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Deja Blue, Red and White

Deja Blue, Red and White
New-Look Bills Manage To Wind Up Just Like Their 15 Predecessors

Editor’s note: The following is the first installment in what promises to be a wordy, multi-part series on just what the hell happened to the home team this year.

This was the season it was all supposed to be different, but it turned out just the same in the end.

And make no mistake, Philadelphia’s 23-20 snipping of Buffalo last Sunday marked the end of the 2015 season for the Bills, as well as the continuation of the longest playoff-free run in the National Football League.

Yes, Buffalo could theoretically reach the postseason for the first time since the 1999 season. All it would take is for Rex Ryan And The Disappointments to win their final three in a row, something they have not yet managed through the first 13 games, while two of the AFC’s three hottest teams—Pittsburgh, Kansas City and, believe it or not, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s New York Jets—collapse utterly and completely.

As an indication of how long it has been, the Bills’ most recent playoff appearance ended with their kickoff-coverage squad futilely chasing Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson into the end zone at the then-Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville after being thoroughly confused by the Titans’ physics-defying execution of a play known as Home Run Throwback.

Yes, Adelphia. The collapsed cable-television monolith was in the news this week when John Rigas (for all you kids out there, he was sort of a 20th-century Terry Pegula—a billionaire out of Pennsylvania whose money was going to save Buffalo sports, commerce and culture) requested an early end to his 12-year prison sentence on conspiracy and fraud convictions, citing a terminal cancer diagnosis. He is 91 years old.

So, yeah. It has been a while since the Bills made it to the National Football League’s postseason tournament.

The second-lengthiest droughts after Buffalo’s inevitable 16-year exile belong to the Cleveland Browns, who reached the playoffs in 2002, three years after the Bills last did so, and the Oakland Raiders, who got disemboweled by the Tampa Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. For those who struggle with math, that was XIII years ago.

Which means Buffalo has been more inept for three seasons longer than Cleveland, a franchise run by a convicted felon which is apparently spending the final month of 2015 attempting to finally prove to itself that Johnny Manziel will never, ever be a starting quarterback in the NFL; and Oakland, which was micromanaged by a man operating under the belief that it was still 1968 until his death a few years back, when his only slightly more hep children took over.

Taking a longer-term view, only seven franchises have ever spent a longer time without qualifying for a playoff game: The Chicago/St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals (1948-73), Washington Redskins (1946-70), Pittsburgh Steelers (1948-71), New Orleans Saints (1967-86), New York Giants (1964-80), Philadelphia Eagles (1961-77), and Denver Broncos (1960-76).

All of those skids, save the Saints’, took place mostly or wholly in a time when reaching the playoffs was a much more impressive accomplishment. Until 1966, only two teams reached the NFL or AFL postseason, which consisted of only the championship game or, in a handful of seasons, a tiebreaker divisional playoff. After that, no more than eight teams reached the playoffs until 1978, when the number hit 10. Since 1989, 12 teams have extended their seasons annually.

So you could certainly make the argument that no tackle football team has been less successful for longer than your Buffalo Bills. The continuation of this distinction becomes particularly remarkable when you consider that the team was considered the undisputed champion of the 2015 offseason, at least in the socio-economic boundaries of Western New York.

It started in January, when Pegula and his wife Kim hired the sort of high-profile, big-salary head coach studiously avoided during the latter-day reign of the team’s founder and owner for its first 54 seasons, the posthumously beloved Ralph Wilson Jr.

Rex Ryan thoroughly dominated his introductory press conference and continued knocking it out of the park, from having beer and wings with Jim Kelly at the Big Tree Inn in the shadows of Ralph Wilson Jr. Stadium to buying a pickup truck splashed with the team colors and logo.

Then along came LeSean McCoy, a former league rushing leader acquired for promising, but injured, linebacker Kiko Alonso, to provide ground support to whoever emerged from a three-way quarterback competition.

With Ryan taking over a defense that had carried the Bills as close as they had gotten to the playoffs in more than a decade despite the unwatchable quarterbacking of E.J. Manuel, then Kyle Orton, the offense barely seemed to matter to fans who still believed winning games by scores like 6-3 and 13-7 was still a sustainable formula in the modern NFL.

As we all learned, it is not. So Rex and his team head toward yet another empty-feeling offseason wondering what is.

Stay tuned.

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