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Mike Harrington: In short time, Bills and Sabres reversed their roles

Think back only about 7 1/2 months. It's downright startling where the Buffalo Bills and Sabres were then compared to where they are now.

It's like things have been completely reversed.

The Bills were still in the glow of an actual playoff berth. Never mind that it took the moving of Earth from multiple football gods to get there, with several plays in the Orchard Park snow against Indianapolis going in their favor even before Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton's last-second pass on New Year's Eve actually sent them on their way.

And never mind that the 10-3 playoff loss in Jacksonville might be one of the most forgettable games in NFL postseason history. They were in. They got there. The big albatross weighing down the franchise was gone and they could move on.

In mid-February, the Sabres were at a low point. In the midst of another boring defeat, a Saturday matinee snoozer against Los Angeles, General Manager Jason Botterill stunned nearby reporters by slamming the door to his press box suite and bursting down the hall.

They were a team going nowhere and Botterill bore heavy responsibility for it.

He had turned over half the roster he inherited from Tim Murray and got very little in return. Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Nolan, Victor Antipin and Jacob Josefson contributed little and were gone in one year. Nathan Beaulieu had a terrible season on defense and has had better moments this season but still can't crack the lineup with regularity.

For months, Bills GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott were the toast of the town. Not only could Bills fans finally say "playoffs," but they were the ones who got the franchise there. By comparison, Botterill – the alleged hockey savant with the Stanley Cup rings from Pittsburgh – looked woefully inexperienced in the No. 1 chair and Phil Housley was the deer-in-the-headlights rookie head coach.

It all changed, of course, on that fateful Saturday night in April in a Toronto television studio when the lottery balls bounced Botterill's way. Getting the No. 1 pick in the draft, and using it to take Rasmus Dahlin, might have turned the franchise forever.

Sometimes you need luck like that. And sometimes, you need foresight and vision to not pass up the likes of Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson when you have a blatant need at quarterback.

The Bills are once again a joke, in the midst of an alleged rebuild that is going worse than anyone could have imagined. If they're not tanking, then McBeane have simply been downright negligent in building their team, especially on offense. In an era all about passing, the most amazing stat from Sunday's 41-9 beat down by the Bears was that Nathan Peterman completed 31 passes to players wearing the same jersey – for only 189 yards.

The Sabres, meanwhile, are finally showing real progress. They're in a playoff spot and showcasing the entertaining brand of hockey fans demand. The NHL is about speed these days and Buffalo added plenty with Dahlin as well as Botterill's hoodwinking trades with Carolina for Jeff Skinner and Pittsburgh for Conor Sheary. The GM also instantly upgraded the goaltending by signing Carter Hutton and promoting Linus Ullmark from Rochester.

Housley made decisive moves early when things were heading off the rails, junking his entire lineup at practice 2 1/2 weeks ago in suburban Los Angeles and starting over. He created what's become the NHL's top line with Jack Eichel between Skinner and Jason Pominville, got better play from new defense pairs and much more puck control from revamped power plays.

The Sabres have poured 40-plus shots on goal on the opposing net for three consecutive games, and for five of the last seven. Buffalo just finished its best October since 2011 and the Rochester Amerks are in first place, too. It actually looks like the organization is going places in both the NHL and AHL for the first time in years.

The players believe, too. Botterill said his group was "not working" when he met the media after last season and made firm, decisive moves to fix it. Pominville, still looking strong at age 35 and hoping for another chance at the playoffs, said the locker room is keenly aware of what Botterill has done.

"Obviously, we all heard the press conference where changes needed to be made," Pominville said. "For him to say it was one thing but for him to go out and change pretty much half the team was pretty impressive.

"The additions, the depth, the moves we made got everyone excited. A lot of guys were in Buffalo early for summer skates, which is always a good sign. I think he definitely brought that excitement to the team and the city."

The Bills? Under McBeane the last two years, they've dropped games by scores of 47-10, 54-24, 37-16, 47-3, 22-0, 37-5 and 41-9. They've turned poor Nathan Peterman into a national punchline. They have no wide receivers to speak of and didn't shore up an offensive line left without Richie Incognito or Eric Wood.

At least they still have The Process.

Ah, The Process. That's really proved to be a catch phrase that allows McDermott to always say he's in the middle of something. To this point, it seems like little more than a cheap trick to be able to deflect criticism away by preaching more patience.

"I don’t think necessarily we’ve veered off track," McDermott said Monday. "If I could sit here and tell you early on that we'd be going 16-0, I’d be lying to you. I'm trying to deal in realistic terms here. I've been part of two turnarounds, one in Philadelphia with Andy Reid and one in Carolina with Ron Rivera. There were hard days there as well. This has been tough and it's been some tough sledding. I don’t see it any other way, but I also don’t back down from that. We have a challenge here and we plan to take that on head on with the men that I have behind me and with the entire staff here in this building.

"There had been 17 years before we got here and we changed that last year and we're going to continue to change the future of this organization moving forward."

It was good to see Beane admit he erred at quarterback when he talked to Jay Skurski of The News last week. General managers often don't look back and acknowledge mistakes because they're always looking ahead.

In this case, Beane had little choice. Roster construction of this team failed. That's on him. You can't predict injuries but anyone could see it was a poor idea to only have Peterman on the roster with Josh Allen and not to have a veteran to help your rookie quarterback assimilate into the league.

If something so basic like that can be seen by every fan, how in the world do the coach and GM get it wrong?

The Bills have four home games left. Yes, four. The Jaguars, Jets, Lions and Dolphins still have trips left to Orchard Park – the latter three in December. Avert your eyes.

Here's one more item to ponder: If Dalton hadn't completed one miracle pass on New Year's Eve, the Bills would still be living in The Drought. Imagine that.

At 2-7, there's only one thing to say: It's hockey season.

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