We’re still wrapping up the 2015 season as changes, gradually, become public from One Bills Drive. This week, we learned Rob Ryan was in as a new assistant head coach and defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson and special teams quality control coach Michael Hamlin were out, then on Wednesday the team added Ed Reed as assistant defensive backs coach.
The focus will soon turn to next season.
Here’s a quick look back at the five highest highs and five lowest lows from this past season.
The best moments
5. Fight in the finale. The Bills had nothing to play for; the New York Jets had everything. Yet down 10 starters, Buffalo’s band of back-ups and Band-Aid reinforcements somehow took down the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Jets, 22-17. The defense was finally cut loose up front. Vet Leodis McKelvin vowed “Fitz is still Fitz” and he was proved right.
4. Raucous season opener. Remember the feeling you had after this one? Rex Ryan’s defense had Andrew Luck confused and rushed on a play-to-play basis. The new playmakers on offense were delivering. The Bills punched a supposed Super Bowl contender in the mouth. After talking the talk, they walked the walk in the opener.
3. Sammy speaks. Two moments actually. First, Sammy Watkins made it clear he wanted the ball, and he got the ball. He said teammates need to start calling each other out, that the Bills needed “nasty coaches,” and the Bills won back-to-back games. A lack of leadership was a problem for the Bills. They found one in the second-year receiver. His comments were not divisive, instead triggering needed change.
2. Tyrod Taylor in Nashville. The Bills quarterback was cooler than cool in lifting the Bills to a 14-13 win over the Tennessee Titans. With his legs and arm, Taylor led a comeback win with a string of clutch plays in the second half. Unfortunately for Buffalo, he also injured his knee and missed two games. As GM Doug Whaley noted after the season, the Bills want to see more fourth-quarter heroics like this out of Taylor before giving him a big deal.
1. Rex Ryan takes down his former team in their house. He claimed it was never about him. And yet after the Bills took down the New York Jets, 22-17, it looked like Ryan had just won the Super Bowl. It was a wild short week, remember. Ryan said IK Enemkpali, the one who broke Geno Smith’s jaw, would be a team captain. He wore a Clemson helmet at the podium. Emotions ran high. But in a presser for the ages afterward, it was clear this game was special for the Bills coach.
The worst moments
5. Flags fly vs. Giants. Undisciplined play often doomed the Bills in 2015, as they finished with 143 accepted penalties in all – tied for the most in the NFL (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Tempers truly boiled over in the team’s 24-10 loss to the New York Giants in the form of 17 penalties for 135 yards, including four personal fouls on Jerry Hughes and Preston Brown alone. This was all followed by the strange sight of Rex Ryan pounding the lectern, saying he was proud of his team’s fight.
4. Tom Brady brings Bills back to reality. Guinness World Records was in the house. Ralph Wilson Stadium was prepared to be as loud as it’s ever been, and the Bills laid an egg. After a week of tough talk, and saying he didn’t even know the name of New England’s running back (Dion Lewis), Buffalo was blistered by the Patriots quarterback for 466 yards and three touchdowns.
3. Quit in nation’s capital. Through the ups and downs, the Bills were always competitive. Through all of the injuries, five of the team’s eight losses were by a touchdown or less. Yet it was a different story in Washington where the Redskins raced to an embarrassing 28-3 lead. For the first time, Buffalo resembled a beaten team physically and mentally, prompting Watkins to speak up.
2. EJ Manuel meltdown. The hospitality tent throw and several incompletions vs. air back in training camp should’ve been the word(s) of warning. Nonetheless, the 2013 first-round pick became the Bills’ No. 2 quarterback and went 0-2 as the starter when Taylor was out with a midseason knee injury. His meltdown in London – a string of turnovers leading to a 27-3 deficit – was about as bad as it gets. Yes, Manuel brought the Bills back before Jacksonville won it late. But the Bills had no business losing to the Jaguars.
1. Lost in Kansas City. Buffalo’s defense appeared to be turning the corner in a 20-13 loss at New England. Brady, the second time around, was flustered. Frustrated. Contained. Hit 10 times. So this road test in Kansas City was dubbed a “playoff” game by the 5-5 Bills. And what did Ryan and his staff do? Call a passive game. Linebackers and even defensive linemen often shuffling into no man’s land as the Bills played in fear of the Chiefs’ screen game and Alex Smith’s scrambling ability. Smith, in turn, shredded the Bills for 255 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-22 Chiefs win. Buffalo never recovered and missed the playoffs for a 16th straight season.