Sean McDermott seemingly spoke for all of Bills Mafia on Monday in describing his team’s 5-1 start to the season.
“Feels good,” the Bills’ coach said. “It feels good, but we’re not where we need to be.”
After a close call Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field, most every Bills fan would agree. Although they have the second-best record in the AFC, the Bills have yet to dominate an opponent from start to finish.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do this week,” McDermott said. “A lot of things as you saw in the game that we've got to get cleaned up this week as we move forward and look to try and play better football against a good opponent this week in Philadelphia.”
While the win against the Dolphins was harder than fans would have liked, McDermott chose to take the glass-half-full view Monday.
“It's a sign of the toughness of our football team, the heart of our football team and I think it really, to me, it personifies this town in a lot of ways,” he said. “The people of Buffalo, and the fans of the Buffalo Bills really, and our players take that to heart, they really do.”
The close nature of the Bills’ wins, and the combined record of the teams they’ve beat (6-26 before the results of the Jets’ game against New England on Monday Night Football) has left plenty of questions about just how good the Bills really are. Those answers will come in time.
“It’s early in the season. It’s October. We’ve played six games,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “We have a lot left, and a lot of improvement to do. I think the minute you start looking too far ahead and focusing on things that are out of your control, that’s not good for anybody. So, our job is to come in to watch the tape, win or lose, to improve in every area that we can improve on, and to get ready to play the next week’s opponent, which in this case is early in the preparation process, but a very talented defensive line, good defensive coordinator, got a lot of work to do on these guys. You have to stay in the moment in this business.”
That's something Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier preached to his unit after an uncharacteristic showing in the first half.
"When you've been around for so long you see -- and I talk to our guys all the time about the ebbs and flows of the NFL and games and just how you can't let the moments sometimes hijack you emotionally -- you just have to sometimes ride the wave a little bit," Frazier said. "There are going to be some highs, there are going to be some lows, but you just have to be able to handle them in the right way and understand that in our league, these are four-quarter games, and they're NFL players and they're good players and they might make some plays sometimes so you have to be able to handle it the right way."
The Bills showed that during a pivotal moment in the third quarter. After the Dolphins picked up a first down on a fake field goal and had the ball at the Bills' 2-yard line, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips burst threw the line of scrimmage for a tackle for loss. On the next play, cornerback Tre'Davious White intercepted a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass.
"A guy makes a play, you’re still worried about that previous play and now here comes another play," Frazier said. "Before you know it, it can snowball on you. So you have to be able to let that play go, focus on this play because, really, that's the only thing that really matters now. It's hard to do that when you kind of lose yourself and get angry and you’re so mad about what just happened and you kind of get out of sorts.
"We just talk to them all the time about, play the next play, play the next play, play the next play. That's all that really matters. And our guys have been really good about that. We faced some adverse moments over the course of these six weeks that we played games and it's going to happen some more. You just have to be able to battle, keep battling, keep believing. Got a lot of good players, somebody's going to make a play to get things turned. It happened yesterday."
2. McDermott said that cornerback Kevin Johnson suffered a stinger against the Dolphins and will be monitored during the week. The same goes for wide receiver Duke Williams with his shoulder injury. Linebacker Matt Milano, who missed the game Sunday with a hamstring injury, will be monitored day to day, the coach said.
3. Entering Monday Night Football, the Bills ranked tied for 22nd in the league in sacks, with 13. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thinks they’re coming, though.
“We’ve had some moments where we made the guy run around, but maybe not have gotten him on the ground,” he said. “I think the sacks will come, we'll keep finding ways to rush the quarterback and make him move around. But sometimes, if you can affect them just by getting them off the spot in the pocket by making them have to throw on the run, that may not be a sack, but it can result in the results that you want.
"We’ve been able to get that done for the most part. I think we are near the top of the league as far as harassing the quarterback. We just didn't get him on the ground as much as we’d like.”
4. McDermott wasn’t exactly forthcoming when asked why wide receiver Robert Foster was a healthy inactive against the Dolphins.
“Game plan. Who we feel like is going to give us the best opportunity to win the game,” the coach said.
After making 25 catches for 511 yards and three touchdowns over the final seven games of his rookie season, Foster has yet to record a catch in 2019.
5. Tight end Dawson Knox had his fifth drop of the season against the Dolphins. The rookie is tied for the fourth-most drops in the NFL through Week 7, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.
“We remain confident in Dawson,” McDermott said. “Young players are going to have ups and downs, all players are going to have ups and downs. We have those as coaches as well and it's what you do with them. It's what you learn from those scars, because that's the important piece as you develop that you've got to use those moments to help build you as you move forward.”