LANDOVER, Md. — Still searching for a leader? Head to Sammy Watkins' locker.
The Buffalo Bills wide receiver stuck around Sunday evening to discuss this repulsive 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins. The Bills will miss the playoffs for a mind-boggling 16th straight season. The curse, indeed, continues.
So Watkins took ownership of this mess. He was honest. His words cut like a knife. To him, it's not on the coaches. No, it's on the players to be more accountable. He wants a team-wide fear in Buffalo that — at any moment — you could be cut.
If that sounds too harsh, too damn bad.
"We need to forget about anybody’s feelings," Watkins said. "We need to call people out. If I’m doing something wrong, call me out. If the line is doing something wrong or messing up, call them out. If the defense is doing something wrong, the defensive line, the secondary, call it out. Because at the end of the day, we’re doing it to win, not to get on somebody and make them feel bad. We’re grown men. This is our job. We get paid millions and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Forget the money. You’ve got to go out there each week and play for the guy next to you.
"Once we get to that point and realize that you could get fired the next day — and make it known. Hey, this is your job. If you’re not going to do your job, cut him. It needs to be a business. And I think once we get to that, we need some nasty coaches. If they’re not doing their job, get them out of here. If I’m not doing my job, step to me and get me out of here."
An off-season full of expectations continues its cruel, unforgiving crash landing to earth. The bar for this season was the postseason — nothing less. Coach Rex Ryan and the players made this much clear repeatedly as season-ticket sales and hope soared by the day leading up to Week 1.
And FedEx Field served as the official site of rock bottom. The Bills looked like a team quitting on its season, falling into a 28-3 deficit. While they did rally to make it 28-17, the damage was done.
So Watkins pulled no punches. Again and again, Watkins repeated that the players need to put it on themselves and "take more accountability." That could mean more film sessions, he said, so players know their job and can play at full speed. Whatever it is, change is needed.
"I think everybody needs to look at themselves in the mirror — forget the coaches," Watkins said. "It’s not the coaches’ team. It’s the players’ team. And we’ve got to take over as players.”
Watkins speaks from experience, of course. In September, he was blunt in saying he needed 10 targets a game because the receiver believed that'd benefit the offense as a whole. Of course, he turned out to be 100 percent right. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor started taking more shots to Watkins, as the deep ball soon fueled the Bills' entire passing game.
Where does the accountability start? The locker room. The players.
“This needs to be a players-driven team," Watkins said. "At the end of the day, the coaches, all they can do is call the plays. They can’t go out there and make plays physically for us. So this needs to be within the team. And we need to address whatever needs to be addressed. And we need more leaders. I need to step up and lead a little bit more and I put that on myself. We just need to come out each week and, as a team, forget the coaches. We need to be a team and come together and talk and communicate more. And we need to win.”
At one point Watkins even said he planned on speaking up to the team to "make sure things get changed."
With nearly the entire team on its way back to the team bus, Watkins stuck around to make sure his message reached the masses.
Rex Ryan may be the one with the made-for-TV personality. He has stood at the mic and taken the blame several times, too. But that only goes so far.
“We have to take over as players," Watkins said. "We can’t put everything on the coaches and blame whatever the situation is. We have to go out and play every week and demand that from each other and forget the coaches. This is not the coaches’ team. It’s the players’ team. It’s player driven. We just have to work on ourselves and gain more leaders.”
Hope has officially been extinguished, but the Bills still have two games to play. Maybe they found one of their elusive leaders.
Watkins will implore everyone to fight.
"There should be no giving up or quitting," Watkins said. "I don’t care about the calls. We’ve got to come together as a team, as a group. It’s within us. If we don’t fix it, it’ll never get fixed.”