By: Breanna Jacobs
The Buffalo Bills shocked football fans everywhere by starting the 2011 season off 5-2. The team broke their 15 game losing streak to the New England Patriots and had a few incredible come-from-behind victories. Under head coach Chan Gailey, the Bills looked like they were a new and improved team; early on in the season they led the AFC East and there was chatter of a long overdue play-off berth.
However, as the season went on, the chances of making it to the play-offs became dismal. The Bills lost seven games in a row and finished the season 6-10. Although unimpressive, their record was an improvement on their 4-12 record in 2010.
The rough end to the season (a 49-21 loss to the Patriots) has left many questioning what went wrong, and where the Bills are headed in the future. So, we’ll start with what went wrong:
The Bills finished the season with a total of 17 players on Injured Reserve. There were four different starting centers and three different starting kickers over the course of the season. The Bills also went through various offensive line combinations after losing OL Eric Wood. But perhaps the biggest loss on offense was RB Fred Jackson, who was one of the top RBs in the NFL when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. The loss of Jackson temporarily halted the running game of the Bills. On defense, the Bills lost NT Kyle Williams and LB Shawne Merriman, two of the strongest and most efficient defensive players on the roster. With such a high injury count, it was difficult for the Bills to put together a string of wins.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Although he is, without a doubt, the quarterback of the future in Buffalo, “Fitzpanic,” as a friend so affectionately calls it, started to set in mid-season. After signing a $59 million contract extension when the Bills were hot, it was expected that Fitzpatrick would continue to come out with guns blazing but, instead, he began to look tentative in the pocket, reminding this Bills fan, at some times, of a certain Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick began throwing errant passes, often times missing his receivers altogether. And while he showed a spark of the quarterback that was toward the end of the season, he often times looked skittish. He has the vote of confidence with Gailey, and it can be imagined that it was hard to play successfully when the offensive line he was playing behind was constantly changing. Fitzpatrick has a promising future with Buffalo, as long as he loses the “Fitzpanic” and regains the “Fitzmagic.”
While they used to be one of the least penalized teams in the NFL, this season, the Bills racked up penalties this season like it was nobody’s business. Many of the Buffalo players are young and inexperienced, but it is important that they play disciplined football. While penalties are inevitable, they can certainly be avoided, especially penalties such as Excessive Celebration (yes, Stevie Johnson, I’m talking about you).
Although the Bills’ season did not go as planned, there are a number of bright spots for the future:
This season, the Bills played phenomenal defense; they were aggressive and disciplined and capitalized on turnover opportunities. Many veteran players, such as S George Wilson, DE/LB Spencer Johnson and LB Nick Barnett, really stepped up this season, making big plays and an even bigger impact on the team. Rookie defensive players also impressed. First round draft pick Marcell Dareus (DE) proved why he was a first round pick, showing himself as a powerful defensive force. Former Texas Longhorn Aaron Williams (CB) also showed his play making ability. Although he missed time early in the season after suffering an injury in training camp, Williams came in looking great. He shows a great deal of athletic ability and I believe he’ll be an absolute star for the Bills in the future.
2. The Run Game
When they lost Jackson to a knee injury, the Bills showed perhaps one of the best run games in the NFL. Jackson is a powerful runner and his ability to power over defenders earned him extra yardage. Without Jackson, the Bills turned to C.J. Spiller. Although he doesn’t possess the same size as Jackson, Spiller is an agile runner with gazelle-like speed, which also gives him the ability to evade defenders. Earning his first 100-yard rushing game at home against the Denver Broncos, Spiller proved that he is a valuable part of the Bills offense. In a league that has increasingly become all about the passing game, the Bills could have one of the most dominant run games in the NFL, as long as they are able to use both Jackson and Spiller effectively and in some sort of tandem.
3. Chan Gailey
In his second year as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Gailey has shown his leadership abilities. Gailey, who also calls the offense, challenges this team to play like professionals, a sentiment that often motivates his team and encourages them to play better football. And while the past two seasons did not end as Gailey would have liked, he knows what needs to be done to improve the team and get them to where they want to be. I look forward to what Gailey will do in his third season, because I have no doubt that he is the man to lead this team to success.
By: Breanna Jacobs