December football: it’s when depth is tested, when early season surprises begin to fade and late season charges are made, when bad weather reveals great talent.
This weekend, a snowy game in Buffalo hit on all those marks. But as we got to witness Le’Veon Bell’s greatness, we also got to see great negligence on the part of the Bills’ grounds crew. Their brush tractor snafu caused a lengthy delay to the second half of their game against the Steelers, and gave us all another reason to point at Buffalo and laugh.
You see a moment like that and think, “this is the most Bills thing ever! It even one-ups the dildo toss.” Then you hear all the comments post-game about Tyrod Taylor’s future, and you realize that Buffalo will never stop trying to top itself.
Here’s where we’re at: Taylor is about to become the first Buffalo starting quarterback to finish back-to-back seasons with a passer rating over 80 since his highness, Jim Kelly. And yet the organization is hemming and hawing about picking up the quarterback’s option for next season (valued around $27.5 million).
It’s understandable that the Bills are clutching their purse strings a little tight with Stephon Gilmore, Zach Brown, and about 80-percent of their wide receiver corps hitting free agency this offseason. But cutting bait with the organization’s first quarterback to show an ability to make plays and protect the football in over two decades is just inviting more years of missed playoffs.
Taylor’s passing numbers have dropped in his second full season as a starter, particularly his willingness to take downfield shots (his 6.76 yards per attempt ranks 27th in the league), but at least part of that can be explained by what he’s been throwing to. The Bills passing options have been like a slot machine this year: a new combination every time you pull. Ten different wideouts or tight ends have started for Buffalo, and only TE Nick O’Leary – seemingly the only receiver on earth who doesn’t wear gloves – has played in every game.
Despite that revolving door on offense, the Bills overall production has gone up (25 points a game, up from 23.7 last year). Even without a true red zone target like Sammy Watkins available for much of the year, Buffalo has been the second-most efficient offense inside the 20 thanks to Taylor’s ability to execute the read-option.
Taylor didn’t have his best day on Sunday by any means, but let’s not forget the oh-so-minor fact that the Bills D yielded 240 yards on the ground in the loss. It’s a little hard to get in a rhythm when the opposing offense holds the ball for nearly 39 minutes! But the regression of Buffalo’s once dominant defense is what Rex Ryan will ultimately have to answer for. Should Taylor have to answer for a passing attack that has the fewest attempts in the league?
If this season was really meant to be a one-year audition for Taylor, it’s been an average performance. He hasn’t earned the role of Hamlet, but he’s not going to play a tree in the background either. And while all the money he’s due next season sounds like a lot for a Horatio-type, Taylor’s $15.9 million cap hit in 2017 would rank 20th for quarterbacks.
Rex hasn’t addressed whether Buffalo will start Cardale Jones (perhaps because he doesn’t expect to be around to make the decision). But whoever is running the Bills for the remaining three games shouldn’t yank Taylor off the stage. If Buffalo is really going to move on from its best QB of this millennium, it had better be because they’re damn sure of it, not because Cardale Jones had a couple of flashy outings.
Because watching Taylor come back to Buffalo next season in a Jets uniform and kick Buffalo’s ass? That would be the most Bills thing ever.
Week 14 In A Nutshell
Shout-out of the Week
Le’Veon Bell, RB, and Steelers offensive line
I’m not going to over-think this one this week. The guy who single-handedly won me a fantasy playoff game (yes, I’m one of those lucky SOBs) is getting mad props. What is so enjoyable about watching Bell go off is how effortlessly he runs. He never takes a step that isn’t necessary. He waits for holes to develop, and even if it’s only a tiny one, he’ll wriggle through for positive yards. It’s a big reason the Steelers have the fewest runs for negative yardage this season.
Against Buffalo, Bell wasn’t hitting home runs. His longest run on the day was 33 yards. He just consistently churned out yards and finished the game with 236 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries, plus four catches for 62 yards (47.8 points in standard fantasy scoring). It was one of those masterful days that made you wonder what a full season from Bell, without any injuries or suspensions, would look like.
It also makes you wonder how much the pending free agent is going to cost the Steelers this offseason. Perhaps if you pooled all the fantasy championship money Bell helped people win over the weekend, it would be a start.
Other Great Things From Week 14
One of the best rivalries in football took on a whole new look on Sunday night: offensive incompetence. The 17 combined points between the two teams was the fewest since 1989. Things that looked easy all season all of a sudden proved very difficult for these teams, be it blocking, catching, or even holding the football.
Two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning https://t.co/WymKGqwmz2
— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweetss) December 12, 2016
And that was the quarterback on the winning side.
I know each time we watch football we’re hoping to catch the best game of the season, but sometimes it’s great to just see a comedy of errors break out instead. Sure, the Giants D did play magnificently (probably shout-out runners up), but it’s hard not to look at this game as two teams just slipping on banana peels for three hours.
Of all the late afternoon games, who would’ve thought this would turn out to be the exciting one? In a battle of two teams desperate to lose, the Niners proved it’s always better to finish bad than to start bad (if you’re aiming for losses). New York somehow squeaked out a 23-17 overtime win in front of a crowd usually reserved for a middle school production of a Christmas Carol.
I wonder if that adequate showing was enough to get Jets fans to buy into Bryce Petty?
Kevin Demoff finally remembers what he did last night.
Holiday parties can create awkward moments around the office on Monday, and I’m guessing that may have been what happened when Kevin Demoff gave Jeff Fisher an extension last week. He had just had a few too many, gave Fisher his “early Christmas present,” and then woke up in a world of regret. Thankfully for Rams fans, he was willing to own up to that mistake, mercifully ending the coach’s run of sub .500 seasons that spanned two cities after Fisher tied the NFL record for most coaching losses this weekend.
Other Bad Things From Week 14
I swear, one day I’ll give the Buccaneers their due. But in spite of their gritty win over a division rival to keep the final Wild Card spot, this was what stood out most from that game.
Josh Huff’s time in Tampa got off to a great start today. Returned this kickoff zero yards to the 1, setting up a safety on the next play. pic.twitter.com/QXsxuQWr0l
— Josh Paunil (@JoshPaunil) December 12, 2016
Hahahahaha! It hit him in the face! Hahahahaha!
And the Saints got a safety on the very next play! Hahahaha!
Matt Stafford can’t bear it.
Matt Stafford is going to be in the MVP conversation at the end of the year. The amount of tight, crazy wins Detroit has pulled out can’t be ignored; neither can his stats in his first post-Calvin Johnson season. But if Stafford played the Bears every week, he might be closer to “Blake Bortles of the Year” conversations.
For some reason, Stafford’s two worst games of the season have come against the Lions’ woeful division foe. Chicago only has 10 takeaways on the season, but have accounted for 57-percent of Stafford’s interceptions. He did manage to rally Detroit to another win, thanks in part to a billion Bears penalties, but struggling against Chicago is certainly not a very MVP-ish look.
Denver’s title defense.
Denver proved last year they don’t need a competent passing game to win a title. This year, the Titans stole that theory and used it to kick Denver’s ass. The Broncos massively outgained Tennessee through the air (330 yards to 73) but the Titans countered with 180 rushing yards to only 18 for Denver. The powerful ground game formula not only got Tennessee a huge win, but it made the Broncos’ path to the playoffs a truly daunting one. They’ll likely have to win at least two game against the AFC’s three best teams down the stretch.