The 2019 NFL season is on the books and the Buffalo Bills (10-6) can focus on the playoffs. In a week 17 game where coming out of it healthy was more important than the final score, the Bills lost to the New York Jets (7-9) by a score of 13 to 6. Here are my top three takeaways from this meaningless game:
The decision to sit starters was the right one
With the playoffs on the horizon and nothing important on the line, Head Coach Sean McDermott decided to sit the majority of his starters for this Jets clash. Wide receivers John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Andre Roberts, cornerback Tre’Davious White, running back Devin Singletary, tight end Dawson Knox, and defensive end Shaq Lawson were the inactives for this game, and other key starters suited up only because, with a 53-man roster, it’s impossible to keep everyone sidelined on game day.
With the available starters playing just a few snaps, it proved to be the wisest decision by the Bills’ coach. On a rainy day and a slippery surface at New Era Field, playing against a divisional rival with nothing to lose and coached by Gregg Williams, it wasn’t a favorable place to be if you’re an athlete looking past this worthless game. Unfortunately, some guys couldn’t avoid the worst.
Right tackle Ty Nsekhe, coming back from an ankle injury, re-injured it and needed to be carted off. The same thing happened with CB Levi Wallace, who injured his ankle after an interception and didn’t come back. Defensive backs Taron Johnson and Siran Neal, as well as right tackle Cody Ford, also gave Buffalo some injury scares, but it didn’t look like anything major that should impact their availability going forward.
Despite the loss, some backups saw valuable time on the field and key players got some rest. Overall, the Bills should have most of their best team available for next week’s playoff clash. Nsekhe and Wallace are the only concerns, but hopefully at least Wallace should be able to suit up and play. After a long and brutal season, we couldn’t ask for more this time of year.
No QB controversy this time
The last time Buffalo played a meaningless game in week 17, having a playoff spot clinched, a questionable-at-best decision was made, resulting in a series of implications that have been discussed for the last 20 years. Well, we don’t need to be worried about that story repeating itself, Bills fans. This is not a Doug Flutie-Rob Johnson scenario.
No, Matt Barkley didn’t light it up as Rob Johnson did in week 17 of the 1999 season. In truth, he made Bills fans appreciate even more the strides second-year starter Josh Allen has made in 2019. The conditions weren’t the best, with a lot of changes in the lineup and the poor weather, but Barkley’s performance, completing 18 of 35 passes for 232 yards, no TDs and two INTs, with two fumbles (one lost), didn’t inspire any confidence in his ability to lead the team in the case Allen can’t play.
Hopefully, it won’t be a problem in January, with the starting QB being able to keep himself healthy for a good playoff run. Anyway, it’s a thing to keep in mind when the next offseason comes. Barkley has done a good job in his previous opportunities and has a great relationship with Allen, which helps, but if a guy like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor becomes available on the QB market, I wouldn’t think twice before adding them on a nice backup QB deal. Both are well-respected veterans who could help Allen’s development and also be more productive than Barkley when needed.
Same game, different paths
Worthless matchup? Not for some guys battling for more playing time and recognition.
Wide receiver Duke Williams finally had his number called after being inactive for several weeks, and his performance was a mixed bag. He caught six of 12 passes thrown his way for 108 yards, showing good yards-after-catch ability and a willingness to block. With his size and strength, it’s understandable why it would be interesting to have his unique skill-set available on game days. There isn’t another wide receiver on the roster that offers what Duke does. However, some of his mistakes, like running a four-yard route on a third-and-six situation, or some drops, show why the coaching staff hasn’t counted on him as a key piece on offense. He still needs to get better.
Another guy who made the most of his opportunity is tight end Tommy Sweeney. The Boston College grad consistently got open over the middle of the field and offered a big and powerful target there. It’s good to see the rookie closing the season strong after a promising preseason. He caught all of his five targets for 76 yards.
For different reasons it was also a special day for Lorenzo Alexander. The veteran linebacker continued to beat “Father Time” in 2019, but for the first time in his career, we saw a hint of his retirement approaching. With the Bills not playing another home game this season, Sean McDermott called a timeout in the first quarter to allow the fan base to cheer the captain one last time, reminiscent of the Kyle Williams treatment from a year ago. It’s good to see the organization valuing the positive contributions, on and off the field, from these types of players, who aren’t just examples as athletes, but also as men. This is yet another positive from the new established culture in Buffalo.