Column as I see ‘em, Week 16:
• This probably wasn’t an ideal time for it, but at the close of Sunday’s postgame news conference, I asked Doug Marrone about a report that had surfaced early in the day calling him a candidate for the Michigan job.
“No,” Marrone said, laughing. “I have nothing to do with that job.
“You’re stuck with me,” the Bills head coach said as he headed toward the exit of the interview room. “Fortunately or unfortunately.”
It’s hard to say what lies ahead at this point, or who we might be “stuck with” in leadership positions with the Bills. I can’t imagine many objective fans will feel content with the status quo after Sunday’s embarrassing loss in Oakland.
For all I know, nothing will change. I gave up long ago trying to predict the mind of the new owner, Terry Pegula. I suspect Russ Brandon will urge Pegula to stay the course and sell to fans the team’s first non-losing season in 10 years as progress, a promising foundation for greater things to come.
But after watching the Bills’ playoff hopes disappear down the Black Hole, I’m even more convinced Pegula needs to bring in an outside consultant, a veteran NFL personnel man who can give the new owner an objective, critical evaluation of the operation and how to proceed from here.
If that means firing Marrone and getting a better, higher-priced coach, fine. But they also need to take a hard look at Doug Whaley, the first-time general manager, who traded two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder for Sammy Watkins in a reckless attempt to bolster the offense and make the playoffs.
When he made the big trade last May, Whaley said he expected this year’s first-round pick to be low and that he understood he was putting his job on the line.
“I’m a competitor,” Whaley said that night. “Call me crazy. I like those odds.”
Well, Whaley’s big gamble blew up in his face in Oakland. There will be no playoffs for a 15th straight year. Sure, they won eight games and hung around the playoff chase for awhile. But if they lose at New England on Sunday, they’ll finish 8-8 – 4-8 against AFC teams. That doesn’t sound like success to me.
There are 10 teams ahead of the Bills in the conference standings. If they finish 8-8, their draft position will be somewhere around 15th. I’m sure Whaley’s defenders will argue the pick qualifies as “low” and that he came through on his promise to make the team a playoff contender.
I consider the trade an abject failure. First of all, it was the best draft for receivers in decades. Odell Beckham, who they could have taken at ninth overall and kept this year’s pick, might be the best wideout in the NFL right now.
Whaley’s intention was to improve the offense and give his franchise quarterback, EJ Manuel, the tools to succeed. Manuel lasted four games. Whaley did nothing for the offensive line. His second-round pick, Cyrus Kouandjio, couldn’t get on the field. Cyril Richardson was a bust.
Mike Williams contributed little at wideout. Bryce Brown fumbled away the Chiefs game. Kyle Orton regressed at quarterback down the stretch. With the season on the line in Oakland, the new, improved offense had its worst rushing performance in 17 years against one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Marrone and Nate Hackett deserve a big share of the blame for the offense. But head coaches and coordinators have been taking the fall for poor management decisions for 15 years now.
In his postgame remarks, Marrone was clearly pointing to personnel as a big part of the problem.
The coach and GM have not been on good terms for months, and it only got worse Sunday. Marrone and Whaley are both weakened figures now, and any head coach would want to enhance his power with the new owner.
Coach-GM conflict is inevitable in pro sports, even more so when both men are new to their jobs. That’s what you get for hiring first-timers who are figuring things out as they go along. And it makes it even more imperative for Pegula to get an experienced set of eyes to mediate the power struggle.
Pegula might simply defer to his president, Brandon, and wait a year to make changes. That’s what he did with the Sabres. We know how that worked out. When you mistake mediocrity for progress, you’re actually stuck in reverse.
• No offense to Watkins, but you could make an argument the two best rookies on the field in Oakland on Sunday played for the opposition.
Khalil Mack, the former UB star, was a revelation. He was the best player on the field, a constant disturbance in the Bills’ backfield. There are respected NFL observers who feel Mack is already the best outside 4-3 linebacker in the league. If they redid the 2014 draft today, he might well go first overall.
Derek Carr, who outplayed Orton, has been the league’s best rookie QB. He has physical limitations, but he deserved to be taken much higher than 36th overall. Carr has passed for 3,112 yards, with 20 TDs and 11 interceptions. That’s the fewest picks in NFL history for a rookie with 500 pass attempts.
• Speaking of rookies who have outperformed their draft position, Beckham had eight catches for 148 yards and two TDs for the Giants on Sunday, his third straight game of 130 yards or more. Beckham has 79 receptions for 1,120 yards and 11 TDs – in only 11 games. He is third in the NFL with 102 yards per game.
Beckham didn’t get settled into a major role until his fourth game on Nov. 3 at Indianapolis. In his last eight games, he has 69 catches for 1,014 yards and eight TDs. That’s the equivalent of 138 catches, 2,028 yards and 16 touchdowns over a full season.
He’s not only a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but also is a likely Pro Bowler. No wonder he’s looking to Michael Jordan for career advice.
• It’s sad to hear Chad Kelly accused of going on a rampage outside a Buffalo bar, so soon after resurrecting his career and signing with Mississippi. He’s been a continuing disgrace to his uncle, Jim, and the entire Kelly family.
But I can’t say I’m totally surprised. When I read Kelly’s quotes in a September column, it seemed he hadn’t taken full responsibility for the behavior that got him tossed off Clemson’s team. Evidently, the kid hasn’t changed.
• Indy’s Adam Vinatieri didn’t attempt a field goal in the Colts’ 42-7 loss at Dallas. So he still hasn’t missed in over a year. Vinatieri, who turns 42 on Sunday, has made 37 straight field goals. His last miss was last Dec. 22.
Vinatieri has 476 career field goals, fifth all-time and two behind John Carney. Morten Andersen is the NFL leader with 565. Next year will be Vinatieri’s 10th in Indy. He played 10 seasons with the Patriots and won three Super Bowls.
• Raider entries to the list of obscure players having milestones against the Bills: Kenbrell Thompkins had a 50-yard catch, the longest of his career; Jamize Olawale had a 1-yard TD grab, his first career TD; Darren McFadden’s 25-yard run was his longest of the year and his first 10-yard run since October.
• Robert Woods, Fred Jackson and Watkins each made their 60th reception in Oakland, giving the Bills three 60-catch receivers for the first time in team history. Jackson has a career-best 65 catches for 497 yards; Watkins has 62 for 925; Woods has 61 catches for a career-high 660.
• Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown had “only” seven catches for 72 yards and a TD against the Chiefs. Brown leads the NFL with 122 catches and needs two in the finale to pass Wes Welker and Herman Moore for the second-most ever in a season. Marvin Harrison has the record with 143.