ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Brief and disappointing as the Buffalo Bills’ first playoff appearance in 18 years was, veteran center Eric Wood can already find a bright side.
“I’m just so glad I won’t have to answer: `How are we going to end the drought this year?'” Wood said Monday, a day after a 10-3 loss in an AFC wild-card playoff at Jacksonville. “Now it’s, we’ve got a foundation to build on. Let’s keep improving and let’s go try and win a Super Bowl.”
One step at a time.
The drought is over after the Bills became the last team in North America’s four major professional sports to make the playoffs in the 21st Century.
Now comes the next challenge for a franchise still in the rebuilding stages of an overhaul that first-year coach Sean McDermott instituted upon replacing Rex Ryan a little over a year ago.
And that means more changes are likely in store for a team that was unafraid of trading or purging high-priced talent in closing the season with just 21 returning players from 2016.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor heads the list of players whose futures are considered uncertain, even though he has one year left on his contract and despite being the Bills’ first quarterback since Rob Johnson in January 2000 to start a playoff game.
Taylor oversaw an offense that, including playoffs, scored just eight touchdowns in its final seven games and failed to generate 300 yards eight times.
The Bills were already prepared to move on from Taylor in March before he agreed to restructure his contract by reducing his extension from a five-year to a two-year deal.
And McDermott lost confidence in the third-year starter in November, when the coach benched Taylor in favor of rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman even though the Bills were 5-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
The decision backfired after Peterman threw five first-half interceptions in a 54-24 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving McDermott little choice but to return to Taylor .
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is also on the hot seat for the offense’s lack of finish. In its final three games, Buffalo scored one touchdown on eight trips inside an opponent’s 20, including settling for a field goal despite six snaps from inside the Jacksonville 15 on Sunday.
The struggles weren’t lost on receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who was acquired in a trade with Carolina on Oct. 31.
“Offenses are made to score touchdowns, right?” Benjamin said. “We definitely have got to get better at that. So definitely, there probably will be changes.”
McDermott was already hinting at changes shortly after the loss to Jacksonville.
“We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time,” McDermott said. “That said, we’re not where we need to be. That’s obvious.”
Taylor’s deficiencies are apparent when breaking down his 23-21 record, including the playoffs. He’s 2-14 when throwing 30 or more passes, and 21-7 with 29 or fewer. Though he rallied the Bills to fourth-quarter comebacks four times, including twice this past season, Taylor is 4-20 when Buffalo trails by four or more at any point of a game.
Buffalo is scheduled to have the 21st and 22nd picks in the draft, the second acquired in a draft-day trade of first-round picks with the Chiefs in April.
WAITING ON WILLIAMS
Without being definitive on his future, defensive tackle Kyle Williams acknowledged still having gas in his tank to return for a 13th season. “I think I’ve got enough to get there,” he said.
Williams, who completed the final year of his contract, said there is no time frame as to whether he will return by saying he’ll know better after meeting with Bills management. Williams contemplated retiring after last year before McDermott coaxed him to return.
As one drought ended, another continued. Buffalo has lost five straight playoff games since a 37-22 win over Miami in a wild-card game on Dec. 30, 1995. Only three other NFL teams have gone longer since their most recent playoff win: Cincinnati (1990), Detroit (1991) and Cleveland (1994).
SECOND(ARY) TO NONE
Buffalo’s completely retooled secondary was the strength of its defense. The foursome, made up of cornerbacks Gaines and Tre’Davious White (first-round pick) and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer (free-agent additions), allowed 14 touchdowns passing (second fewest in NFL behind Minnesota’s 13) and was tied for sixth with 18 interceptions.
Five Buffalo wins ended with the Bills intercepting a pass on an opponent’s final possession.
Add to that, White’s forced fumble on Tampa Bay’s second-to-last possession with 2:20 remaining to set up Stephen Hauschka hitting a 30-yard field goal in a 30-27 win on Oct. 22.