Column as I see 'em, wild card week:
During last week's post-season press conference, Doug Whaley said he could understand if the media wanted to connect the dots on the Bills' head coaching search.
Well, I've been trying to connect the dots and it reminds me of when I played it as a little kid. I keep coming up with a clown face.
Connecting the dots is a confusing exercise when you're dealing with this franchise. They promised a full search, but all they're doing is interviewing coordinator candidates who have never been head coaches at any level.
Whaley reminded us that this would be the first time he led the head coaching search, which suggested a new level of power for the general manager. But a recent ESPN report said the Bills were contemplating giving more power to the next coach.
If the Pegulas intend to empower the next head coach, why aren't they talking to bigger football names? How come Josh McDaniels isn't on the list? Why wasn't Tom Coughlin on it? If they're so infatuated with coordinators, why not guys who are thriving and have been head coaches before, like Jim Schwartz and Todd Haley?
Why, at such a critical time, are they narrowing the search rather than expanding it? Are the Pegulas captive to the notion that college coaches can't succeed in the NFL? How about Stanford's David Shaw, Washington's Chris Petersen, or James Franklin from Pegula's beloved Penn State?
Whaley said the new coach would be involved in the decision on whether to keep Tyrod Taylor. But numerous reports say they've already decided to move on from Taylor, rather than pick up the next $27.5 million in his contract.
I applaud Whaley if that's the case. It shows he's not willing to settle for a quarterback with Taylor's limitations as a passer, even if he has the talent to get a team to 8-8. The standard for the position should be higher.
But how do you sell that to a prospective head coach? Would the new guy really have a say on Taylor? What first-time head coach wants to start out with an inferior situation at the game's most vital position? And what if the next coach wants to win right away and pushes to trade for, say, Tony Romo?
Yeah, the dots don't come together very nicely. What this tells me is the Pegulas are out of their depth in the matter. By firing Rex Ryan and keeping Whaley in place, they've decided to middle it in classic Bills fashion. They have a weak GM running the search, which is compromising their prospects.
Reports say the Bills were impressed with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who may have moved ahead of Anthony Lynn. On Monday, they flew to Seattle to meet with DC Kris Richard. Richard would be the third Seattle defensive coordinator in five years to get a head job.
It's enough to make you think it's the coaches, not the players, who were responsible for Seattle's remarkable run of winning during that time.
The Seahawks' success has been largely a personnel triumph, with Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider working together to identify young players – often undrafted guys – and develop them into consistent winners. They were hired one week apart in 2010.
They're as far from the Bills' recent model as you could imagine. It's one the Pegulas should adopt. Instead, they keep dragging their feet and pretending Whaley, the man most responsible for getting them into their current fix, can find the right coach to lead them out of it.
The dots connect to one evident truth: The Pegulas should have fired Whaley, too, and begun this uninspiring search by finding themselves a new GM.
* * *
One thing we've learned over the last two months is never to count out an NFL team with an elite, former Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
In mid-November, the Steelers were 4-5, losers of four in a row. QB Ben Roethlisberger called them "undisciplined and unaccountable." He didn't know if it was players or coaches, but they needed to get it right quick.
Pittsburgh hasn't lost since. They ran the table to win the AFC North and drilled the Dolphins in Sunday's wild-card game, 30-12, setting up a divisional round showdown next week at Kansas City.
On Nov. 20, the Packers fell to 4-6 with an embarrassing 42-24 loss in Washington. Fans were calling for coach Mike McCarthy's head. There was talk of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had been average for more than a year, hitting the wall. Rodgers said Green Bay could run the table.
That's exactly what happened. The Packers won their last six games and won the NFC North. And in Sunday's wild-card round, they blitzed the Giants, 38-13, as Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns after a slow start.
At midseason, Rodgers was being ripped for inaccurate throws, poor mechanics and uncertainty in the pocket. In his last eight games, he has completed 68.9 percent for 2,380 yards, 22 touchdowns and no interceptions. Sunday was the third straight game in which Rodgers had four TDs and no picks.
Things get much tougher this week. Roethlisberger has been mediocre on the road this season and the Chiefs' defense is tough at Arrowhead. The Packers go to Dallas to face the Cowboys, who waxed them at Lambeau early this year, 30-16. But Rodgers and the Pack are a different squad these days.
* * *
The Lions' 26-6 loss at Seattle was their ninth straight playoff defeat, an NFL record. The streak began in the NFC championship game in January of 1992, when they loss 41-10 to Washington. Two weeks later, that Redskins team beat the Bills, 37-24, in the Super Bowl.
The Lions' last seven playoff losses have been away from home. They have lost 11 straight road playoff games. Their last road playoff win came on Dec. 22, 1957 at San Francisco.
* * *
It's become chic – and reasonable – to suggest that Khalil Mack was the best defensive player from the 2014 NFL draft. But Jadeveon Clowney, who went first overall (Mack was fifth) will at least have people revisiting that notion after his dynamic play against the Raiders in a 27-14 wild-card win on Saturday.
Clowney, who finished tied with Mack in tackles for losses this season, had an amazing tipped interception early in the game and was a whirlwind defensively for Houston. After missing 17 games in his first three seasons, Clowney is finally living up to his pre-draft hype of three years ago.
* * *
It continues to amaze me how NFL coaches keep their star quarterbacks on the field toward the end of blowouts. Roethlisberger hurt his ankle while attempting a pass with 4:34 to play and the Steelers leading, 30-12.
Big Ben came to the interview room in a walking boot after the game. He said he would be fine for next week's game in KC. Still, why risk an injury at that point in a game? And even more to the point, why were they passing?
* * *
The Seahawks' win over the Lions was their 10th straight playoff victory at home. The last team to win 10 straight at home in postseason was the Patriots, who strung together 11 from 1996-2007. The Bills won nine straight games at Rich Stadium from Jan. 1, 1989, through Dec. 30, 1995.
The all-time record is 13 straight playoff wins by the Packers between 1939 and 2002.
* * *
When the Giants' Bobby Rainey grabbed a kickoff and lunged out of bounds at his own 3-yard line in Sunday's wild-card game, I'll bet some Bills fans were thinking, 'Well, at least he didn't pull a Gillislee.'