The Buffalo Bills ended their 2015 season on a positive note. Buffalo defeated the NY Jets on Sunday 22-17 and eliminated the Jets from the playoffs in the process. The Bills finished their first season under Rex Ryan with an 8-8 record. After winning their final two games of the season, the Bills have some positive momentum heading into the 2016 season. Here’s a look at how each positional unit fared in Week 17.
Tyrod Taylor struggled in his first matchup against the Jets this season so it was encouraging to see how well he performed in Week 17. Taylor didn’t force any bad throws and took what the Jets were giving him on the field. He finished the game 18-of-28 for 182 yards. These are pretty modest passing stats but Taylor earned the A+ grade for trusting his best receiver against one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Taylor targeted Sammy Watkins 15 times during the game and connected with the receiver 11 times for 136 yards. Much of the damage came against cornerback Darrelle Revis. Bills fans have grown accustomed to seeing their starting QB avoid targeting Revis so this was a sight to behold.
In addition to his passing, Taylor added 51 yards on the ground on 10 carries. This included a terrific 18-yard touchdown run. If Taylor builds off of his terrific first season as a starter, he’ll be getting paid big money starting in 2017.
EJ Manuel also deserves some recognition for causing the Jets to jump into the neutral zone on a crucial fourth down play. His time with the Bills could be coming to an end but it was nice to see him have a positive effect on the outcome of the game.
Running backs: C-
Once Karlos Williams suffered a knee injury, Buffalo’s run game went down the tubes. Williams had 24 yards on six carries before exiting the game. His ability to run between the tackles allowed the Bills to score their second touchdown of the game on a fourth down play. Hopefully Williams will have good luck with his health in his sophomore season.
Williams’ injury increased Mike Gillislee’s workload. Buffalo couldn’t bounce Gillislee to the outside as often as they would like and he really isn’t a traditional between the tackles back. This led to a stat line of 24 carries for 28 yards and a fumble. Gillislee didn’t have a great game on Sunday but overall he was effective with the Bills. The team rewarded Gillislee on Monday with an extension and he’s the favorite to be Buffalo’s No. 3 running back in 2016.
Boobie Dixon added six yards on two carries.
Wide receivers: B
Sammy Watkins alone earned an A+. As mentioned above, Watkins caught 11 passes for 136 yards in a game where the Bills were lacking quality receivers. Darrelle Revis gave Watkins a large cushion throughout the game and Watkins made the cornerback pay with underneath routes. Few receivers performed better than Watkins over the last nine weeks of the season. Here’s to hoping that Watkins has a completely healthy 2016 season. The sky is the limit for Watkins when healthy.
Greg Salas was the only other receiver who performed well on Sunday. He finished Sunday’s game with three receptions for 41 yards against his former team. Salas was given a contract extension on Monday and he’ll have a good chance of making the 2016 roster.
Chris Hogan and Leonard Hankerson were non-factors for Buffalo.
It’ll be interesting to see who the Bills bring in to complement Watkins. This year’s draft has plenty of receiver talent, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bills draft a receiver in round two or three.
Tight ends: NA
Chris Gragg and Nick O’Leary really weren’t targeted on Sunday so it’s hard to give them a fair grade. Gragg deserves praise for setting a block that sprang Taylor open for his rushing touchdown to get the Bills on the board.
Offensive line: A
The Jets are generally very effective at pressuring the quarterback. On Sunday they were dominated by the Bills offensive line. Tyrod Taylor had plenty of time to complete passes throughout the game on Sunday and the offensive line is responsible for giving him that time.
The unit wasn’t as effective in the run game but the Jets entered the game as the league’s No. 1 run defense for a reason.
Buffalo needs to make sure that Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito are both back next year.
Defensive line: A-
It was nice of Mario Williams to show up for the season finale and log his fifth sack of the season. Although Williams said he hopes to return next season, it’s hard to believe him based upon the effort that he showed throughout the season. Unlike Williams, Jerry Hughes was going all-out for the Bills on Sunday. No one can question his effort and he made his fair share of plays.
And don’t forget about Marcell Dareus. The defensive tackle broke his foot during the game and continued to play. Late in the game, Dareus was able to hit Ryan Fitzpatrick. The hit led to a Manny Lawson interception. Yes, Dareus is being paid handsomely by the Bills, but he showed plenty of heart by playing through pain.
This unit has performed poorly all season so it was nice to see them finish the season on a positive note. At the end of the game, two linebackers recorded interceptions for Buffalo: Lawson and A.J. Tarpley. Lawson was Buffalo’s best linebacker this season so it was great to see him record a big interception. Tarpley has also come up big for the Bills in the last two weeks. He’s improved quite a bit since being released by the Bills earlier in the season. Next season, Tarpley could see his role increase as a key reserve with Buffalo.
Ronald Darby attempted to play with a groin injury but reinjured himself on Sunday. He won’t win defensive rookie of the year because Marcus Peters had more interceptions this season. That said, Darby was the best rookie cornerback in coverage in 2015 and is very deserving of the award.
Darby’s injury left the Bills with Leodis McKelvin, Mario Butler and Nickell Robey as the top three cornerbacks. Mistakes were made by the unit but McKelvin registered an interception in the end zone and Butler broke up a pass late in the game that could have gone for a touchdown.
This unit played well against a team with excellent receivers.
Corey Graham blew his coverage on a Jets touchdown and has struggled down the stretch this season. The entire unit probably needs a face lift in the offseason. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Buffalo draft a safety early in the 2016 draft or sign a capable safety in free agency.
Special teams: B+
Dan Carpenter missed an extra point… again. However, after throwing his helmet and watching it bounce into his face, Carpenter settled down and connected on all three of his field goal attempts. After two outstanding seasons, Carpenter really struggled this year. If he’s on the roster in training camp next season, he’ll absolutely have competition.
Colton Schmidt performed very well for the Bills in their finale. He averaged 48.6 yards on five punts and had two land inside the 20 yard line. Schmidt was another player that signed a contract extension on Monday. He’s earned it.
Jordan Gay was solid as the kickoff specialist. He only allowed two Jets kick returns all game. This may be his final game with the Bills as the team can’t afford to have a kickoff specialist on the roster in 2016.
Walter Powell performed decently on kickoff returns but he was very hesitant on punts. At the end of the day, he didn’t make any mistakes.
Buffalo closed their season with an impressive victory considering the amount of reserves on the field. They didn’t achieve their goal of making the playoffs but back-to-back wins to close the season is an encouraging way to end the year.
Playoffs or bust in 2016.