The wounds of Saturday’s loss were still fresh Sunday morning for the Buffalo Bills.
Life goes on, though, and that meant the realization of what’s to come – a long offseason, with plenty of time to stew over a 22-19 overtime loss to the Houston Texans in an AFC wild-card playoff game – started to sink in.
“There's nothing you can really do to ease that kind of pain,” center Mitch Morse told reporters as the Bills went through exit physicals and cleaned out their lockers at One Bills Drive. “Such a tight game and it doesn't go the way you want it to. I'm real proud to be a part of this group, real proud to be part of this team and the unfortunate thing is now is the last time that this team, this group of dudes, is going to go out and compete.”
It might also be the last time that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll calls plays for his hometown team. Daboll is scheduled to interview Monday for the Cleveland Browns’ head-coaching position, a league source told The Buffalo News.
“He’s been one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had in my football career,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “Whether he gets an opportunity to do that, personally I would hate to see it, but at the same time, for him to get an opportunity like that would be awesome — not just for him, but for his family, too. And I understand this is a business, I’d be the first one to tell him to do it if he had that opportunity.
“But the relationship we have is special, I deeply care for him, his family and what he’s been able to do for me, how he’s taken me under his wing. So, time will tell in that aspect too. Again, a guy that I love and that’ll never change, but personally I hope he’s back next year.”
The Bills’ offense improved in its second year under Daboll, going from 30th in both total yards (298.6) and points (16.8) in 2018 to 24th in both categories (330.2 yards and 19.6 points per game) in 2019.
Of course, that improvement underscores that the Bills are still a work in progress offensively. That was abundantly clear Saturday. After a terrific, 75-yard drive that produced a touchdown on their first possession, the Bills’ offense failed to reach the end zone again, settling for four field goals in the loss.
As is so often the case when an offense struggles, the offensive coordinator bears the brunt of criticism. There are no shortage of “the Browns can have him” takes to be found on social media, likely a knee-jerk reaction to Buffalo’s loss to the Texans. Daboll, who grew up in West Seneca and attended St. Francis High School, has been criticized for his usage of rookie running back Devin Singletary and a tendency to get conservative at times, Saturday included. Often, though, execution was to blame for the offense’s failures. Again, Saturday included.
"The defense was always putting us into great positions and the offense was kind of maturing into eliminating mistakes at critical times, kind of growing together as a unit and understanding each day you have to work with a purpose,” Morse said.
If Daboll were to leave – and it’s fair to suggest that at this point, he’s probably not the favorite for the Browns’ job – it would be significant for the Bills’ offense. Allen will be entering his third year in the system, and the only impending free agent among the 10 other starters is left guard Quinton Spain. That type of continuity has long been lacking in Buffalo.
It's also unclear what Sean McDermott would do in response to losing his offensive coordinator. Is quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey ready for a promotion? If not, is there someone else on staff, or would McDermott look outside the organization?
It’s possible a new coordinator comes in and takes the Bills’ offense to new heights, but it’s far from a guarantee.
“Obviously, it’d be a huge loss for us,” tight end Dawson Knox said. “I don’t look into job interviews and all that stuff, going on off the field, but he’s an incredible man, he’s an incredible coach and whoever gets him would be lucky to have him. I hope we keep him here, but I really enjoyed getting to know him a little bit more as the season went on, and I think he’s, obviously, a pretty great coach.”
It's rare, and noteworthy, when a player does anything less than heap praise on a coach. In Daboll’s case, though, the respect he has among players feels genuine.
After the Bills’ loss to the Texans, Daboll was greeted by right guard Jon Feliciano.
“He was the first person I saw and I just gave him a big hug,” Feliciano said Sunday. “Everyone here loves Daboll, loves his energy, loves his fire. I never had an OC just FaceTime me, multiple times, during the offseason. When he’s bored, just FaceTiming me and you see his fat face. His whole face, covering the phone. He’s a special guy and hopefully, he doesn’t go anywhere.”