In 2019 and early 2020, the Buffalo Bills and their fans had a remarkable and unforgettable year. BillsMafia represented all season in cities across the country, with a memorable extravaganza in Nashville.
Houston sold out of folding tables, according to a Barstool Sports video. The pregame parties Friday and Saturday that the Houston Bills Backers put together were out of control, in a good way.
The block party that spilled out into the street was first team all-pro. Josh Allen’s dad sang "Piano Man" in between endless renditions of the "Shout" song. The joint was jumpin’ and continued early Saturday before the wild-card game. The pregame tailgate went off, and NRG Stadium was abuzz with Bills fanatics.
Then it started better than could be imagined by even the biggest Bills homers before fortunes started turning left and right.
The collective team, and endless players, epitomized the entire 2019 NFL season with the very good and appallingly bad, the yin and yang, the simultaneous winner and loser, and the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) versus the former, game-blowing definition of “Goat.” They were all rampant Saturday for the whole football world to witness.
The 13-0 first half was brilliant; the 16-3 second half was brutal.
Josh Allen was the personification, albeit his good and highlight-reel plays far outshone his bad and head-bashing ones. He threw more than a dozen beautiful balls, ran 9-92, and caught a touchdown pass. He threw two near interceptions and had at least two bad drops, one of which was a sure TD and the other a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. He escaped and scrambled brilliantly more than a few times and took sacks when he just couldn’t a few others, including a mind-numbing intentional grounding at the worst moment and area of the field.
The funny thing is, on second look at the bomb to Pat DiMarco (which should never happen), when Allen looked and threw, DiMarco was two yards past his guy. The pass was WAY short, which allowed the other defender to get there, look like double coverage, and it was a terrible decision. Plus, DiMarco just mistimed his jump. If Allen threw the ball 10 yards farther it is possible to complete it. Still, the Bills should not ever have DiMarco split wide, or running go patterns, or Allen trying to throw it to him deep.
We got the entire Josh Allen Experience in one madcap afternoon. But again, on second viewing, the good Josh clobbered the bad Josh. It was not even close. He is going to be a star.
Duke Williams had two extremely tough catches, a couple of nice grabs, but a pair of drops he might have made on the sideline and especially in the end zone. Dawson Knox had a fantastic catch-and-run for a vital first down that saved it, but missed an easy block on the late Josh sweep (along with Mitch Morse) that could have won it.
John Brown threw a TD pass, made four key catches, but also missed a fundamental, common toe-tap that would have been first-and-goal at the three, likely costing the Bills four points, despite the announcer claim of a late pass. Even if it was, a No. 1 wide receiver must make that easy drag, virtually every time. Brown didn’t even need to jump, which he did right at the end and caused the out-of-bounds catch.
Sean McDermott went for it on fourth-and-27 when every high school and Pop Warner coach would have punted with three timeouts left. That was inexcusable. Several questionable game management calls again negated his unquestionable ability as a head coach, a conundrum we might have to live with for a while.
Similarly, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a perfect first drive, a creative first half, and then forgot he had emerging superstar Devin Singletary (and to some degree Cole Beasley) on his team, often replacing them with DiMarco and Lee Smith offense that scares no one and rarely produces. Running back Frank Gore at the Texans' 22 with less than 30 seconds left in first half and then having to spike the ball was mind-numbing strategy (but could have been influenced by McDermott).
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier called a stellar game early but went into a shell on critical plays, particularly the third-and-18 the Texans never should have converted on a very predictable dump-off pass.
Matt Milano had a very solid afternoon against the run, and covering backs, and yet missed the most important blitz and tackle of the game with a free shot at Deshaun Watson. The Texans win after that blunder.
In the premiere matchup of first team All-Pros, shutdown cornerback Tre’Davious White pitched a first-half shutout against All-World wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, yet gave up a critical bomb and a decisive two-point conversion in the second.
The defense had seven sacks led by bookends, Jerry Hughes with three and Trent Murphy with two, and then were sad sacks when it really counted in overtime.
Watson was often caught from behind. Unfortunately, the last time the Bills had him dead to rights, Watson just bounced away. It was a killer miss by Milano, and Siran Neal, who played a good game and also dropped a sure interception.
Missed tackles were the defense’s Achilles' heel all season, and Milano and Neal felt like heels after the season ended.
They weren’t alone.
Missed blocks were often the offense’s downfall this year, and this game featured a few doozies, especially Knox and Morse on the critical Allen sweep.
After the game, Bills fans everywhere were arguing over which was the biggest bungle. The block by Knox. The missed tackle by Milano and Neal. The missed opportunity on the third-and-18. The sacks by Josh. The drops by Duke and Brown. The phantom kickoff TD call by the refs. The critical coaching errors. There were too many to remember.
The game was there for the taking and the Texans took it.
But Jets, Patriots and Dolphins fans, on a whole, surprisingly think the Bills are very good, set up for becoming even better, and a threat or even favorite for the division next year, which rarely happens.
Next year’s difficult schedule is crazy good for BillsMafia with away tilts in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix, all fantastic party cities out West. The Bills have $90 million to play with in free agency, and a general manager in Brandon Beane who seems to know how to build a team. The draft is loaded with first-round grade wideouts.
The Bills were much more positive and exhilarating than negative and infuriating for most of the year, and most of the game Saturday, before coming up inches short. But Buffalo, the city and its football team, is relevant again, and on the precipice of perennial contenders if not champions.
The Bills have arrived. Foresight is 2020.
Pete Rosen is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, lifetime Buffalo fan, and may be found blathering daily at twobillsdrive.com.