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This team is on the ascendancy

ORCHARD PARK – Two months ago, this column said that for Buffalo Bills’ fans, the 2021 season was starting to feel like 1989 again.

And that’s how the 2021 season turned out.

How, you say?

Well, after the 1989 regular season, the Bills made the playoffs but – unlike in the previous season – didn’t make it to the American Football Conference championship game, because they lost in an earlier round: A divisional-round game in Cleveland that they almost won.

After the 2021 regular season, the Bills made the playoffs but – unlike in the previous season – didn’t make it to the AFC championship game, because they lost in an earlier round: A divisional-round game in Kansas City that they almost won.

Among the factors contributing to the Bills’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs are these two. First, the Chiefs had home-field advantage. Second, they slightly yet noticeably outplayed the Bills. The first contributed to the second.

Had the Bills won just one – just one – of several regular-season games that they should have won, they’d have been tied with the Chiefs at the end of the regular season. Then, having defeated the Chiefs during the regular season, the Bills would have played the Chiefs in Western New York, not Western Missouri, during the playoffs.

It’s true that not even great teams win every game they should win. Yet great teams lose few such games. During the 2021 regular season, the Bills lost more than a few.

Think of the home-opener loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Think of the loss in Jacksonville to the one-and-whatever-they-were-at-the-time Jaguars. Think of the blowout loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts. Think of the frigid Monday-night loss at home to the New England Patriots.

Now think of the difference that playing the Chiefs here, instead of there, likely would have made during the playoffs.

Thereafter, the AFC championship game would have been here too, with the Bills being the best of the four remaining teams in the playoffs. After all, however good the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco 49ers are, the Bills are better.

And you know which game follows the AFC championship game.

Now that will wait for another season.

Meanwhile, the Bills and their fans should learn from and put behind them, not dwell on, what went wrong in the – to use head coach Sean McDermott’s word – “execution” of the game plan in Kansas City.

And the Bills and their fans can proceed to the 2022 season secure in the conclusion that the Bills are well on the way to being a great team.

During the 2021 season, the Bills took strides in that direction.

One important stride occurred late in the season when the running game improved. As former head coach Marv Levy used to say, “Run and stop the run.”

Another important stride occurred between the halves of the game in Tampa against the Buccaneers. The Bills, way behind at halftime, owned – not just dominated, but owned – the second half.

Notwithstanding the loss in Tampa, the momentum of the Bills’ season changed at halftime.

Now it’s on to the next Bills’ season.

There are always improvements to make, yet fans everywhere should know this team is on the ascendancy.

And as this column urged two weeks ago: It’s time to build a dome – or a stadium with some kind of roof, retractable or not – in Orchard Park.

This tremendous team, these tremendous fans, and Western New York deserve it.

Western New York will rightly achieve that goal when we dream and think big, not small, and dream and think like the champions we are.

Randy Elf’s column urging the building of such a stadium in Orchard Park is at https://www.post-journal.com/opinion/local-commentaries/2022/01/build-a-dome-in-orchard-park and https://www.observertoday.com/opinion/commentary/2022/01/build-a-dome-in-orchard-park.

ç 2022 BY RANDY ELF

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