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Offensive line has changed its reputation

The Buffalo Bills won their finale and avoided a losing record and take feel-good momentum into the offseason and finished on a strong note and blah, blah, blah.

I’m not much for warm and fuzzies over an 8-8 organization that missed the playoffs a 16th straight season, but one Bills unit that should be proud of its work is the offensive line.

One year ago, analytics site ProFootballFocus.com graded Buffalo the NFL’s worst offensive line. Bills Wall of Famer Bill Polian was critical of the O-line in a recent Buffalo News article.

Bills blockers cleared paths for three 500-yard rushers this season, a feat unmatched here since 1962.

“It takes a long time to reverse opinions,” Bills center Eric Wood said after Sunday’s 22-17 victory over the New York Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium. “It takes four seconds to make an impression and four years to change it.

“I feel like we’re getting closer to that time where people are going to start feeling differently about this offensive line.”

The Bills’ O-line developed a nastier reputation. It was a stark departure from 2014, when they rushed for their fewest yards in a 16-game season (and fewer than 14 of the club’s 14-game seasons) while allowing 40 sacks.

“We laid a good foundation,” said left guard Richie Incognito, whose contract is up. “Running the football and being physical is going to be our bedrock. We can build off that and grow as a unit.”

The Bills gained 5,775 yards, fourth-highest in team history and their most since 1992.

Their 2,432 rushing yards rank sixth. A mobile quarterback, of course, helps. But the Doug Flutie years weren’t this productive on the ground.

LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams and quarterback Tyrod Taylor each rushed for at least 500 yards. Even late-season reserve Mike Gillislee broke touchdown runs of 19 yards, 60 yards and 50 yards in December.

“This season, especially the second half, has been encouraging for us,” Wood said. “I’m excited about the way we ended the season on the offensive line.

“Was it perfect? No. Were we tougher than in the past? Probably. We executed better. We blocked better.”

Blocked

Buffalo finished with 21 sacks, its worst output in a 16-game season a year after leading the NFL with 54 sacks.

And get this: Opponents set a Buffalo record by attempting 602 passes, 20 more than the previous mark set in 1993 and tied in 1995.

Many of the sacks Buffalo managed were not big plays. They added up to losses of 125 yards, the fewest of any campaign aside from the nine-game 1982 strike season.

Five of Buffalo’s sacks (24 percent) were for minus-1 yard or no loss.

All season, Buffalo recorded two first-quarter sacks and had two sacks when the opponent needed less than 6 yards for a first down.

Buhleedat

Incognito signed a one-year “show me” contract not only for the Bills to evaluate, but also the other 31 NFL teams.

So does he think he showed ‘em?

“I think so,” Incognito said with a laugh. “It was a good year. I worked my butt off to get here, and I didn’t take it for granted. I played my absolute hardest, and that’s all I can do.”

Incognito missed half of 2013 with the Miami Dolphins and all of last season because of the bullying scandal that dominated headlines.

Incognito mended his reputation and played well enough to be a Pro Bowl alternate. He expressed particular pride in being integral to helping a unit find its identity.

“When you’re out there, playing physical and knocking people around, it’s contagious,” Incognito said. “Other people feel that within the offense. That’s what I bring, tempo and hustle and a physical nature.”

Asked about his intentions to return to Buffalo or try the free-agent market, Incognito replied: “I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I don’t know what the future holds. Those conversations haven’t even begun yet.

“I’m just thankful for Kim and Terry Pegula to give me an opportunity to come back, for Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan for believing in me and for my teammates for accepting me with open arms and letting me be myself and earn their respect.”

Thanks, Obama

Gillislee entered Sunday with 23 carries for 239 yards, an average of 10.4 yards per run.

As columnist Jerry Sullivan noted, Gillislee had the chance to become the first player since Ernie Steele with the 1945 Philadelphia Eagles to rush for more than 200 yards and average 10 yards a carry.

Gillislee’s average plummeted like Radio Shack stock.

With starter Karlos Williams knocked out of the game with a knee injury, Gillislee ran 24 times for 28 yards. Gillislee’s season-ending average was 5.7 yards.

Above average

The Jets hold Darrelle Revis’ contract, but Sammy Watkins owned him Sunday.

Taylor tried 28 passes and targeted Watkins 15 times. Watkins caught 11 for 136 yards.

Watkins made a 38-yard gain with 9:15 left in the third quarter. Revis was so far away that Watkins bobbled the ball while he was running and caught it a second time.

The play was a multiple milestone for Watkins. It put him over 1,000 yards for the first time and gave him the fifth 100-yard game of the season.

Big if true

As great as Watkins played, Revis looked soft enough to make you wonder if we’ve seen the last of Revis Island, the nickname bestowed on the Pro Bowl cornerback for his ability to guard the other team’s top defender one-on-one.

Bills coach Rex Ryan threw a bouquet at Revis after the game and noted that Revis needed to stay off Watkins to avoid getting burnt deep. But Revis used to hang with all the speed-burners. When he did prefer to keep the action in front, he closed the gap quickly enough to make plays.

He had two pass breakups Sunday despite all the throws in his direction.

Revis was chosen for his seventh Pro Bowl and had five interceptions. He will be 31 next season.

Again?

Dan Carpenter missed his sixth extra point.

Yet somehow the Bills out-kicking-gamed an opponent. Jets special teams coordinator Bobby April had a dyspeptic day against his old team.

Ryan Quigley’s 21-yard punt to the Bills’ 25-yard line midway through the first quarter helped set up Taylor’s touchdown scramble.

Randy Bullock missed a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter.

We good here?

For the final column of the 2015 season, I went to Twitter to crowdsource Bills fans.

I asked the above question, and with most precincts reporting, 64 percent had replied “Yes.”

email: tgraham@buffnews.com

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