NFL Hot or Not: Bills flying according to plan; Raiders slip

1) The construction of the Buffalo Bills should be studied by every struggling NFL outfit angling to reshape itself into a beast.

Let’s slip back in time to Jan. 7, 2018.

On a macro level, that winter Sunday marked a celebration for the Bills, set to face Jacksonville in Buffalo’s first playoff appearance since the ill-fated Music City Miracle of 18 years prior.

First-year coach Sean McDermott did lots with a little during that 2017 campaign, carving out a 9-7 record with a pesky defense and just enough offense from quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The attack was a patchwork quilt that saw runner LeSean McCoy and tight end Charles Clay lead the team in receptions, with no wideout accounting for more than 27 catches on the year.

Hoopla over Buffalo’s postseason return fizzled out in a hurry on that January day, as the (now extinct) Sacksonville defense did a number on Buffalo’s not-ready-for-primetime offense in a 10-3 slugfest.

From my weather-worn game notes:

This white-knuckle affair resembled a brand of football your grandfather’s grandfather watched on a 12-inch black-and-white boob tube in fire-lit parlors during ancient days of old. … Tyrod Taylor was nothing to write home about, throwing a costly first-half pick and overseeing an offense doubling as a punt machine. With four chances to tie the game in the second half, Taylor couldn’t move the ball. The Bills quarterback dialed up too many off-target throws and wasn’t helped by a handful of drops. Buffalo’s lone score came off an 18-play, 71-yard march capped by Stephen Hauschka‘s 31-yard field goal on a blustery afternoon in Northern Florida.

General manager Brandon Beane‘s mind was working overtime, I’d imagine, as he watched the team’s inept offense outdueled by Blake Bortles. Beane and McDermott knew Buffalo needed a franchise passer, with the general manager having spent his autumn poring over tape of the upcoming quarterback class and logging a real-time viewing of USC’s Sam Darnold against UCLA’s Josh Rosen the day before a Bills-Chargers tilt in Southern California.

Beane and friends didn’t meet Josh Allen until the Senior Bowl, mere weeks after Buffalo had been downed by the Jaguars. The love connection was real — scouts league-wide were aflutter about Allen’s measurables and arm power — but the Bills knew he’d be long gone by the time they hit the clock at No. 21 and No. 22 in the draft (the second of those picks netted by sending their No. 10 selection to the Chiefs in 2017, which Kansas City wound up using to land Patrick Mahomes).

A willing wheeler-and-dealer, Beane shipped his No. 21 and left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals in exchange for Cincy’s 12th overall pick in 2018. Knowing that wouldn’t be enough, Beane then swapped that No. 12 plus a pair of second-rounders to Tampa in exchange for No. 7 overall. That made it possible to grab the polarizing Allen, but the overhaul had just begun.

The Bills were incomplete during Allen’s rookie season, with a cast of wideouts headlined by Zay Jones, Robert Foster and a far-from-plugged-in Kelvin Benjamin. Beane never hid the fact more weapons were needed, attacking the open market in 2019 to land deep threat John Brown and slot ace Cole Beasley within minutes of each other in free agency.

The pair of veteran pass-catchers gave Allen something to work with through the air, but Beane watched his 2019 club and knew something was still missing. He attempted to swing a deal with the Vikings at the trade deadline for disgruntled star wideout Stefon Diggs, but the swap fell through.

Beane pointed the finger at himself for Buffalo’s collapse to Houston in last year’s playoffs, saying last week: “At the postseason presser I mentioned we didn’t score enough (on) offense. And I wasn’t blaming (offensive coordinator) Brian Daboll or Josh Allen or Cole Beasley or Mitch Morse or anything like that. It’s me. What can I do?”

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