ORCHARD PARK - Back in my September preseason preview of the Bills, at the very end, my prediction concluded, “this looks like a six- or seven-win team.”
But it was one of those prognostications where I desperately hoped I was wrong.
After all, it’s a lot more fun and fulfilling when the team you cover is winning … especially in the midst of a nine-year playoff drought.
But, alas, I was right … though I’m not proud of it.
ON A miserable Sunday afternoon at “The Ralph,” in the cold and snow, Buffalo concluded its discouraging season with a 30-7 victory over the clearly ambivalent Colts to finish 6-10.
To say the least it was a bizarre season.
Ten days before it began coach Dick Jauron, who had presided over three straight 7-9 seasons, fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and replaced him with quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt.
Then, less than a week before the season opener at New England, starting left offensive tackle Langston Walker was released.
To veteran wide receiver Terrell Owens, signed in the off-season, “that started the downward spiral.”
In the opener, the Bills stared down the Patriots at Gillette Stadium for 58 minutes and didn’t blink.
But a New England touchdown with barely two minutes to play cut Buffalo’s 11-point lead to four and when cornerback Leodis McKelvin fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, the Pats’ second TD in 1:16 handed the Bills a stunning 25-24 defeat.
It was one of five losses by a touchdown-or-less by Buffalo including a galling 6-3 decision to the Browns at “The Ralph.” Struggling Cleveland, in a stretch of 22 games, had only two victories, both at Buffalo.
Then came the injuries as an NFL-leading 20 players went on injured reserve, 14 of them who had started at least once.
Just after mid-season, Jauron was justifiably fired and replaced by interim coach Perry Fewell, the former defensive coordinator, who managed to go 3-4 over the final seven games.
And while Sunday’s victory had a large personnel asterisk for the Colts, Fewell, supposedly in the mix when new Bills’ general manager Buddy Nix picks a head coach, maintained there was reason for optimism in the season-ending victory.
“I THINK it says a lot about their character,” he said of his team. “They could have given up a long time ago and they didn’t.
“I’ve coached seven games with them … we fought and had a chance to win each ball game except Atlanta (31-3 loss) last week.”
He added, “They kept fighting to the very end and I think that says a lot about them. They wanted to go out and win a football game today … (get) one win to feel good (about).”
And after the victory, Fewell expressed his appreciation to his team.
“I thanked them for their effort … for their cooperation,” he said. “This team could’ve gone astray, gotten into trouble and done this or that, but they didn’t, they stayed focused.”
And the message wasn’t lost.
“He said he was proud of the guys sticking together and trying to finish the season strong,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “It was a rough year wins and losses-wise. We had so many guys on IR and hurt guys not on IR trying to play and stick in for their teammates to help us win.”
And veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay, who has been part of only one winning campaign in his seven years as a pro, added, “The season was pretty dismal for us (so) to end on a high note was good for the morale of the team.”
As for what he learned from Fewell, Kelsay added, “to have fun and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.
“It’s a business, it’s our livelihood, but it’s still the game we played as little kids in the backyard. It’s about attitude, it’s about passion, and playing with emotion. It’s about doing your job and being accountable to your teammates.”
And for one afternoon, in lousy weather, albeit against a decidedly indifferent opponent, the Bills did just that.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)