A tie better than a loss? I'm not so sure

December 12, 2017

Sean McDermott is kind of a bear to interview. A friendly bear. He's never condescending, or sarcastic, which Rex Ryan could be. But the walls are all around, and penetrating them is a real challenge.

McDermott fills the air mostly with team reports anybody listening would take for granted and quickly put aside: "We're working hard every day," "everything is geared toward getting better", "I have confidence in our guys", "it's a testament to the character in that locker room", and so on. Press conferences aren't jury trials, so there's no honesty requirement and there's most definitely no effort concerted on brevity. If McDermott's news conferences were a newspaper column, it'd be 30 inches that in short order the copy desk would whittle to 4 or 5.

While it can be frustrating, the challenge is nothing new for a talk-show host who's dealt with 15-plus years of coach-speak. (Since I started at WGR in the summer of 2002, McDermott is the Bills' ninth head coach.) The exercise really is taking what they say and trying to figure out the truth.

The most interesting thing about Sunday's Bills win over Indianapolis was the heavy snow that made the game a classic. Next it's that the Bills won, keeping their not-really-that-faint playoff hopes alive. After that comes a hotly debated decision McDermott made to punt on 4th-and-1 at the Colts' 41 with just over 4 minutes left in overtime.

Strategically and statistically, defenses for the punt are strained at best. There's this about trusting your defense, and there's that about the effects of the weather. The only way I can reconcile McDermott's choice is, after hearing him describe some of this thoughts Monday, to believe he thought a tie wouldn't be so bad in the standings.

He was wrong though.

The difference may lie in another coaching cliche: Take 'em one game at a time. McDermott once told us earlier this season that he didn't know who the Bills had coming up on their schedule after that current week. (Yeah, right.) Whatever "information" he cited Monday that he claimed gave him what he needed to make the right call might rate the Bills' three remaining games as equals. It's Miami, then at New England, then at Miami. In reality, the Bills' chances of winning those games are this: slight favorite, huge underdog, slight underdog.

(It might seem funny to read that the day after Miami beat New England, but come on.)

A tie Sunday would have left the Bills 6-6-1, and it's possible McDermott's alleged information convinced him that 9-6-1 was attainable, and that that record is probably good enough for the playoffs. In my mind, a tie Sunday would have meant a tie in the easiest game on the Bills' schedule, and that they'd finish no better than 8-7-1.

This is all to give McDermott a benefit of the doubt that I'm really only giving to be nice.

On Monday McDermott, in his padlocked way, described things as follows: "A win is better than a tie, and a tie is better than a loss." Thanks, Coach. 

In my opinion a tie against the Colts might as well have been a loss. Almost the same thing. Certainly closer to a loss than a win.

We'll see what happens.