The Bills championship window may have already closed
I remember where I was when the Bills scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Chiefs with 13 seconds left in a divisional-round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium following the 2021 regular season.
I was bowling with my buddies and immediately said, “Wow!” In my mind, that moment was the demarcation point where the Bills had finally shed their sadsack recent history and were just seconds away from surpassing Kansas City in the AFC hierarchy on the way to the NFL Promised Land
The Chiefs had other ideas, of course. Patrick Mahomes led his offense on an improbable field goal drive to force overtime, and moments later, he led his offense to the game-winning touchdown in the extra period.
What a way to lose a playoff game. But to Buffalo’s credit, it seemed like an organization still on the rise, one that had to experience the ultimate heartache before it could finally ascend to greatness. Sure enough, the Bills marched into Los Angeles in Week 1 of the 2022 campaign and blew out the defending Super Bowl Champion Rams before an impressed national audience.
The Bills finished the ’22 campaign with a 13-3 record, an AFC East championship and the number two seed in the conference. Buffalo seemed to be on a collision course with that same Chiefs team it had vanquished at Arrowhead in the regular season. Unfortunately, the Bengals had other ideas and easily dispatched Buffalo in a divisional-round playoff game at Highmark Stadium.
How could that be? The 2022 season was supposed to belong to the Bills, and not only didn’t they win the Super Bowl, but they didn’t even make it to the AFC title game.
Had the Bills’ championship window closed? Nah, right? After all, Buffalo won three of its first four games to start the 2023 regular season and looked rather dominant in the process.
Fast forward to this past Monday night and that weird loss to the Broncos at Highmark Stadium. Denver kicker Will Lutz missed a field goal from 41 yards out which would have given the home team a narrow victory. Unfortunately, the Bills were called for having too many men on the field, and Lutz didn’t miss his second opportunity, this time from 36 yards away, to give the visitors a 24-22 win.
The loss was the Bills’ third in their past five games and dropped them to 5-5 on the season. Buffalo is now 1.5 games behind the Dolphins in the AFC East and 2-5 in the AFC. If the playoffs started today, the Bills wouldn’t be in them.
What the heck happened? Is it the quarterback? On one hand, Josh Allen, one of the top passers in the NFL, is having a great season; he leads the league in touchdown passes with 19. On the other hand, he’s having a terrible season; he leads the league in interceptions with 11.
The offense is still pretty productive and is seventh in the league in yardage. The defense is merely okay at number 17 in yards allowed. Tre’Davious White, the Bills top corner, maybe even their top defender, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4. That’s a huge loss, but White has missed significant time before, and Buffalo was able to persevere.
What is different this time?
It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s the offensive coordinator–at least the Bills think so. That’s right, Buffalo immediately fired Ken Dorsey following Monday’s loss. Is that the answer? Maybe. Then again, maybe the Bills are simply grasping at straws at this point.
That championship window might seem like it’s going to stay open for a long time, but it usually closes much sooner than most contenders think. The Bills have won three-straight division titles. They played in the AFC Championship Game following the 2020 campaign before going out in the divisional round the past two years.
In the meantime, the Bills signed Allen to a $258 million contract in the summer of 2021. Recent history has shown us that the clock immediately starts ticking when a team signs a quarterback to the kind of money. It’s not long before roster decisions begin to be made based on finances and not on actual talent. Organizations are forced to go in cheaper directions at other positions in order to remain cap compliant.
It’s tricky to find the right mix of talent and chemistry, and when you have it, you better win. The Bills may have had their best chance that night in the divisional round against Kansas City following the 2021 regular season.
The Bills are currently at a crossroads. They’re either going to go on a run and make it back to the playoffs, or they’re going to implode.
The Bills might feel as if they have one more run in them, but don’t be surprised if they smack head-first into a closed window.
Once that championship window closes, it’s hard to open it again.
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