'It was a bad, bad situation'
Sean McDermott isn't talking about 13 Seconds. So, Go Long reached out to players who will. Here's the inside story and what it says about the team — and head coach — into 2022.
The only thing more bizarre than how the Buffalo Bills lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoff round may be how this loss was handled the next 48 hours.
Obviously, Sean McDermott owed more to the public. Football is religion in Western New York where locals show up at the airport to greet the team after wins and losses to unhealthy extremes. Not to mention the hefty bill they’ll soon foot to fund a new stadium. This 42-36 overtime defeat inflicted the sort of emotional scars that will never heal. Take a drive through Orchard Park, N.Y. and people still fly a Bills flag at half-staff, still agonize over the surreal defeat at Spot Coffee en masse, still look like they encountered the devil himself at the mere mention of Thirteen Seconds. And what did the team’s head man have to say about one of the most epic choke jobs in pro football history? This inexplicable, spear through the heart that ruined one of the city’s best chances at its first championship?
In the immediate aftermath, McDermott refused to get into specifics, saying, “We need to execute better and that starts with me and goes all the way down. … Obviously they made a couple plays down the stretch. So, I’ll just leave it at that right now.”
Two days later, he added nothing: “Our execution, I wish was different. I wish our execution was different.”
Five weeks later, his talking point didn’t change one iota.
No amount of filibustering on and on about the fans will change the fact that he supplied those same fans zero explanation for their torment. But, fine. That’s his prerogative, I suppose. Surely, McDermott said more to his team behind the scenes. Surely, he stood in front of everyone and detailed what went down those fateful 13 seconds and/or provided a sense of real closure because, after all, these are the people who matter most. The players and the coaches who’ve sacrificed so much for him in the name of accountability.
Only, he did not. He held a generic, “We’ll grow from this”-themed address. The position coaches met with their players, then with the personnel department for year-end summaries on each player and… goodbye. Have a nice offseason. That’s it. Nothing was shared openly amongst players and coaches alike. Everything ended very “abruptly,” one team source said.
Many were left wanting more.
“You preach accountability,” one player said. “But you don’t practice it.”
Since that night, we’ve all assumed that the Bills knew what went down at Arrowhead Stadium and were upholding a unified front to protect secrets within when — in reality — so many of the men who poured their blood, sweat and tears into the organization have been left completely in the dark. The touchback that teed up Patrick Mahomes’ heroics was not discussed. Neither was the docile defensive alignment that followed. With those 13 seconds shrouded in mystery, players were forced to investigate themselves. Many, of course, declined to speak which is understandable considering their boss has refused to utter a word of substance on the matter. There’s little upside. But several did share their findings with Go Long on the condition of anonymity.
The conclusion? This loss is on the head coach. Not the players. The coach. As the page turns on the football calendar this month, that is a concern.
Instead of nursing what should’ve been a months-long hangover from a Super Bowl parade through downtown Buffalo, it’s back to the drawing board at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. And if ownership were to construct an honest pecking order of the most important people in the organization on that drawing board right now, they’d have to start, No. 1, with the quarterback. Nobody in the NFL possesses Josh Allen’s blend of gifts. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound, linebacker-hurdling, 25-year-old possesses a right arm that could kill a man and all of the intangibles an NFL team could desire out of its richest employee. He is already the MVP favorite in 2022 and would easily usurp Byron Brown as a write-in candidate for mayor. No. 2 would need to be the general manager who drafted him. Brandon Beane cleaned up a messy salary cap and surrounded his Transformer of a quarterback with playmakers.
Boldly, too. Beane is unafraid.
And the more you learn about this historic collapse, the more it appears the head coach once empowered as the judge, juror and executioner at One Bills Drive should be No. 3.
No coach can clap their way through this loss. The pressure, in 2022, is squarely on McDermott.
As players watched Super Bowl LVI, three weeks after their defeat, it was as if Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow were personally pouring salt into their wounds because the game, eh, was OK. Nothing remotely close to the epic they staged with the Chiefs. They’re confident they would’ve beat either squad. Said one player: “Everybody knew that if we just beat Kansas City, we would’ve beat any team.” And another: “We definitely would’ve won the Super Bowl.” As much as the talking heads love repeating the fact that we’ll see Allen and Mahomes duke it out in games like this forever, players know the hard truth.
It’s damn hard to get to this state of mind, to knowing you had a team capable of winning it all.
Back when Buffalo entered the 2019 playoffs, McDermott made a point to trumpet the team as “Championship Caliber.” The words were plastered all over the facility and broadcast by the team itself with a promo video. “That’s the only standard here now,” a tweet read from the team’s account. Since then, the Super Bowl window has been wide open. That night of Jan. 23, 2022, in Kansas City, players most certainly were Championship Caliber.
The coaching, however, was far from it.
“You don’t get over,” one player said, “a game like that.”
Here’s what happened, and where the Buffalo Bills go from here.