A column by Sun Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock
What a difference one huge win makes.
Two weeks ago Sunday started a tough two-week stretch for the Bills.
It began with a brutal overtime loss at Philadelphia.
Buffalo led by 10 early in the fourth quarter and was still up by a field goal with under 30 seconds left in regulation. The Bills then kicked the lead field goal in OT but, thanks to coach Sean McDermott’s flawed defensive alignment, the Eagles scored the winning touchdown via an untouched 12-yard run.
But it would only get worse.
With Buffalo on a bye week, edge rusher Von Miller back at his Dallas home, was charged with domestic violence against his pregnant girlfriend. She made the 911 call, but as often happens in such cases, recanted the next day. Problem is, in Texas, assaulting a pregnant woman is a felony. So even though Miller’s significant other maintained nothing happened, police had seen the physical evidence and merely continued the investigation.
That left the question of whether he would play Sunday against the Chiefs in Kansas City. The NFL couldn’t suspend or put him on the exemption list because no charges have been filed and the investigation is ongoing, leaving the decision to the team. (Ultimately, to the chagrin of thousands of female Bills fans, he was allowed to play).
But it was about to get even worse.
Later in the week, Tyler Dunne released an indicting three-part series on McDermott’s fitness to be a head coach via his website Go Long. Reaction was overwhelming … and mixed. The social media denizens who have been calling for his firing over the past two months felt totally vindicated … meanwhile, his legion of supporters were enraged at what they felt was a “character assassination.”
HOWEVER, came last Sunday, on the road against a top-level AFC top team and in one of its loudest venues, McDermott’s team cobbled together an effort that earned a critical victory. Best of all, the game was decided by the type of controversial call — offensive neutral zone infraction which cost the potential winning touchdown –that normally bites Buffalo.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
Most of all, that triumph actually put the Bills in a better position playoff-wise than they were after the loss to the Eagles. Between weeks 13 and 14 the AFC’s postseason contenders took a bit of a beating. Besides the West-leading Chiefs’ loss, Miami, topping the East, managed to blow a two-touchdown lead Monday night at home in the final three minutes to the Titans, 13½ -point underdogs. The Chiefs, Steelers and Jaguars have all lost two straight and the Colts and Texans each fell Sunday, dropping them into the six-way tie at 7-6 along with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Denver and Buffalo.
The confluence of those events changed the mood at One Bills Drive. Miller’s legal woes and the embarrassment of McDermott’s 9-11 speech were soon relegated to the “old news” bin.
We’ll see what happens when Buffalo hosts the Cowboys, winners of five straight, and tied for the NFL’s top record at 10-3, Sunday afternoon.
TO BE SURE, during his Monday press conference, McDermott was decidedly upbeat and without a mention of Miller or Dunne..
“Well, it’s just one game,” he said of the win in Kansas City, “now we have to focus on one game … which is the Cowboys this week. But I’m super-proud of the guys this week, the way they played and stuck together. When you’re playing games like that against good teams, well-coached teams you know it’s going to be at least a 60-minute game, so it’s good to come out of there with a win, it says a lot about their focus and mentality right now.”
Of the support he received from his fans, calling it a “tough week” without naming Dunne, McDermott said, “It meant a lot to me. First and foremost was the way the players and staff came together and played and coached and just kept it about the game in the midst of the stuff that was going on for us as a team. That was impressive for us to watch and to see. And the support that I’ve gotten from in-house, from outside and across the NFL community was super-gratifying and much-appreciated.”
General manager Brandon Beane handed him the game ball after the KC win with a smiling owner Terry Pegula in the background.
As for the Bills losing four of the previous eight games, three of them with fourth-quarter leads, McDermott contended, “Our guys have been working really hard. I know we haven’t gotten all the results that we wanted, but there’s been lessons in every one of those games and now we’re getting into the part of the season where we use those lessons in the resilience that’s built in our football team to move us forward.
“When you can go into a place like Arrowhead with that type of crowd and that environment and come out with a win … that’s a big challenge and our guys did it and I’m so proud of them for it.”
Especially because they turned down the heat for a week.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)