Dennison's playcalling had come under increasing scrutiny this season, and the crescendo of criticism peaked Sunday on a first-and-goal play from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 1-yard line. In what running back LeSean McCoy later referred to as a run-pass option, Tyrod Taylor attempted a pass to Kelvin Benjamin that resulted in an incompletion, an offensive pass interference penalty and eventually a field goal.
"There’s some calls we want back," coach Sean McDermott said after the game. "That’s probably one of them."
The play summed up much of what was wrong this season with the Bills' 29th-ranked offense: questionable playcalling when a simple run seemed more logical, a lack of a consistent connection between Taylor and Benjamin, as well as an inability to get into the end zone at a critical juncture of the game.
It was not just Dennison's fault, and his firing is only the first step of a makeover to an offense that was broken by season's end.
Scoring three points in a playoff game was not acceptable, even against one of the NFL's best defenses. The Jaguars allowed 16.8 points per game in the regular season and gave up 44 points to the hot hand of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 16, so clearly there was room for improvement for the Bills' offense.
The Bills are likely to change quarterbacks this offseason, potentially releasing or trading Taylor as they search for a young quarterback who can provide a similar promise that Garoppolo has brought to San Francisco.
As fair as it might have been to Dennison to afford him the opportunity to develop a young quarterback and mold him to his system, it makes more sense for the Bills to part ways now and find someone better for the task.
Instead of keeping Dennison for a second season and finding out after 2018 that he is still not the answer at offensive coordinator -- and forcing a young quarterback to learn a new system in 2019 -- the Bills can have their new offensive coordinator and new quarterback learn together. They will operate on the same timeline, which could result in more long-term continuity.
Here are some names to watch in the Bills' offensive coordinator search:
Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo: He has interviewed for the Arizona Cardinals' still-vacant head coaching job, and until that is filled, it cannot be determined whether DeFilippo will be a candidate for the Bills' offensive coordinator vacancy. He is receiving attention this offseason for his work with Carson Wentz, and the appeal to Buffalo would be adding a coach who can develop a young quarterback. Dennison's background was mostly in coaching the offensive line, while current quarterbacks coach David Culley had a background in coaching wide receivers, not quarterbacks. DeFilippo could also make sense for Sean McDermott, a disciple of Andy Reid. DeFilippo coached the past two seasons under Doug Pederson, who has an extensive background in Reid's system.
Former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy: The Bills were believed to be interested in McCoy last offseason before they hired Dennison, but McCoy joined Vance Joseph's staff in Denver. That was a disaster, but McCoy is back on the market as a coach with a history of tutoring quarterbacks. He and McDermott have the same agent, Bob LaMonte, which is often considered an important factor in the hiring process.
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski: He served the past three seasons under Chuck Pagano, who was fired. That leaves Chudzinski in limbo and potentially lines him up as a candidate in Buffalo. He was the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012 when McDermott was Carolina's defensive coordinator, so there is a level of familiarity there. McDermott said before the Bills' meeting with the Colts in December that Chudzinski does a "phenomenal job."
Former Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula: Fired this week by the Panthers after five seasons as their offensive coordinator, he has a history with McDermott for four seasons in Carolina. When the Bills played the Panthers in September, McDermott said Shula did an "incredible" job of "moving pieces around" in the Panthers' offense and called their offense "dynamic."
Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll: One name that might be floated in the process is Daboll, who just helped coach Alabama to its latest national championship. Daboll attended St. Francis High School in nearby Hamburg, New York, and owns a home in the Buffalo area. He was a restricted earnings coach in 1997 for William & Mary when McDermott played on that team, and he has NFL experience as the offensive coordinator of the Browns, Dolphins and Chiefs, as well as two stints with the Patriots. However, he has a three-year deal with Alabama that pays him $1.2 million per year.
Former Giants coach Ben McAdoo: He stumbled his way through this season in New York until being fired, but he has a background in coaching quarterbacks from his time in Green Bay. He also is represented by LaMonte.