The Buffalo Bills find themselves in a painfully familiar position: searching for sources of motivation deep into December. Barring a miracle, they'll miss the playoffs for a 16 straight season.
So what is there to watch for? Here are three storylines worth tracking these final three games...
1. The future of Tyrod Taylor. Finishing games has been a problem for the first-year starter. The Bills would love to see Taylor deliver more often in the fourth quarter. In each of Buffalo's last three losses, Taylor fell short down by one score. Said Rex Ryan: "Never be considered a great quarterback until you can bring your team back and win in those situations. So yeah I would say that, that is the next stage in being able to bring his team back in those situations." Taylor's numbers will look good when it's all said and done this season. He's completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,439 yards with 18 touchdowns, only five interceptions and another 371 rushing yards and three scores. Taylor can throw a beautiful deep ball and has one of the best deep-ball receivers in the NFL (Sammy Watkins). Not to mention, his running ability will always get the Bills out of jams. But can the 6-foot-1 quarterback last for the long haul in the pocket? That question still lingers with each fourth-quarter slip-up. And Rich Gannon, for one, believes Taylor must learn to take charge.
After a while, defense's figured out Greg Roman's last quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Taylor needs a counterpunch now. Wide receiver Robert Woods was open on that final interception and Taylor waited a tick too long.
2. The looming free agents. Buffalo will have several difficult financial decisions ahead. Left tackle Cordy Glenn, left guard Richie Incognito, inside linebacker Nigel Bradham, safety Bacarri Rambo, receiver Chris Hogan will all be free agents. Pressed up against the cap now, the team can save about $12.9 million by releasing defensive end Mario Williams. The vet could always take a pay cut, but it's really hard seeing him doing that to stay in a scheme he doesn't seem to even like. Multiple times, he's expressed displeasure with his role as a 3-4 end. The Bills could use this money to re-sign a few of their own and/or search for another edge rusher. Of these free agents, who should Buffalo keep? Incognito, despite Sunday's struggles, has been the team's best lineman. Rambo's had the crucial big plays in wins over New York and Houston. Both seem to be fits in Buffalo. And considering it's so difficult to find starting-caliber tackles, Glenn could command quite a market himself.
3. Finding motivation. It hasn't always been pretty this season, but the Bills have not outright quit in any games this season. Five of their seven losses have been by one touchdown or less. If there was ever a game to mail it in, it'd be this upcoming road trip to Washington where the Redskins --- tied for first at 6-7 in the NFC East --- have everything to play for. It was a very despondent, defeated visitor's locker room Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. While the playoffs are no longer a realistic option, ex-Bill Darryl Talley said that a team can still find chemistry at this point of the season, something to build on. Critical of the Bills and an alarming lack of "togetherness," Talley said he still sees a value in these final three games. Can individual players find motivation and come together? Buffalo might be able to figure who should stay and who should go against the Redskins, Cowboys and Jets.