ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The NFL's longest current postseason drought is almost assured to continue, so from a practical standpoint the Bills (4-9) are looking ahead to next season. And that starts with closing out this season on a positive note.
"We could get knocked out of it and it’s not in our control," head coach Doug Marrone said. "What’s in control is for us to go win a game, if not it’s been 14 years. That’s too damn long. We’re going to change that."
Bills veterans like Fred Jackson have been down this road before. They're guaranteed a 9th straight losing season.
"That's what we're focused on is winning these games down the last stretch and setting a foundation going into next year," Jackson said. "This year isn't over for us but we want to continue to build on things and one of the ways that we can do that is to win some of these games in the last part of the season."
The Bills future over the next few years hinges largely on the development of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. Coming off perhaps his worst game of the season in Tampa Bay last Sunday, the next few weeks represent an opportunity for Manuel to continue that process, and complete at least one milestone he's yet to achieve in the NFL - winning a game on the road.
"You need to finish the season strong because you’re moving forward into another season after that," Manuel said. "I think that’s the biggest thing for me, but to be specific, I think it’s just winning games. Especially these last two I think we have on the road, in Jacksonville and in New England, so to obviously show that we can win on the road, show that I can win on the road as the quarterback for this team."
Marrone's ability to change the Bills' fortunes is tied in major way to Manuel's ability to become a solid starter in the league.
"Obviously we all understand it’s a difficult position," Marrone said. If everyone on this team was being evaluated like a quarterback, you can find a lot of things that are going on that are not consistent. We understand that. I understand that. That goes with the job. For him, does he have to get better? Yes he does."
And that's the big question mark, and in many ways the key to ending nearly a decade and a half without a trip to the playoffs.