As the Bills head into another non-playoff offseason, many players were sounding the same refrain that has become all-too-common at One Bills Drive for the better part of a decade: We're getting close.
Of course, their passionate fan base is tired of hearing it. It's now nine years and counting since the Bills qualified for the postseason, and playing in the rugged AFC East doesn't lend much hope that the drought will end anytime soon. Yet this team continues to believe it is making progress, even though it just completed the third consecutive 7-9 season under Dick Jauron.
"Being right there and having a chance to take that next step is what's definitely on tap for next year, and already going into next season we have high expectations with the team that we have," said center Duke Preston, who may not be back, as he is an unrestricted free agent.
The Bills made some statistical improvements in 2008, most notably on defense, where they jumped from 31st in yards allowed to 14th, and from 29th to 13th in pass defense. On offense, they went up from 30th in scoring to 23rd, and from 30th in yards gained to 25th, but when it was all added up, the Bills fell from second in the AFC East to last thanks to a gruesome 0-6 record against division opponents.
There has been much speculation about what might happen this week to Jauron and his coaching staff, but it seems as if owner Ralph Wilson is leaning toward staying the course, at least with Jauron. He may ask for the heads of some assistant coaches, but Jauron is expected to be back.
According to the players, but counter to what the vast majority of the ticket-buying fan base thinks, that would be a good decision.
"A team always needs to keep improving and trying to find the right pieces," linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. "I think we're pretty good with the players we have already. But we can be better."
Preston, who just completed his fourth year with the team, said the Bills have endured enough change and that maybe continuity is more important at this stage.
"I can sympathize (with the fans)," he said. "Nine years without a playoff team and three years in a row at 7-9, that's frustrating. It's frustrating for us, and it's got to be more frustrating for them because we have a say in it, we're doing it.
"But in our day and age of instant gratification, making switches and pulling pieces apart, in my mind, I don't know if that's the way to do it all the time. I've only been here four years, but it's my third offense, second head coach, fourth assistant offensive line coach, second offensive line coach, third GM. If you keep jumbling pieces just hoping it's going to stick, I don't know if that's the way to do it. Coach Jauron and his staff and the work that we put in, I really do think it's close."
Defensive end Chris Kelsay has certainly grown tired of saying the Bills are close. He's also tired of the losing.
"It's tough when you have been in the league six years and not touched the turf in the postseason," said Kelsay, who joined the Bills in 2003. "Coming here from a college program (Nebraska) where I'm used to playing in bowl games and used to winning every week basically, I've stood here for six years now with the same taste in my mouth going into the offseason. It's frustrating.
"I hate standing here talking about the offseason already because in my opinion we should still be playing. But we didn't get the job done when we needed to. We are where we're at because of the way we performed on Sundays. It wasn't good enough."
Quarterback Trent Edwards, who chose not to evaluate the Bills' season on Monday in his last session with the media, would only discuss the disappointment of the 7-9 record and the fact that he and the Bills aren't going to give up trying to improve.
"I've been playing football for almost 10 years, and that's the game of football," Edwards said. "Sometimes the season goes the way you want it to, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm going to put in just as much work as I did last year, if not more.
"I just hope at the end of next season we're sitting here answering questions about going to the playoffs. I've been in this position before, and it's not the best feeling in the world, but we have fighters in this locker room, and we're going to go out there and work hard and find ways to get better, and that's what they pay us to do."
Courtesy of The Sports Xchange