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McDermott chalks up Bills struggles to ‘growing pains’

September 18, 2018
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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, top, is tacked by Los Angeles Chargers' Jahleel Addae during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Rich Barnes)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Acknowledging the Buffalo Bills have much room to improve, coach Sean McDermott rejected the notion he is overseeing a team in turmoil following a tumultuous first two weeks.

“There’s growing pains going through this,” McDermott said, Monday. “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”

No one said it was going to be this difficult either for a team off to a 0-2 start following a 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

Buffalo has been outscored by a combined 54-6 in the first halves of its two losses, and 78-23 overall.

McDermott has already switched quarterbacks, taken over the defensive play-calling duties from coordinator Leslie Frazier and also had to contend with veteran cornerback Vontae Davis quitting the team at halftime against Los Angeles.

McDermott said not all the issues and distractions are related, particularly when it comes to Davis. The offseason free-agent addition informed McDermott he was done during the first half, and then announced he was retiring after 10 NFL seasons a few hours after the game.

“His actions spoke loud and clear,” McDermott said, when asked if he’s had a chance to speak to Davis since Sunday. “I’m focused on my team right now.”

The NFL granted the Bills a roster exemption regarding Davis.

McDermott has plenty on his plate with Buffalo entering a grueling portion of its schedule in which the Bills play one home game — against Tennessee on Oct. 7 — in the next five weeks. Buffalo plays its next two on the road, starting with the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Injuries are also becoming an issue.

Running back LeSean McCoy’s status is questionable after was sustained damage to his rib cartilage during the third quarter against the Chargers.

Buffalo is also thin at cornerback. Aside from Davis’ departure, Phillip Gaines’ status is uncertain after he dislocated his left elbow Sunday.

McDermott wouldn’t rule out either from playing against the Vikings.

As for his overall message to the team: “We all have to do our job better,” he said.

“We’ve got some young players out there,” McDermott added. “And they’re going to continue to get better, continue to grow, continue to learn.”

He was specifically referring to the Bills starting two rookie first-round draft picks, quarterback Josh Allen and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

Allen had a modestly successful first start in going 18 of 33 for 245 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions against the Chargers. Though the offense sputtered in the first half, Allen’s 245 yards passing were the most by a Bills quarterback in his first NFL start since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly threw for 292 yards in a 28-24 loss to the New York Jets on Sept. 7, 1986.

Edmunds has also been inconsistent.

The 20-year-old has a sack and a forced fumble — Buffalo’s only takeaway this season. On the downside, Edmunds has been the anchor of a defense that has surrendered 10 touchdowns — nine scored on 10 opponents’ drives inside the Buffalo 20.

McDermott, a former defensive coordinator, had seen enough in taking over the defense after the Bills allowed the Chargers to score touchdowns on four consecutive drives in building a 28-3 lead with 1:55 left in the first half.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win,” he said.

McDermott hasn’t decided whether he’ll continue to run the defense, while stressing Frazier will still play a role.

“We’re going to work on it together,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in Leslie Frazier.”

Frazier respected McDermott’s decision, and noted he had to make difficult choices during his three-plus seasons as head coach in Minnesota.

“We owe it to our players to give us the best chance to win, whatever it may be,” Frazier said.

The switch showed signs of paying off. After allowing 284 yards, 17 first downs in the first half, the Bills held the Chargers to just 65 yards and four first downs over the final 30 minutes.

“That’s a delicate balance between making sure we build upon what we saw and the positives from yesterday in the second half,” McDermott said. “And that we continue to make progress.”

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