I don’t know if this is going to be my last Bills post of the season. Last night, full of such familiar rage after such a familiar loss, I couldn't imagine concocting any more takes on a team that has so thoroughly shat on my heart now that the rest of the games matter only in some vague developmental-yet-still-really-meaningless-because-fuck-it-all-they-are-still-objectively terrible way. Having just finished this post, I'm still not sure.
Is the growth we see real in the sense that this team will, someday, be good? Or is it growth that merely makes this team watchable again; that makes the Bills a team to actively cheer for in a way that I haven’t since, fuck, I can’t even remember anymore?
Some things about yesterday were good and a lot of it was fun, but it was objectively fucking bad. The Falcons, not a good team by any measure, beat the Bills in a way that was super predictable, at least in a sick, beaten to death by a decade plus of suck, mentality. Yet for the first time, we’re in the midst of a season that has, through weekly signs of immense promise, convinced us to believe quite the opposite: to believe that EJ can do anything; that the defense can stop anybody; that, in a game like yesterday’s, this team can pull out a win despite themselves.
That’s why yesterday hurt as deeply as it did – because some of us, at least speaking for myself here, chose to buy in to what Marrone and Manuel and Hackett and Pettine and Kiko and Mario and all these motherfuckers were selling us. We bought in because they bought in and in doing so brought us Carolina and Baltimore and Kansas City and Cincinnati and New York – good Christ, New York – and a season full of games that made us question whether we might finally see the destruction of a decade-plus paradigm of Buffalo Bills football.
It was easy to think it had changed because it was so clear that they believed it did – not just through the words that mimicked those thrown our way by Chan and Fitz and Jauron and whoever else has asked for our faith and given us so little in return, but through the product they were giving us every game. A product that itself inspired us to push our demons aside and let this team affect us again.
It was easy to think it had changed until they gave us something that really suggested that, nope, it hadn’t.
A sports season, after all, is little else than the management of optimism – every team and their fan base starts with some, perhaps getting more at some points during the campaign, and then, as soon as the limits of mathematics and time come to pass, they have none, only to be renewed thereafter for events distant, rather than for a game next week. Hope for next year assuages the bitterness of a season ended in anything but true success.
For Bills’ fans, finding hope for the next season has, more often than not, been a huge chore. We put it off as long as we can since the next season will inevitably seem, and ultimately be, as doomed as the last. Coming to terms with the inevitability of failure has been both routine and, burdened by the fatigue of manufacturing optimism for a team that has been fucking terrible, consistently difficult. Putting a time gap between the team’s failure and our choice to dream for success again becomes a mark of distinction among fans. Those who cheerily state “there’s always next year!” immediately after the Bills finish a season without playoffs are thought of as simpletons since, obviously, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand that a rational person needs some space before jumping headfirst back into the irrationality of continuing to support the Buffalo Bills.
Then, what of this year? As always, we’re left with games left to play and we’re left to decide what, if anything, we can glean from those games. As it is every year, the rest of these games matter fuck all in determining the objective quality of the 2013 Buffalo Bills. That team blows. The verdict is in, and the squad is a terrible 4-8.
But next year?
As good as it feels to engage in that familiar task of hating a team that has yet again failed in utterly heartbreaking fashion, we all know it feels different. This whole season, despite the familiarity of the losses doubling the wins, has felt and been different. The team has genuine talent and poise under center, the running game remains a gem, our rookie WRs and middle linebacker have been stellar, and the defense is suddenly a powerful force. So, despite the poor record and the bitterness I still feel over yesterday’s wasted opportunities, the pivot to looking forward to next year isn't as arduous a task. Watching these last four games isn't devoid of meaning if it means we get to see these guys play and keep getting better. This team is bad… but it looks pretty clear that they’re on their way to being something else.
Maybe that’s all this season ever was – the manufacturing of hope, despite present losses, for a next year that for once doesn't look so predictably fucking bleak; for a Bills team that actually wins rather than just fools you into believing they might.
I’m still all in. Go Bills.