"I definitely think there are things going in the right direction," said running back Fred Jackson. "We've had a lot of change internally, some things that we wanted to get turned around, but we didn't get to our goal. Obviously a lot of people are disappointed in that, we're disappointed in it. But there were times in my time playing here that we were fortunate to get to 6-10. This year, being 6-10 was definitely disappointing. All the games that we had an opportunity to win and we didn't, you look at those and say, 'If we wouldn't have gotten this, or one play here or one play there, that's a win for us.' If you followed us this year, you know there are five or six plays that changed the outcome of our season."
The Bills made notable improvements on defense as they allowed three points less per game, finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks and 23 interceptions, and led the league in the most negative yardage plays. All three levels of the defense were bolstered by new players including defensive end Jerry Hughes (10 sacks), linebackers Manny Lawson and Kiko Alonso (169 tackles), and defensive back Nickell Robey (who was excellent at nickel cornerback). Also, players such as linemen Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and defensive backs Aaron Williams and Leodis McKelvin all performed above their 2012 level.
The pass defense was outstanding, but the run defense is where the Bills need to be better as they allowed far too many big plays to leak out.
"We (Marrone and Mike Pettine, the defensive coordinator) had discussions already about looking into that and what we need to do better," said Marrone. "Obviously we're all disappointed at times, but again, those are the challenges to get yourself in the playoffs. It's finding a way to be consistent. And it's not just consistent from one game to all of the sudden you skip a couple in game three. Consistency for 16 games is the key to becoming a very good football team."
On offense, consistency was a major issue. With rookie quarterback EJ Manuel in and out of the lineup due to three knee injuries, and his replacements -- journeyman Thad Lewis who had one career NFL start before making five in 2013, and overmatched rookie Jeff Tuel -- lacking top-end talent, the Bills struggled to move the ball in the air.
The running game was solid and finished second in the league with 2,307 yards, but the Bills were not a dangerous passing team. Their quarterbacks completed only 57.3 percent of their passes to rank 28th, right where they ranked in passing yards per game (193.9).
Manuel played in only 10 games, throwing 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, and his development will be the key to the Bills offense in 2014. He believes he's ready to take the next step once he's had a full offseason with the team.
"I think in this league you always have to keep an edge, knowing that someone is always coming for your job," he said. "After the season we had, I don't think I can just sit here and be comfortable. Changes happen all the time. I know for me personally, I'll always continue to work hard and make sure I'm ready to go. I do know I'm the leader and the quarterback right now of this team. With that being said, I'm going to continue to work hard."
As for his injuries, he said, "I think a lot of my injuries have just been (un)fortunate occurrences in a football game. You're in a tough sport and I know I'm a tough guy and if I could've gotten back out there I would have, no question about it. That's all I can say about the injuries. They're behind me now, I can get healthy, and just come back ready to go."
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback EJ Manuel confirmed Thursday (Jan. 30) that he underwent a second surgery on his left knee earlier this month.
Manuel said he is still rehabbing, but feels he has effectively put the knee problems of 2013 behind him.
"The knee injury feels a lot better now," Manuel told reporters in the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, site of the media center for Super Bowl XXVIII. "I've got everything resolved and behind me. It was a minor procedure. I'm glad I got it done and kind of put it past me. With the rehab and things like that I'll be back to full strength and I don't think it'll bother me."
Manuel said the injury that required the procedure was the one he suffered in the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings last August.
"It was a meniscus tear," he said. "That's everything I got taken care of so now I have a clean slate. I don't have to worry about it."
Manuel suffered three separate knee injuries during his rookie season, limiting him to 10 games.
Manuel said he intends to wear a knee brace every week next season.