Reflections on the End of the 2021 Buffalo Bills Season - Dated December 9th, 2021
Bills fans—every last one of us—still have last year’s iconic image emblazoned in our collective mafia-mind’s eye: that of Stef Diggs, with a pair of golden hands that led the league in yards and receptions, resting hopelessly on his hips, as he stared into the depths of a red-yellow sea in the aftermath of our AFC Championship loss. AFC Championship: a phrase that, at this point in the 2021 season, sounds remote as Vladivostok or Macchu Piccu; a phrase that many of us Bills fans thought we had punched tickets to after last season’s steamroll into history; a phrase whose materialization, this season, has hinged not on what happened that fateful twenty-fourth of January, 2021, but on the determined reaction to that loss, and subsequent tack our coach- and-GM tandem chose for the Buffalo ship.
Under Monday night’s Orchard Park lights, as wind-swirled, snowflake flocks looked down on what many believe was the door slamming shut on Buffalo’s Super Bowl dreams, I watched and pondered, eventually realizing that it wasn’t that McDermott and Beane didn’t try to improve; it’s not that they didn’t have a plan, or that they made boneheaded personnel moves. Hardly.
The outcome of 2021’s season was sealed with this, from McDermott’s lips: “The bar has been set.”
Of course, McDermott was referring to the Chiefs, as that bar. He and Beane promised to attack the offseason, with defeating Kansas City as their laser-focused goal. They approached it with the same dogged thoroughness that we’ve come to expect out of the duo. For those who have studied a bit of the sport—or, really, life—philosophy that McDermott adheres to, you’re familiar with his Kaizen strategy of continual improvement. Additionally, you would know that this isn’t some taped-on-the-mirror pick-me-up, or another Rudy-esque “we are the underdogs” rah-rah bullshit; this is a way of life for McDermott. He butters his whole-grain toast with it. He pours it in his Wheaties.
But keep in mind that all improvements have a goal, and consider the bar that McDermott and Beane had set for this team, and you’ll begin to understand the unravelling dream that was the 2021 Buffalo Bills season.
McDermott and Beane didn’t fail in their objective. Case-in-point: The 38-20 drubbing of their “bar” from the season prior. The singleminded and wholehearted... no... whole-beinged focus on building a team to defeat the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs was one of their two most egregious pitfalls in 2021.
The second pitfall, you might ask?
The fact that they signaled this to the press.
Don’t think for an instant that the Dark Lord Hoodie wasn’t listening to what McDermott and Beane said regarding the Chiefs, following our AFC Championship loss. While many in the media poked fun at the Pats for over-spending on tight ends, overfilling their stables with running backs, and trotting out the 5th quarterback selected in that year’s draft, Belichick paid them no heed.
He zigged as the league zagged; just as Damien Harris zigged into the end zone, announcing the end of the Bills hopes for 2021.
We aren’t missing the playoffs because our team is inherently bad. We aren’t missing the playoffs because our players are bums. We aren’t missing the playoffs because McDermott can’t coach, nor because Beane can’t evaluate talent. We are missing the playoffs in 2021 because we designed a team to beat a ship that sailed off into the night on January 24th, 2021, as Stef Diggs, and all of Bills Mafia, watched in abject defeat.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most well-known novel, “The Great Gatsby”, closes out with three of the most memorable paragraphs in American letters. I’ll include them, in their entirety, below:
“And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I don’t know the answer; I just know that as I stood, shivering in Section 330 at Highmark Stadium this past Monday, watching Belichick’s minions fake injuries to cheat... I mean eat clock... we are not made to win this year. Sadly, we—the 2021 Buffalo Bills—are Jay Gatsby: searching for a former clarity; striving after a beast already slain; tuned so finely to defeat a forgotten foe.
Tim Avery can be found on Instagram @thetimavery
image is from Google, Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo News and everywhere else you look.