Sean McDermott quickly evolved into a master when it comes to coach-speak but, from time to time, if you listen intently enough, he does provide insight into what the Buffalo Bills are trying to accomplish.
Take his news conference Monday, a day after rookie Josh Allen made his first start as an NFL quarterback. McDermott was asked whether the seventh pick overall showed enough to remain the permanent starter, or at least for the foreseeable future.
Pretty obvious, right?
“We’re going to go with Josh,” McDermott said. “I thought he did some good things, and he’s a young quarterback. Each game we expect him to get a little bit better and grow. So, that’s where we are as a football team and that’s where we are as an organization right now.”
Allen completed 18 of 33 passes for 245 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions after taking the starting job from Nathan Peterman. Allen’s yardage total was the most for a first-time starter in Buffalo since Jim Kelly, their last true franchise QB, threw for 292 yards in 1986.
Examine the entire statement, and you get a sense for the Bills’ priorities for this season without McDermott spelling out the objective. “Each game we expect him to get a little better and grow,” McDermott said. “So that’s where we are as a football team” … and … “as an organization.”
The Bills would love to win the rest of their games this season, make the playoffs and bring home the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history and never lose another game. It’s not exactly a novel idea. Winning a title is the goal for every team in the league, but it’s a fantasy this year for Bills.
Buffalo has the least talent in the NFL, which is why the Bills were a chic pick to finish last. They have a rookie quarterback, a rebuilt offensive line, a receiving corps lacking depth and a true No. 1, a defense that has struggled, including a secondary that has been taken apart.
Let’s keep it real, shall we?
The reality is the Bills’ measure of success will not be found in their win-loss record this season. They are dedicating this year to developing players, starting with the guy they hope will running their offense for the next decade. It’s designed to help Allen grow and figure out who belongs on the roster.
It’s not just about Allen. The Bills selected middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in the first round, too. He’s learning on the fly and getting as much playing time as possible as the quarterback of the defense. He played well for a rookie but made his share of mistakes in each of the first two games. Harrison Phillips is getting quality time. Zay Jones could be playing his way out of town.
“When you look at a lot of our young players, their eyes are all over the place,” McDermott said. “That tends to happen when the games are moving fast. It’s natural for young players. Josh, and the same with Tremaine, we need to make sure our eyes are disciplined.”
Translation: Rookies struggle to process the game.
Eventually, it will slow down.
Allen was solid in his first start, a 31-20 loss to the Chargers. He threw one interception while attempting to turn nothing into something: He tried to complete a pass into tight coverage while a Chargers’ defender had draped over him. He should have thrown the ball away.
The other pick was just a poor throw. It happens with young quarterbacks. It happens with all quarterbacks. But it didn’t take away from his physical ability. The kid has a rocket launcher or an arm, which he showed at various points Sunday.
Buffalo is 0-2 and going nowhere this season. The Bills hit the road Sunday to play the Vikings, a popular pick to reach the Super Bowl after acquiring veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins to a team loaded with talent and a very good defense. A week later, Buffalo plays at Green Bay.
For the Bills to start 0-4 isn’t just conceivable; it’s expected. They could lose their first 10 games or more. They could lose every game, like the Browns did last season, and secure the first pick overall in the draft. What looks like a disaster may not be the case by their standards.
McDermott and GM Brandon Beane knew it could turn into a long, dreary season in Buffalo and practically has an infomercial explaining as much before the season. If you listened intently, they warned fans and braced themselves for a difficult year.
But if they can get the quarterback right and help other young players develop into true NFL players with star potential, they quickly will be forgiven – and the season forgotten – if they start winning and eventually turn around the franchise.
McDermott believes in the deal that short-term struggles can lead to long-term success, which has been his mantra since he was hired. Last year, he repeatedly said he wanted to build a sustained winner, a team that would hold reaching the playoffs as the minimum standard.
The head coach said as much again this week when addressing the media. Without uttering the word, he saying “suffering” was required this season in order to make progress. He’s not trying to fool anyone. He’s been consistent with his message.
“There’s going to be growing pains going through this,” McDermott said. “And like I said, nobody said this was going to be easy. We need to continue to work and communicate and improve in all three phases of our games.”
Someday, McDermott’s message will change. He’ll stop using words like “grow” and “young players” and “pain” and resume using words like “winning” and “playoffs.” That’s how you’ll know the standards have changed, too.
In fact, it will be pretty obvious.