Shutout win could help propel Mike Pettine

The Buffalo Bills sacked Ryan Tannehill seven times, raising their season total to a franchise-best 56. AP Photo/Bill Wippert

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As a team, the results haven't been there for the Buffalo Bills this season. Although winners of their past two games, the Bills have a 6-9 record and are closing in on their sixth consecutive season finishing in the basement of the AFC East.

Offensively, the Bills are a work in progress. But on the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's efforts won't go unnoticed by teams in search of a head coach this offseason, especially after Sunday's 19-0 shutout win over the Miami Dolphins.

According to a report last week from TheMMQB.com's Peter King, the NFL recently created a panel of former coaches and general managers to recommend head-coaching candidates to teams with vacancies. Pettine, 47, is on the list.

"I'm not going to think about it until the season is over. That's flattering. Lists are lists. But that's come before, so it's one of those deals," Pettine told ESPN.com on Sunday. "We'll focus on New England [in the season finale], and then when the dust settles from that, we'll look into that."

In his weekly radio appearance on WGR 550 in Buffalo last Wednesday, Bills CEO Russ Brandon said it would be unlikely that the Bills would block someone like Pettine from interviewing with other teams.

"It's something that obviously would come through me, [general manager] Doug Whaley and Coach [Doug] Marrone. But it all depends on what the opportunity is, but if it's a head coaching, certainly [he] would have that opportunity," Brandon said.

"My belief and foundation always has been about opportunity for people. You work your tail off in this business for opportunity. If coaches have that chance to better themselves for their career and for their family, it's something that you rarely, rarely would ever stand in that way for that opportunity."

Losing Pettine would be a blow to the Bills' rebuilding efforts, but having assistant coaches in line for promotions elsewhere might be a good problem for Buffalo.

"If that's the coach's goal, obviously we encourage it and support him in every way if he has that opportunity. Obviously I would like to see him stay right here in Buffalo, because I really think we're building something special on that side of the ball," Brandon said. "But he's a heck of a coach. But I'm sure he will have interest down the road here, especially if we keep improving. That's the catch-22.

"If we're improving as an organization or as a team, you're going to have your coaches poached a little bit, and that wouldn't be a bad thing. I'd like to worry about it, actually."

If teams with head-coaching openings look at Pettine, Sunday's win will be at the top of Pettine's résumé from this season.

Already with an NFL-best 49 sacks entering the game, the Bills added another seven sacks Sunday, shattering Buffalo's previous franchise single-season record set in 1995. The Dolphins never reached the red zone, were held to 2-for-14 on third downs and finished with just 103 net yards on offense.

"That was a pretty good beating," Pettine said with a smile after the game.

The shutout win and sack record serve as a feather in the cap for Pettine, who has led the turnaround of a Bills defense that had underperformed in recent seasons. While the Bills ranked 18th in points allowed entering this weekend, more fine-tuned statistics tell a different story.

This season, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi created a "defensive index" that tracks total turnovers, red zone defense, third-down conversions and points allowed by the defense. The Bills' defense ranked 12th in last week's installment and will undoubtedly move higher after Sunday's performance.

Prior to this season, it would have been easy to knock Pettine's coaching résumé. In his previous stints with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, Pettine served as an assistant to Rex Ryan, a defensive mind who received much of the credit for that unit's success. But last offseason, Pettine decided to step out of Ryan's shadow and pair up with Marrone, whose NFL coaching background has come entirely on offense.

Now, the credit is due to Pettine. While the Bills' defense hasn't been excellent -- it ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game, for example -- it has been very good for stretches this season, which could be enough to prove Pettine's worth to head-coaching headhunters in search of a top coordinator.

Still, the Bills' overall record this season might work against Pettine when coaching jobs open as soon as next week. It's often coordinators on playoff teams -- not those in last place in their division -- who receive consideration for head-coaching vacancies, so Pettine could be hurt by the limited national exposure the Bills received this season.

Pettine's career aspirations aside, it's fair to question if the Bills have wasted their defense's strong performances this season. It's even something Marrone's 9-year-old son has asked his dad.

"My son asked me the same thing, the same exact question you asked me. 'Do you look back and say should've, could've, would've?' I told him in life you can't do that," Marrone said. "Not in the present time and not with what we're doing. You always have to move forward and just keep working and building it."