By Mary Pesarchick @HeyMom418
It’s been very hot in Buffalo this summer, and very dry. Historically dry. The National Weather Service declared the area to be in a severe drought, the worst since it started keeping records in 1943. Farmers struggled to keep their crops and animals watered, the local streams and rivers hit record low levels, and brown lawns everywhere crunched beneath your feet.
It was in this sweltering heat that Bills Nation prepared for the 2016-2017 football season. And fans are eager to end another kind of drought—a playoff drought that has lasted 16 years and counting. The drought that was supposed to end in 2015 with the coming of Rex Ryan, LeSean McCoy, and the return of a dominant defense. Sadly, the expectations which swelled through last year’s offseason and preseason—the excitement that led to the selling of a record number of season tickets—ended up evaporating soon after that season started, amid injuries, undisciplined play, and player discontent over game planning. The fans were burned again.
There were a few hopeful signs that “rain” was on the way after the 2016 draft. The Bills’ first two selections, DE Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland, were celebrated as instant starters and fed hopes that the defense would return to its 2014 form. However, soon after Lawson signed, it was announced he would undergo shoulder surgery that would put him on the PUP list until Week 6 at the earliest. Then, during the first week of training camp, Ragland blew out his knee and is lost for the year.
That devastating news was followed by the suspension and ultimate release of an overweight, underperforming Karlos Williams, who scored nine touchdowns for the Bills last year and had been expected to be the second-string running back behind McCoy. Finally, monster defensive lineman Marcel Darieus, already suspended for the first four games of the season for a second violation of the NFL substance abuse policy, stunned everyone when he recently announced he was checking himself into rehab, leaving the timeline of his return very uncertain.
And so the sun continues to beat down.
Trying to find something to get excited about has been tougher than, well, finding water in the desert. There have been no big free agent signings. There is no quarterback competition as Tyrod Taylor has had the job outright since the OTAs. Rex is still Rex and now has his brother, Rob (Ryan), on staff as assistant head coach/defense, a move that was met with tremendous skepticism. All-in-all, there seems to be little about this team that would raise anyone’s temperature.
But, like mad dogs and Englishmen, Bills fans continue to go out in the noonday sun. The team announced a few days ago that they have sold 58,500 season tickets, the second-highest total in team history. Five of the eight home games have already sold out. While there is nowhere near the anticipation of last season, there is guarded optimism that the offense, which was No. 1 in rushing a year ago, will be as good and maybe better.
Tom Brady’s suspension will mean the Bills will face backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 4, and will at least have a shot at defeating the Patriots. It’s not a lot, but enough to give fans hope for a 10-6 record and maybe, just maybe, that elusive wild card berth. We will know early in the season if it all turns out to be just a mirage.
Featured image courtesy: rochester.edu
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