EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Authentic.
That word kept sprouting at Met-Life Stadium on Thursday night and on Sunday afternoon as metaphors for a couple of visiting head coaches in the midst of hip franchise turnarounds. A couple of Seans who entered this setting seeking their sixth victory in debut years that were projected to be soiled.
After all, the Buffalo Bills were a 7-9 bust last year and have not made the playoffs in 17 seasons. They are the only American professional sports team that has not made a playoff appearance in the 21st century.
And the Los Angeles Rams were a 4-12 mess last year. They fully earned their 14th consecutive non-winning season.
Rex Ryan was fired in Buffalo.
Jeff Fisher was sacked by the Rams.
So, Sean McDermott in Buffalo and Sean McVay with the Rams initially tackled their first NFL head coaching jobs with broken, browbeaten spirits surrounding them. But both through seven games this season had incredibly fashioned 5-2 teams.
It was a New York, New York spectacle.
The Bills lost, 34-21.
The Rams won, 51-17.
Thus, at the season’s halfway mark for both, Buffalo is 5-3 and the Rams are 6-2.
We don’t know where these teams are ultimately going, but we do know both have created hope. A couple of "authentic" Seans have steered it.
When you take control of a team and franchise that is buried in rubbish, you must tweak the roster to find the right players mentally and physically who fit your blueprint. You must select coaches complementing you who can teach as much as match wits against opponents. You must positively impact the franchise quarterback quandary. You must build a team that excels at the basics: blocking, tackling and decreasing mental errors.
You have to slow things down, literally make it a moment at a time, get people to breathe, refocus, re-make themselves, recommit.
You must have a steadfast and consistent message. It must be repeated. You must create belief, trust, and confidence. Accountability and coachability.
You must be authentic.
"That’s everything that Sean is and that’s why this team likes playing for him," Bills safety Micah Hyde said. "He has instilled those things in us. You know, he’s an ex-wrestler. He has the mindset of a wrestler. Everything is a battle. We didn’t show that against the Jets like we have this season."
It was the "exact opposite," Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said, because the Jets played the game for blood like divisional rivals often do and the Bills were startled. It snowballed into a stunning loss for them.
But a valuable lesson, said McDermott, after "uncharacteristic" play full of penalties and turnovers and mistakes that McDermott plans to use as a powerful example of what they used to be and the plan he has preached that has resulted in more winning.
Like the Rams, it focuses on turnovers. Take the ball. Keep the ball. The Bills are No. 1 in the league in turnover differential (+11) and No. 2 in takeaways (17). The Rams rank in the league’s top 10 in turnover differential (+3) and are No. 7 in takeaways (15).
Buffalo in its final eight games play only two teams that thus far own losing records (the Chargers and Colts). They host the NFC South division-leading Saints next and play AFC West division leader Kansas City as well as two games left against their own division leader, the Patriots.
"Humble pie" is the way Bills running back LeSean McCoy described the Bills crash in New York and how their focus for the future must include humility.
The critics say none of it will be enough. That the Bills will fade. That McDermott cannot in his first season build enough lasting injection to overcome a trove of flawed players and a haunted franchise.
"Of course, they said that before we got through this first half of the season with a winning record," Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes said.
Alexander added: "Sean has this team going in one direction. His mission statement is clear. He repeats it. It’s his, so it’s ours. We know what to do. We know how to do it."
The Rams lost their last seven consecutive games last season. This team all of last season scored 224 points.
But this season in half as many games they have already scored 263 points. They are the only NFL team with a 4-0 road record.
They have "stacked," said McVay, consecutive complete games –- a 33-0 rout of the Cardinals and this 51-17 shelling of the Giants.
The Rams lead the NFC West.
"You’re talking about a culture being created, a mindset, a stress on players exhibiting coachability, a comfort level for Jared (Goff), a staff that supports it all and a coach who stays on those points," Rams backup quarterback Sean Mannion said. "How can you not fully buy in to all of that?"
Rams special teams coach John Fassel said that McVay has excelled at being consistent. He said McVay relates to his coaches as well as he does to his players. He described McVay as "the head honcho" and the "big dog" who does not approach anything in that manner.
"He wakes up every day wanting to do the right thing for the Rams and there is nothing in his DNA that allows him to approach it any other way," Rams general manager Les Snead said.
And Rams owner Stan Kroenke added this: "Fabulous, intelligent, maturity and experience beyond his years. A pleasure to work with. A good coach and person."
McVay’s natural ability to connect with people and his football acumen are serving the Rams well.
He has Goff rising, on the move, leading the offense.
He has running back Todd Gurley back to form, back to dominance.
His defense, led by wily guru Wade Phillips, is becoming a force.
"Sean knows he has a coach in Wade and Wade knows he has players in us," veteran linebacker Robert Quinn said. "He’s got the right players and the right system. You can’t have success without players. And players can’t have success without the right schemes and coaching. Sean has a way of not only making you believe it but also putting you in the right positions where you can go out and achieve it."
Those are two things that do not always coalesce in the NFL.
Rams receiver Robert Woods knows.
He said his 52-yard touchdown reception on a third-and-33 play was all a matter of one of McVay’s prime messages: Let runners run.
"I’m told he was a fast 100 meters guy in high school," Woods said, laughing. "We hear that a lot."
It was Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman who said McVay’s intricate knowledge of the Giants was a major factor in 51-17. McVay as a Washington assistant coach took notice of the Giants personnel and dispensed that knowledge to his team.
It led to a defense that produced two fumble recoveries and an interception, to a blocked punt and to offensive series that ended this way: Touchdown, field goal, touchdown, punt, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal, downs.
That’s how you hang 50 on a team.
But the Rams are certain they have an authentic team to match an authentic coach.
"I feel fortunate," McVay said. "I’m around great people. They understand the standards of success. I try to be true to them and to myself."
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