Micah Hyde is trying his best to remain upbeat, but it isn’t easy.
It’s December. For as long as the Buffalo Bills’ safety has been in the NFL, he has known this as a time when every game means a little something extra.
Hyde and his teammates have three games left on the schedule, beginning with Sunday’s encounter with the Detroit Lions at New Era Field, and none of them has playoff implications because the 4-9 Bills are mathematically eliminated.
Hyde is still struggling to digest the term “mathematically eliminated,” because it never happened during any of his four seasons with the Green Bay Packers (who made him a fifth-round draft pick from Iowa in 2013) and even last year, his first with the Bills after they signed him as a free agent.
“I feel like December football is a whole different level of play,” said Hyde, a Pro Bowl selection after intercepting five passes in 2017. “And then, once you get in the playoffs, you never know what might happen.”
The Bills know exactly what’s going to happen after their Dec. 30 regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins. They’re going to be packing boxes for the offseason. That’s something Hyde, who turns 28 on Dec. 31, is dreading.
In the latest edition of “One-on-One Coverage,” The Buffalo News spent some time with Hyde to talk about his time with the Bills, who rank first in the NFL in overall defense and pass defense thanks largely to his contributions, which include a pair of interceptions in 12 games, and what he sees ahead for them.
Buffalo News: So just how difficult has it been to wrap your mind around not going to the playoffs for the first time in your NFL career?
Micah Hyde: It’s difficult, it's difficult. I can go back to the last five years I’ve been in the league, and a few of the years we just barely got in. Obviously, last year was the craziest just because we needed somebody else (the Cincinnati Bengals) to win and in years past (with the Packers), we had to win the last game to get in. Guys go their whole careers without making the playoffs. Luckily, (13th-year defensive tackle) Kyle (Williams) last year was a guy that was able to get in. It’s just a different feeling (not to make it). But once you get in, you feel like you have a shot at winning the championship. You just need to get in. Last year we did that, and we're trying to get back to that point.
BN: Nearing the end of your second season in Buffalo, how has what you’ve actually experienced compared with what you anticipated?
MH: I think that, number one, our record doesn’t indicate what we’ve been able to do this season. Coach (Sean McDermott) preaches all the time: “Trust the process.” I think it's real. Guys around here are believing in this team and believing in this community and we feel like we're getting better. We feel like we're putting the pieces together to be that complete team. Obviously, we're not finished, by any means, and our record doesn’t show that. So we’ve just got to keep getting better each and every day and every game and, hopefully, we can finish out this season and get some momentum going into the offseason.
BN: You seemed to embrace Buffalo wholeheartedly the moment you arrived. What is it about the team and the town that has registered so much with you?
MH: Personally, I feel like when I got here, I was loved, I was appreciated. So once I felt that, I just tried to deliver it right back. Since Day One when I got here, I loved this community. My wife and I definitely feel at home here. Ohio, where I’m from, is not too far. Detroit, where our family is, is not too far. So we just love everything about Buffalo. I love this organization, I love the people, I love the coaches. We think we're moving in the right direction and I just appreciate everything that they've done for my family and myself so far.
BN: How did you manage to establish yourself as one of this team’s primary leaders so quickly?
MH: I’ve never stepped into a place and just said, “I’m a leader, I’m a leader.” But I think that it’s always been something I’ve naturally developed into. It happened towards the end of my years in high school. College, same thing. Green Bay, same thing. So once I got here, I had a little bit more experience, and I just want to help guys on and off the field. I know how big it is for this community to have a winning football team and that's just what I try to do – help the team any way I can so we can get that position.
BN: How big of a contrast was it to come from Green Bay, where you were part of continual success and high expectations with Aaron Rodgers, to a team that had gone 17 years without a playoff appearance and has had a revolving door at quarterback and with the coach and GM?
MH: Maybe gaining that experience of knowing what it takes to get to the playoffs prepared me a little bit better (for what he would face with the Bills). It's a grind, man. You go through adversity during the season. Obviously, this year, we went through a lot more than we would have hoped to. But I think going from Green Bay to here, I understood that it’s a process and it's not going to just happen overnight. Fortunately enough, we able to make the playoffs last year and we're trying to get back to that point and even further.
BN: What was your reaction to seeing Mike McCarthy, the head coach through your first four seasons in the league, being fired by the Packers on Dec. 2?
MH: It’s a business. If you're not performing, then that’s when the bad part of business comes out. If you don't produce in this league and you’re a head coach, offensive coordinator, whoever it may be, they’re going to switch things up and try to get back to that winning mentality that they've had in that place for a long time.
Mike was more of an offensive coach and we talked in practice and all that, but it wasn't like he was in our meeting rooms a lot. It’s a little bit different situation than what we have here with Sean. Sean's a defensive-minded coach, so he's a lot more involved in our meetings and stuff.
BN: Not that you ever doubted yourself, but coming to the Bills to be a full-time safety after having a jack-of-all-trades role with the Packers did plenty to legitimize you as an NFL player, didn’t it?
MH: Yeah, yeah. The type of role I had in Green Bay can hurt you, and I realized that. They did appreciate it, whenever the safety went out, I was able to step in that position and play. Or corner, when I was able to step into that position in nickel. Punt returner, kickoff returner. I was able to do so many different things.
But I think at the end of the day, it kind of hurt me just because when it came to free agency, that was kind of like the slap in the face. They said, “Oh, well, he's not a starting safety in this league.” And I knew, my agent knew, my family knew, even a lot of the coaches in Green Bay knew that if it came down to it, I could start at safety. I did start at nickel. And that was kind of the difficult thing because the tape spoke for itself. I was able to make plays any position I was at, but I think it hurt me in the long run and they didn't see me as a full-time starter. But when I came here, Sean wanted me to play safety and just that.
This is my second year of playing full-time safety and I'm still learning some stuff. I'm just trying to get better and better each day and learn from the guys around me.
BN: What’s your view of the future of this team?
MH: I really believe that, number one, there’s nothing but fight in this team. The last three games of this season, we're going to be fighting. I don’t think there’s anybody in this locker that has any doubt of that. I think that the coaches that we have are going to get us prepared, and we're going to go out there and we're going to fight until our last game’s over with. After that, I just think this is a big offseason for everybody just because I think, mentally, we understand that we have the pieces in this building to get stuff done.
It’s one thing to just say that we know the record doesn’t indicate how good we are, because anybody in this locker room can say that and feel that is accurate. But we really do believe that, we really do believe that the guys in the locker room can make plays. The quarterback situation was kind of the big thing in the offseason, training camp, OTAs, all that stuff. Defensively, we have the pieces to have a really good defense. I think this offseason is more mental than anything, just knowing that we have the pieces, and we’ve just got to get it done.
BN: What are your impressions of what you’ve seen from Josh Allen so far?
MH: That kid’s awesome, that kid’s amazing. I think he's awesome in the locker room. I think he's awesome on the football field. He's a competitor. You see him, they go down, they score, he runs to the sideline, he's yelling screaming, encouraging the defense.
He’s a young guy, man, and if a young guy like him can do that, anybody on this team can really step in and help this team any way they can. And we appreciate everything that he's been able to do. The sky's the limit for him.