These are extremely frustrating times for Buffalo Bills fans.
They're also extremely confusing.
The Bills have sent all sorts of mixed messages about what they're trying to achieve this season. And fans, being creatures who prefer the sort of bottom-line clarity that a won-loss record provides, find themselves caught in an emotional tug of war unlike any in recent memory.
Should they resign themselves to the fact that this is all just a throwaway until Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane wipe out the remnants of past failure to make room for all of those "right fits" they'll be bringing in to produce future success? Should they focus on the legitimate opportunity, dangling in front of them since a 5-2 start and kept alive by the AFC's mediocrity, to actually put an end to the dreaded playoff drought?
Or should they simply accept that the ineptitude with which they've grown accustomed is going to continue and the horrific football they've watched the past three games is less about a painful transition and more about the additional pain to be felt beyond this year?
The fact is, no one on the outside can say with any certainty that they see a clear plan and/or have a clear understanding of it. For that matter, there are plenty of players, who always think in the here and now, unable to put a finger on what direction the team is headed.
Nothing seemed to speak louder about the Bills' intentions to seemingly be at least somewhat attached to the present than the decision to retain Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback, while keeping around long-time veterans such as Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander.
Then came the August signing of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, another win-now move, but that was abruptly followed by those win-later trades that sent Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby packing (as well as Boldin's sudden retirement).
A big win-later deal came on Oct. 27, when Marcell Dareus was shipped to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a massive hole was left in the middle of the Bills' defense. Then, minutes before the Oct. 31 NFL trade deadline, came yet another win-now transaction with the acquisition of Kelvin Benjamin.
Finally, and most bizarrely, there was the consummate win-later decision: benching Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman.
The timing, with the Bills at 5-4 and the playoffs very much in reach, made zero sense. Even the potential of intentionally giving up on the rest of the reason in order to land the highest draft pick possible is a dubious thought, given the Bills own five picks in the first three rounds and are well positioned to package their way up for a quarterback if they so desire.
McDermott tried to sell starting Peterman as something that would make the Bills "a better team." However, that required the greatest of leaps of faith that a rookie quarterback would avoid the many obvious hazards that have gotten the better of others under the same circumstances. He didn't.
After Peterman's disastrous performance against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, the coach recited the "this is about not only winning now, but also in the future" line that he and Beane have been using since the Watkins and Darby trades.
Another mixed message and more confusion for fans and the rest of the players.
McDermott has yet to identify his starter for Sunday's game at Kansas City, raising the distinct possibility he intends to stick with Peterman rather than do what seemed so obvious after the coach yanked the kid in the third quarter against the Chargers. If he does, it will be impossible to sell as anything other than a cashing-in-the-chips-on-the-2017-season move.
McDermott also will leave himself open to intense scrutiny, especially if the wild-card door stays as wide open as it has been all season. As much as he insisted he owned what happened with Peterman, he was also quick to say he didn't regret making the switch and wouldn't second-guess himself.
By riding with Peterman, McDermott runs the risk of being seen, at worst, as detached from reality and, at best, as allowing pride to cloud his decision-making.
Throwing three interceptions in the first quarter, including a pick-six on your opening series, and five interceptions in the first half should earn you nothing but a seat on the bench for a team whose postseason hopes are still breathing.
But in a season filled with mixed messages, nothing should be assumed as being obvious.