The manic ups and downs have been maddening and constant for the 2015 Buffalo Bills. Players have ripped the defensive scheme, the Bills have lost five games by a touchdown or less, injuries have mounted, penalties have reached historic highs and head coach Rex Ryan is now feeling the wrath of fans.
Yet, through it all, the players haven’t banded together as one behind the scenes, according to one veteran.
There’s no “One Buffalo” harmony.
Running back Boobie Dixon said the Bills haven’t held any players-only meetings the entire season and – agreeing with former Bills great Darryl Talley – believes this team lacks a sense of togetherness.
“We have to come together more,” Dixon said. “I feel like we could’ve done that even more this year. We could’ve come together more at times when stuff was not going well. That was lacking.”
Dixon has a unique perspective, having spent the first four years of his NFL career on a winning football team in San Francisco. Three of those years, Dixon reached the playoffs and once advanced to the Super Bowl. As he recalls, players called meetings regularly. Safety Dashon Goldson and linebacker Patrick Willis were usually the ones leading the charge to set everyone’s minds right.
To get a point across. To set a tone.
The message is different when players hear from other players.
“Bring everybody in the room,” Dixon said, “sit everybody down and we hash out our problems together. That didn’t happen here. That hasn’t happened here yet. We’ve got to get those guys to start stepping up. We have to figure out who will be the team leaders and who’s going to be the main guys. And when stuff’s not going right, they have to call it out. We have to be more together. I’m used to that type of stuff happening and it hasn’t happened here yet.
“We haven’t had those types of meetings where it’s just players hashing it out and trying to get on the same page. Once we get to that point, I feel like we can take the next step. We definitely have to get to that point.”
This was the danger in releasing a veteran like Fred Jackson, the heart and soul of the Bills for nearly a decade. All season, there’s been a void. Whenever asked who leads the team, players don’t reach a consensus.
Of course, wide receiver Sammy Watkins is now trying to step into this role, speaking up after Buffalo’s 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins. Watkins wants players to start calling each other out. If feelings get hurt, he explained, too bad.
And on Tuesday, Watkins doubled down in saying the Bills must be a “players-driven” operation.
He admitted it’s “sad” it took this long for the team to realize this.
“To win, it’s got to be from the players in this locker room,” Watkins said. “Any team that goes out and wins, it’s players-driven. Everybody keeps each other accountable and responsible. I don’t think a coach can come in and say, ‘Hey, do this.’ It starts within the team.”
Dixon agrees. Wholeheartedly.
While the offense does have meetings as a unit each week with Tyrod Taylor reviewing the entire game plan, nobody on the roster ever called a players-only meeting when times got tough.
Not after losing to Jacksonville in London. Not after Mario Williams’ continued criticism of Rex Ryan’s defense.
“No, man, we haven’t,” Dixon said. “We haven’t had any player meetings with the team. Our leaders can be more leaders – they could take more of a leadership role. ... We’ve had meetings with Tyrod sitting down with the offense to go over the game plan, but as far as the team? Offense and defense and special teams? Everybody in there hashing it out? We haven’t had that yet.
“And we had that in San Francisco. ... They took control. They put it out there to get everybody on the same page. Not be hiding stuff.”
In Buffalo, the team has been fragmented, hence a 16th straight playoff-less season. Those 49ers, not surprisingly, were an NFC power. Players uniting as one can have a powerful effect.
Said Dixon, “You definitely want to do something about it once everybody puts it out there. If you have guys who will take leadership like that, it makes your team better. Period.”
At one point Tuesday, Dixon said the Bills have been “humbled.”
Through Rex Ryan’s golden-chariot arrival, the slew of signings on offense and a raucous Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, there’s been an overwhelming sensation that this is a new day in Buffalo. Now, the season is coming crashing down in all-too-familiar fashion.
The Bills are 6-8, set to play two meaningless games.
Watkins wants players afraid of being cut. A fear. Asked about this, Dixon said that’s already “a known fact.” Players see the waiver wire every Tuesday. Nothing needs to be repeated on that front to him because, everyone in the NFL knows they could be traded or cut any moment.
“So every week, your job is on the line.”
Then again ...
“I think things could be more intensified,” Dixon added. “We could turn up the intensity more on it. That could always be done.”
A few more players-only meetings might have heightened the urgency.