By Justin LaDuca
Well, another season of Buffalo Bills football has come and gone. With this past Sunday’s win over the New England Patriots, the Bills have clinched their first winning record (9-7) since 2004. In my opinion this 2014 season was no failure at all. Yes, last week’s playoff hopes were destroyed in a pathetic loss to the Oakland Raiders, but a winning record is something to build on. As a matter of fact, before the season started, I predicted a 9-7 record, except I wanted a playoff berth like everyone else in Western New York. Many fans had playoff aspirations in mind this season. It all began at the 2014 NFL Draft when Buffalo traded away its 2014 and 2015 first round picks to get stud receiver Sammy Watkins from Clemson. Bills’ General Manager Doug Whaley even said it himself, “We knew the 2015 pick was going to be a late pick anyway.” This hinted the Bills were eager to turn it around and make the playoffs the upcoming season. Well they didn’t. With mediocre play at the quarterback position and an outstanding defense, the Bills fought hard and remained in the playoff hunt until week 17. The 2014 season had many ups and downs that I will discuss in the section below from the beginning of the season to the end.
1.) The Season’s Beginning (Record 2-2)
The Bills started off the season strong with a 2-0 record. After poor play from the main signal caller EJ Manuel and two losses to San Diego and Houston, the coaching staff decided to bench EJ and start veteran quarterback Kyle Orton.
2.) Orton Starts Strong (Record at midway point, 5-3)
Once Buffalo made the switch to Kyle Orton, the Bills were playing great football as the offense seemed to be completely transformed. With a 300 yard game against the NFL’s best defense, Kyle Orton was clutch in his first victory as a Bill over the Detroit Lions. After this strong outing, Buffalo had a rough week at home against the Patriots where they lost 37-22. As stated earlier, Orton was proving to be very clutch and calm in close games. One game especially was the Minnesota game when he drove the team 80 yards down the field with under a minute left to hit Sammy Watkins in the end-zone, securing a win. With a blowout win over the Jets, Buffalo headed into the bye week with a 5-3 record.
3.) Post Bye Week Struggles (Record 5-5)
5-3, what great start to the season! Buffalo was showing they truly belonged in playoff contention. However, the euphoria soon deflated after two quick losses to Kansas City and Miami. In Week 10 the Bills hosted the Chiefs at home. After leading 13-3 after three quarters, the Chiefs rallied and scored fourteen unanswered points in the fourth to win the game 17-13. Two crucial plays lost that game for Buffalo. First, Bryce Brown fumbled on his way into the Chiefs end zone. Instead of a touchdown, the play turned out to be a touchback for the Chiefs. This would have made it 17-0 Buffalo. Finally, a muffed punt return by Leodis McKelvin in the fourth quarter gave the Chiefs the ball in the red zone, in Buffalo territory. Kansas City capitalized with a Jamaal Charles touchdown. After this rough game, the Bills headed down to South Beach where they played the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. This game was a terrible offensive showing for Buffalo, who did not even score a single touchdown on offense. They lost the game 22-9. The offense began to sputter and decline at this time in the season.
4.) Bills Bounce Back (Record 7-5)
After a November blizzard covered all of the South Towns in six feet of snow, Buffalo had to postpone their 1 o’clock home game agains the New York Jets. The game was moved to Monday night at 7pm in Detroit. The Bills and their offense showed up to play at this game, once again dismantling the Jets with a score of 38-3. After another Jet blowout, Buffalo traveled back home to the Ralph where they beat the Browns 26-10. Thus began the creation of the Johnny Football, Joe Frazier memes.
5.) December Football That Mattered For Once (Final Record 9-7)
December was a significant month for the Buffalo Bills. It was the first December since 2004 that Buffalo was in the playoff hunt. Unlike previous years where fans were rooting for a good draft position, this year fans had a chance to see some important and exciting games. The Bills offense was still struggling as Kyle Orton’s true colors of being a career back-up began to show. On the bright side, the Bills’ defense was playing phenomenally. With the final four games against Denver, Green Bay, Oakland and New England, the Bills needed to beat some of the league’s elite in order to clinch the postseason. In Week 14, Buffalo’s defense held Peyton Manning to 173 yards passing and zero touchdowns. Now, if someone told me that this were going to happen before the game I would have said we won. However, due to some bad penalties, poor offensive play and questionable officiating, the Bills lost 24-17. Week 15 was the most impressive win of the season. The Bills held Aaron Rodgers to 158 passing yards and zero touchdowns. In back-to-back weeks, the Bills defense shut down two hall of fame quarterbacks. The Bills went on to win this game 21-13. Oakland was next up. So after a huge upset win over Green Bay, Buffalo was standing at 8-6, very much alive in the playoff hunt. What could go wrong? We were playing the 2-12 Oakland Raiders. Well, this game was more horrific than the Kansas City game. What else can I say? Buffalo went on to lose 26-24, elimiating them from playoff contention for the fifteenth straight year. After a bad loss the week prior, Sunday the Bills played hard and refused to throw in the towel. They earned their first win ever at Gillette Stadium, beating the Patriots 17-9. Final record 9-7.
All in all, there were many positive things that came out of the 2014 season. The Bills defense is one of the leagues finest units, Sammy Watkins and the rest of the receiving core are young and very talented and finally we were in it until Week 17 and finished with a winning record. However, the most exciting part of the season came right after week 1. It was here in early September that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim had purchased the team, keeping them in Buffalo for many more years to come. Take that Bon Jovi. Go buy a Hard Rock Cafe instead. Hopefully, next year, this team can build off of this year’s record and improve even more. The team has some fixing up to do, mostly at quarterback, but one thing is for sure, this offseason will be interesting. Ladies and gentlemen, the future is bright for this Buffalo Bills organization. Hey you never know, maybe next year I’ll be doing a season recap in mid to late January.