building a contending roster, and Head Coach Sean McDermott and his staff have now steered the team to the playoffs in 4 of the 5 years they’ve been in charge. The recent hiring of assistant GM Joe Shoen to the New York Giants’ GM position shows that the organization is perceived as a model franchise around the league. The 2021 draft produced some good future prospects, including a couple of edge rushers and an offensive line starter. Other clubs pilfered 3 of the team’s later round picks from the last 2 years off their practice squad during the season, so the talent they have been mining has been NFL caliber. Some of the players picked in previous years had breakout seasons in 2021 also, as we will note in the other 3 sections of this review.

As for the coaching, McDermott deserves credit for righting the ship when things didn’t go according to plan at various times during the year. The Bills lost 3 more games this season than last, but managed to recapture the AFC East title for the second year after being unceremoniously dumped from the top spot by New England in a chilly Monday Night contest. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll directed a high scoring attack and is likely to get head coaching opportunities. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier guided a unit that led the NFL in most categories, and should also attract attention for some of the head coach jobs around the league. Frazier’s defense was open to question after getting skewered by the Chiefs in the playoffs, a problem they have now encountered 2 years in a row.

Some historical perspective here, and anyone who reads most of the posts on this site realizes I’m all about history. In 1969, one of the NFL’s most notoriously bad franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers, hired Chuck Noll as their head coach. Noll is a Hall of Famer who is regarded as one of the all time greatest coaches. Looking back at Noll’s first 3 seasons, the Steelers went 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8. They spent those years assembling talent, adding Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Ron Shanklin, Frank Lewis, Glen Edwards and L.C. Greenwood among others. Finally, in his fourth year, Noll found some success. The Steelers won the AFC Central Division with an 11-3 mark. The team advanced to the AFC Championship but fell short to the Miami Dolphins, who finished undefeated that year. Miami repeated as champs the next year and the Steelers won their division again at 10-4. One more loss than the previous year, and eliminated from the playoffs in the divisional round by John Madden’s Oakland Raiders this time. Still, the talent accumulation continued. Franco Harris and Jack Ham were added. Then, in the 1974 draft and despite drafting low due to their winning record, the Steelers picked 4 future Hall of Famers (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster) and added a fifth in undrafted free agent Donnie Shell. Finally, in his sixth year at the helm, Noll won the Super Bowl, then proceeded to dominate the rest of the decade with 3 more Lombardi trophies. Not only did those previous 5 years lead to that unprecedented success, but it set up the franchise as one of the best in the NFL with a legacy that continues to this day.

The point of that historical stroll through yesteryear is that the Bills are still in the early part of the process of constructing a team and a culture that will be built to last. And they are ahead of the game as far as the success they have achieved compared to what Pittsburgh built. Beane still has work to do, and it’s safe to say that if and when the Bills finally reach the mountain top, a lot of the pieces that help get them there are either still developing or not even on the roster yet.

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