After the Buffalo Bills‘ journey to the Super Bowl was woefully cut short following a devastating 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Divisional round, frustrated fans called for an upheaval on the team’s coaching staff, begging for one or all of them to be fired.
However, general manager Brandon Beane strongly insinuated during his end-of-year press conference that head coach Sean McDermott, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would all be back next year, which caused a feeling of dread to wash over Bills Mafia.
In an exclusive interview with Fred Jackson, the Bills legend sounded off on such harsh criticism toward a coaching staff that led Buffalo to a 13-3 record despite a historic blizzard forcing the team to play (and win) three games in a 12-day span, superstar quarterback Josh Allen suffering an elbow injury in Week 9, and of course, the traumatic event of safety Damar Hamlin suffering cardiac arrest on the field at Paycor Stadium on January 2.
Jackson, who returned to Buffalo this weekend to promote his new partnership with Hidden Valley Ranch, helping the brand boldly enter the blue cheese-loving territory to give away free wings and donate $15,000 to FeedMore Western New York, understood fans’ ire.
“Obviously, you have a talented team, you want to get to the Super Bowl and you want to win it. And if you don’t do that, it’s a disappointment,” he told Heavy. But the Bills’ third-all-time leading rusher, Jackson rushed for 5,646 yards, 30 rushing and seven receiving touchdowns between 2006 and 2014, explained that firing Frazier, Dorsey or McDermott would be “totally unfair” after what transpired this past year.
“I have always said coaches get a lot of blame when that’s not necessarily where the blame should be placed. As players, it was always our job to protect our coaches. It was our job to overcome coaching so to speak. I think those guys did a tremendous job coaching this team. I think the coaching staff, along with the players, also had to deal with all these external things going on during the season and to be where everybody was as a unit and get to where they got in the season, I think is a testament to everybody in that organization.”
2 Factors Played into the Bills’ Collapse vs. Bengals
Buffalo was outplayed and outcoached throughout all four quarters of their loss to the Bengals, and while many viewers were puzzled by the team’s sudden collapse, Jackson believes it was a combination of two factors that led to the Bills’ downfall.
First, he noted that the coaches were just as emotionally drained as the players heading into the AFC showdown, and second, the Bengals played incredibly well.
“Yes, those guys have jobs to do but once you start pointing fingers like that, I think you do a disservice to everybody else that was in that building. You do a disservice to Cincinnati,” he said. “You have to give [the Bengals] credit in all this. Again, you gotta put a lot of things aside and go out and do a job, but there were just a lot of things going on that you can’t blame the coaching staff for the tremendous job that they actually did this year.”
As for the players, “They absolutely looked exhausted. It looked like a team that ran out of gas. The season that they had and some of the turmoil they went through not related to football is going to carry on anybody… We have to realize these guys are human. They’re not machines that two-three-four weeks ago these guys watched their brother get resuscitated on the field… There was so much that they had to deal with outside of football, I think it caught up to them.”
Jackson Urged the Bills to Beef Up the Offensive Line
Due to salary cap restraints, the Bills will heavily rely on the 2023 NFL Draft to select new talent for next season. The consensus seems to be that the Bills should focus on selecting a wide receiver or strengthen the offensive line with their No. 27 overall pick, but Jackson said without hesitation that it should be the latter.
“I’m a bit biased because I’m a running back so I’m always going to say the offensive line,” he said. “Those guys protected me. Those were the guys I leaned on those guys the most. I didn’t have any success if those guys weren’t doing a tremendous job. Obviously, the game is won and lost in the trenches. The better players you have there, the better chance you have to win the game.”