It would be easy for the Buffalo Bills to look ahead.
With one win over the final three games, the team can clinch a playoff spot. It can accomplish one of its preseason goals as soon as Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Accomplish that, and then attention would turn to the possibility of overtaking the New England Patriots for the AFC East title.
Sean McDermott, however, pumped the brakes on any of that Monday.
“One week at a time,” the Bills’ third-year head coach said. “Respect the opponent. Respect our preparation. Respect the process as we prepare and get some rest today for them after they left this afternoon. Get themselves ready to go. This is a good football team we're going to face.?A team that's had a lot of success if you study the tradition of the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's going to be a good week in preparation for us and we're looking forward to it.”
The Bills dropped to 9-4 with a 24-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, but they’re still in good shape in the AFC playoff race. A win Sunday against the Steelers would clinch no worse than the fifth seed in the postseason. Until that happens, though, it’s fair to say the Bills haven’t really accomplished anything.
“We're not in the playoffs until we get in the playoffs,” McDermott said.?“It's minute to minute, week to week. You go around the league, you watch the results. You guys see it like I do. You've been around it. You've got to bring your game every week and you got to continue to grow as a football team every week and you earn it. Nothing's handed out in this league.”
Indeed, the Steelers shouldn’t be overlooked. They are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won their past three games and seven of their last eight. They’re well coached by Mike Tomlin and have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
“That's really where our focus is and I know our players will get themselves ready to go, but it really starts with our preparation, how we go about our week together,” McDermott said.
2. The Bills’ best option offensively Sunday was rookie running back Devin Singletary. He accounted for 118 yards from scrimmage. No other player had more than 29.
“He’s a good player,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “He’s got quickness, elusiveness and good vision. We can use him in the pass game and in the running game.”
All of that had been established before Sunday. What’s turning into more of the story is what’s happening behind Singletary. Veteran Frank Gore managed just 6 yards on four carries.
“The times that Frank has been in, there’s a fairly loaded box in some of those situations,” Daboll said. “I got a lot of confidence in Frank. And we’ll just see how it goes as December goes. But, he can run all of the plays that we need him to run. We just went with Devin here these last couple weeks with the style of play that we’ve been using.”
The Bills have made running back T.J. Yeldon a healthy inactive for the past eight games – ever since the team returned from its bye week. With Gore struggling, it’s fair to wonder if Yeldon might soon get another chance.
“He’s doing everything the way we need it to be (done),” Daboll said of Yeldon. “Coach McDermott revisits that every week. Good teammate, works hard, if he’s called upon, I’m sure he’ll be ready.”
3. First, the bad from McDermott on Sunday. The team had to use two timeouts in the fourth quarter at times that didn’t call for them. The first of those came with 7:16 remaining, following a 2-yard loss by Gore on first-and-goal from the Ravens’ 1-yard line. The next came with 1:08 left after a third-down incompletion by Allen – meaning the clock was already stopped.
Using a timeout in that scenario is more understandable, though, because the game was on the line on fourth down. Perhaps the Bills wanted to get a look at the Ravens’ defensive personnel or alignment before the all-important play.
If the Bills don’t use timeouts in those situations, though, perhaps they are able to squeeze one more possession out of the Ravens by forcing them to punt after using all three timeouts following the failed fourth-down play. It’s a long shot, but at least it’s a shot.
“We’ve got to do a better job operationally right there,” McDermott said. “Didn’t want to burn those, but we had to.”
Now, the good. McDermott showed he pays attention to the analytics department when he elected to go for a two-point conversion after Cole Beasley’s touchdown with 7:04 remaining. Conventional wisdom would suggest kicking an extra point in that situation to cut the deficit to eight points – one possession – would be the play.
There are studies to suggest, though, that the opposite is true: Teams are better off going for two and then knowing where they stand (meaning whether they need seven or nine points to tie the game).
“There are no two (situations) that are exactly, exactly alike. We spend a lot of time in the offseason and then each week preparing for that going into the game,” McDermott said. “It’s also the style of game, how we want to play it in that situation. We felt like the analytics supported that. We wanted to be aggressive. We liked going for two at that point versus maybe the last play of the game to tie it up. We felt like we knew the look we were going to get on defense and obviously we got the look and converted, so it was good for us.”
It’s also good that the coaching staff is open to going against the grain of conventional NFL thinking, at least in this case.
4. McDermott said right tackle Ty Nsekhe continues to make progress in his recovery from an ankle injury. There were no other injury updates coming out of Sunday’s game.