ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — In 2017, safety Jordan Poyer joined a Buffalo Bills team that struggled to compete against the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots and had a 17-year playoff drought.
On Monday, a day after playing what could be his final game for Buffalo, Poyer contemplated the future of the four-time defending division champions, whose new nemesis has become Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Heart-wrenching as it was having the season end for the third time in four years with a playoff loss to the Chiefs, Poyer was optimistic for what comes next for the Bills even though he might not have a role in it.
“It’ll get figured out. I have no doubt about it,” Poyer said, packing up his belongings a day after a 27-24 loss in the divisional round.
“We got the right group of guys. We’ve got the right team. There’s no question about that. And we’ve got the right mindset,” said Poyer, who has one year left on a contract that’s easily voidable by a team facing an offseason salary cap crunch. “And whatever happens in the future here, the boys are going to get a Super Bowl soon.”
It’s one step at a time for Poyer, who has seen the Bills progress and trade one previously elusive goal — making the playoffs — for another, a Super Bowl berth.
In reality, though, the arc of success doesn’t generally follow a straight line, leaving the Bills facing familiar questions over their inability to get past the divisional round for a third straight season following losses to the Bengals last year and the Chiefs in 2021. Then there was 2020, when Buffalo reached the AFC championship game only to lose to — who else? — Kansas City.
“This isn’t something that we’re going to run from. It’s not something we’re going to hide from,” quarterback Josh Allen said.
“We got to take it on the chin and continue to learn and get better," he added. "And I know that’s not what people want to hear. They want to see results. We want to see results ... and figure out what we can do to get over this hump.”
Buffalo’s latest elimination followed a season of inconsistency and turmoil, in which the defense was beset by a rash of injuries, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was fired and the Bills were written off after their record dropped to 6-6 following a 37-34 overtime loss at Philadelphia.
The team rallied, winning six straight before their early season troubles arose again in the loss to Kansas City.
The defense was depleted by more injuries, with starting linebacker Terrel Bernard (right ankle) and starting cornerback Christian Benford (knee) sidelined. The Allen-led offense sputtered in the fourth quarter, as it had done in regular-season losses to the New York Jets and Philadelphia and one-score wins over Tampa Bay and the Chiefs.
And special teams played a factor, with Tyler Bass missing a game-tying field goal wide right from 44 yards, allowing the Chiefs to run out the final 1:43.
The same special teams unit that previously allowed Xavier Gipson to return a 65-yard punt for a touchdown to seal a 22-16 season-opening overtime loss to the Jets. And who can forget the Bills being flagged for too many men, allowing Broncos kicker Wil Lutz a do-over, with him hitting a 36-yard attempt — after missing from 41 yards — as time expired in Denver’s 24-22 win on Nov. 13.
The Bills (12-7) were 6-7 in one-score outings this season, with five losses decided in the final two minutes or overtime.
“We continue to go head to head and toe to toe with the best of the best, which shows us that we are right there,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said.
Dawkins, however, was stumped when asked what’s needed for the Bills to get over the hump, saying: “I don’t have the answer yet.”
Based on current contracts, spotrac.com projects the Bills to be $43.6 million over the cap entering next season, leaving the team little wiggle room to add free agents or re-sign any of the 22 players whose contract expire in March.
The group of pending free agents includes edge rushers Leonard Floyd and A.J. Epenesa, defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle, receiver Gabe Davis and safety Micah Hyde.
SHOULDERING THE PAIN
Allen revealed he played through an injury to his throwing shoulder he first hurt in a 14-9 win against the Giants on Oct. 15 and aggravated two weeks later against Tampa Bay. Allen said the injury was so severe he had to alter his throwing motion.
He said his shoulder improved to the point he wasn’t bothered by it over the past four weeks. Allen doesn’t expect the injury to require offseason surgery.
Allen favors interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady taking over the role on a full-time basis. Brady placed an emphasis on running the ball and developing secondary receiving threats when he took over after Dorsey was fired in mid-November.
The Bills, however, might not have the only say in Brady’s future. The Atlanta Falcons interviewed Brady for their head-coaching vacancy on Saturday.
“Any team would be lucky to have him, and hopefully we’re the lucky team,” Allen said.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl