You could say Sunday's game meant nothing, and, in the grand scheme, that's true. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets had been eliminated from postseason scenarios.
Two scuzzy clubs mopping up the year. Big whoop.
But the game did mean something. The game was a chance to give dispirited Bills fans a glimpse toward 2017, to provide hope, to let them exhale with some rationalization the money and emotions they sink into their team aren't a blind waste.
The Bills did the opposite of all that in a whimpering, 30-10 defeat at the Meadowlands.
Interim coach Anthony Lynn, the presumed front-runner for the job, fostered no optimism. Backup quarterback EJ Manuel looked like he was in over his head once more. Cardale Jones served no prophecy. Top playmakers LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins exited with injuries again. The defense continued to wallow in its slop.
Folks watching on TV heard play-by-play broadcaster Andrew Catalon report beloved All-Pro defensive tackle Kyle Williams will consider not returning to the Bills because of another possible rebuild.
The Bills even left us with their signature 2016 play Sunday. On a kickoff return in the fourth quarter, Mike Gillislee watched the ball roll into the end zone, where the Jets jumped on it for a free touchdown.
We get to hear Bills General Manager Doug Whaley justify his way through a 2 p.m. Monday news conference. I predict fans will be more frustrated after Whaley speaks to us for the first time all season without being contractually obligated as part of the team's broadcast compensation package.
The Bills insist they're on a mission to build a winning organization. I believe their intentions are pure. Many wonderful, talented people work in the Bills and Pegula Sports and Entertainment offices.
But faith is low that the Bills have drawn up the wisest plan to pull themselves out of the sludge, that they've put the sharpest possible mind in charge of finding the next head coach, that they possess the self-awareness to soberly examine their flaws.
Sunday's display could have given fans the chance to imagine a different way.
Instead, the Bills' performance underscored what kind of team they are, one that will cram EJ Manuel down our gullets, one that will insert Lynn into an impossibly lousy situation to let him embarrass himself repeatedly this week in front of a microphone and on the sideline, one that will mentally exhaust its most loyal player and one that will use players who don't know that a kickoff is a live ball.
Damn, I feel awful for Bills fans.
The amount of terrible football they've endured, Sunday included, is appalling.
The Bills nearly made history with the fewest turnovers in a season. Without one Sunday, they would have finished with nine and broke the record set by the 2010 New England Patriots.
But with Manuel and Cardale Jones dressing at quarterback, that was unlikely.
Manuel lost a fumble, and Jones threw an interception. Rookie running back Jonathan Williams also lost a fumble.
Manuel completed nine of his 20 throws for 86 yards and was sacked twice before getting pulled at the end of the third quarter.
On a red-zone sequence in the second quarter, he didn't see Reggie Bush free in the end zone and instead threw behind Watkins for an incompletion. Manuel then underthrew wiiiiiiiiide-open tight end Charles Clay for what would have been a touchdown. Buffalo kicked a field goal.
Big if true
"We think we got a gem in this guy. We don't know when he's going to hit his ceiling, but his ceiling is very high. ... You can't win in this league without a quarterback. So we had to find a quarterback, and we think this guy is going to be our quarterback for a long time.
"In three years, maybe he's not, and then I'll be sitting there, saying, 'Guys? Anybody got a job for me?' "
Bigger if untrue
Remember last week when I wrote Whaley's roster has the least amount of its own draft picks in the NFL?
Turns out the 2016 Bills lasted the entire season without starting a rookie or first-year player on offense, the first time since 2003.
The Bills had five rookies on this week's active roster. Jones made his NFL debut Sunday, while third-round defensive lineman Adolphus Washington was a healthy scratch.
The playoff-bound Oakland Raiders carry 13 rookies on their 53-man roster.
Elsewhere in the AFC East: The champion New England Patriots have nine, the playoff-bound Miami Dolphins have 11 and the Jets have 14.
If Whaley's building something, then it's not coming from within.
Thoughts and prayers
A year ago, the Bills went 4-2 against the AFC East, sweeping the Jets and Dolphins while losing both games to the Patriots.
This year's Bills went 1-5. Their lone victory was over the Patriots, who started third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
In Buffalo's five losses, division opponents averaged 34 points a game.
As if the AFC East hasn't roughed up the Bills enough, their 2017 schedule includes cross-divisional games against the AFC West (the most competitive division this year) and the NFC South.
Among the opposing quarterbacks: Derek Carr, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.
The Denver Broncos' situation is up in the air, but folks have been wondering what they would look like with Tyrod Taylor running the offense.
So there's that.
We good here?
No, and it certainly can get worse.
May football competency be one of your many blessings in 2017, Bills fans.
Story topics: Adolphus Washington/ Alex Smith/ Anthony Lynn/ Cam Newton/ Cardale Jones/ Charles Clay/ Derek Carr/ Doug Whaley/ Drew Brees/ ej manuel/ Jacoby Brissett/ Jameis Winston/ Jonathan Williams/ Kim Pegula/ Kyle Williams/ Matt Ryan/ Mike Gillislee/ Philip Rivers/ Reggie Bush/ Rex Ryan/ Sammy Watkins/ Terry Pegula/ tom brady/ Tyrod Taylor