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Vic Carucci's Bills analysis: In case anyone forgot, it's still all about the future

Admit it. You were being sucked in. A lot of us were.

The Buffalo Bills had been making a convincing argument that it was possible to have the best of both worlds.

The victory at Atlanta was held up as proof that an NFL team could, in fact, build for the future while still remaining highly competitive in the present. At 3-1, the Bills were seen as being only one dropped pass away from perfection.

With a better offense, many were saying, who knows how far this team would go? Heck, even the Patriots looked beatable.

Then came the harsh reality of Sunday's offensive debacle at Cincinnati. Take your pick of multiple seasons during The Drought and you'll find an identical sequence of a win that was supposed to allow the Bills to be taken seriously followed immediately by an inexcusable, crushing defeat.

It's what the Bills do. It's what they've seemingly always done.

Yet, in case anyone forgot, Sean McDermott made sure to offer a reminder Monday that the original, long-range-oriented plan hadn't really been altered at all.

Sure, McDermott was as disappointed as anyone about the 20-16 loss against the Bengals. He wanted his offense to be more productive and take advantage of the repeated opportunities the defense and special teams provided to take a game the Bengals tried so hard to give away. He certainly wasn't pleased to see his best offensive weapon, tight end Charles Clay, suffer a knee injury that will sideline him indefinitely.

But McDermott also provided a realistic perspective on what he was taking out of the Bills' final action before their bye. As the coach put it, there's a bright side to the fact the Bills have lost Clay and others to injury.

"The great part about it is, if there’s a silver lining if you will, is that we had five rookies on the field (Sunday) getting significant experience," McDermott said. "Whether they started or played, that’s important for our future, and as we continue to build, there’s a silver lining in some of this."

Jay Skurski's 10 takeaways from Sean McDermott's Monday news conference

Four of the five started: Dion Dawkins at left tackle, Zay Jones at wide receiver, Tre'Davious White at cornerback, and Matt Milano at weak-side linebacker. The fifth, cornerback Greg Mabin, saw action after Leonard Johnson joined the list of injured players at the position with a sore hamstring.

Dawkins replaced Cordy Glenn, who has been dealing with ankle and foot issues but who now seems more of a declining veteran McDermott inherited being supplanted by a first-year player he wants making an immediate contribution.

Jones was elevated to No. 1 status after Jordan Matthews suffered a broken thumb that required surgery. White has been a fixture in the starting lineup from Day One, while Milano took over for Ramon Humber, who also was dealing with a thumb injury.

Each rookie had his struggles.

Dawkins gave up two of the Bengals' six sacks. Jones continued to show unreliable hands. White allowed a couple of big catches by A.J. Green, the most embarrassing of which was when the Bengal receiver blew past him for a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Milano wound up having the best day of the five, contributing heavily to the Bills' limiting the Bengals to only 65 rushing yards and an average of 2.4 yards per carry.

"I would say great contributions early on," McDermott said of the five rookies. "That said, much like our team, we’re building, and you learn from one game to the next, positives and negatives. (Sunday), we had some of those moments where we have to learn from those.

"Really, what I’m looking for is for us to continue to grow from one game to the next, just like our team."

With that growth comes growing pains.

White, for one, showed there's some maturing for him to do. Through the first four games, he carried himself with a veteran-like presence. His performance earned him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September and made him an early favorite for league defensive-rookie-of-the-year honors.

After the Cincinnati game, White bolted out of the locker room before reporters were allowed in, avoiding any chance to be questioned about those big plays he gave up. Perhaps the cornerback should have followed McDermott's lead when it came to putting too much emphasis on a single result.

"One game does not define who we are as a football team, win or lose," McDermott said. "We have to continue to build, continue to put in the work, and grow, and that’s what you do. You want to play, again like I mentioned (Sunday) after the game, your best football in November and December."

You also want to continue to build for the future, as the Bills have been doing right along.

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