Although the 2017 NFL regular season has just begun, the Buffalo Bills have seemingly seen it all in terms of adversity from the beginning of the offseason up until this point, heading into Week 5.
Trades, retirements, and unexpected releases have almost entirely overhauled the roster from one season ago, causing players and coaches to be bombarded with questions of tanking the season ad nauseam.
Add that on top of the challenges that already normally exist for a first time head coach, and it’s fair to say that Buffalo rookie coach Sean McDermott and his squad have endured a high number of trials and tribulations from the time McDermott took over the team last January.
However, so far the Bills haven’t received the memo (or at least haven’t opened it) that they should be near the bottom of the NFL standings and positioning themselves for a high draft pick next April.
Instead, Buffalo enters the weekend with a chance to capture its third consecutive win of the year, which would move the team to 4-1 on the season and comfortably position the Bills atop the AFC East heading into their Week 6 bye.
To do that, though, McDermott and his players must find a way to once again overcome adverse conditions.
Substantial injuries to starting wide receiver Jordan Matthews (broken thumb), starting linebacker Ramon Humber (broken thumb) and core special-teamer Colt Anderson (broken forearm) have caused shakeups to the roster once more, making this week’s road matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals (1-3) all the more challenging.
Such circumstances would cause most teams’ confidence to waver, but not Buffalo’s.
Trusting the process is the motto for the Bills, and that won’t change when success happens or adversity hits.
Faced with obstacles on both sides of the ball due to those recent injuries, not many people believe Buffalo can snag another win on the road against a Bengals team that is coming off an explosive 31-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns one week ago. But, for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the rest of the players, critics’ disbelief just adds more fuel to the fire.
“Everyone in that locker room, I would say, plays with a chip on their shoulder. It’s something that we have to prove each and every week. (We’re) 3-1 right now, but that doesn’t necessarily change our mindset,” Taylor said when speaking to the media Wednesday.
“We’re continuing to keep grinding away, focusing on our fundamentals and just keeping that hungry attitude each week as we approach game days on Sundays.”
With Matthews out, Taylor will be looking to get rookie receiver Zay Jones more involved in the passing game while continuing to connect with tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy, who currently leads the team in receptions with 21.
The Bills also added Philly Brown back the roster after cutting the former Carolina Panther at the end of the preseason this summer, but it will be Jones who figures to be the center of everyone’s attention this week. The East Carolina product has struggled to adjust to the pro game thus far, but, like rest of his teammates, Jones is rallying around the idea that everything will fall into place by sticking to the process of day-to-day preparation.
“There is a lot of outside noise, but I really could care less,” Jones said in Buffalo’s locker room earlier this week. “I mean, there is so much. People [said] that we suck a few weeks ago, now everyone’s like, ‘oh the Bills are good.’ You have to take everything with a grain of salt and not really take all that in. In house, we have a process and we know what we have.”
“We are a damn good football team. We have great players on this team. We have unbelievable coaches doing great things day in and day out. I’m trusting them 100 percent. Our focus is the Cincinnati Bengals and what we need to do to win and get it done.”
As for Buffalo’s defense, which currently ranks first in the league in points allowed per game and eighth in the league in total defense, the unit may also be without starting cornerback E.J. Gaines on Sunday, which could spell trouble for the secondary as it matches up with the likes of receivers A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, and Alex Erickson, and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
In addition, rookie linebacker Matt Milano will fill in for Humber while he’s out with his thumb injury, meaning the Bills will have at least one new face in the starting lineup if Gaines is somehow able to suit up.
Milano showing off his athleticism-Sugaring A, dropping to hk/curl in Cover 2. Covers ground in 3 steps. VERY good zone eyes by Tre. pic.twitter.com/uwM9YzgcAQ
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) October 4, 2017
Either way, Buffalo’s defense doesn’t plan to miss a beat.
“We’re the … kind of the Motley crew. We definitely embrace that, and, hey, some of us are the guys that nobody wanted,” first-year defensive end Eddie Yarbrough, who filled in for starter Shaq Lawson last week in Atlanta, said on Wednesday.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) October 6, 2017
“But, we’re making statements and we’re out here to prove people wrong. (We’re) so excited for the opportunity.”
With all of that said, it’s clear that McDermott’s message of taking things as they come and going through a step-by-step process has permeated throughout all layers of the roster. Buffalo’s players seem to know and respect each other’s roles as individuals and as a unit, which seemingly hasn’t always been the case at One Bills Drive in past years.
If the Bills can pull off a victory against the Bengals, then they’ll move to 3-0 in the AFC and can hold their spot atop the New England Patriots and the rest of the AFC East for at least one more week.
But, with long-term goals in mind, McDermott and company won’t let anyone get ahead of themselves in the short term.
It’s all a part of the process.
“I think we’d be making a huge mistake to say we’re good enough in this area, we’re good enough in that area, (and) we’re not good enough in that area. We just have to continue to improve and get to know our team,” McDermott said Friday.
“We have to continue to evolve in all three phases.”
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) October 6, 2017
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