By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
There are few more disheartening ways to lose a football game than the way the Bills dropped one to the Pats today at Ralph Wilson Stadium. After leading 21-7 early in the third quarter, the Patriots flipped a switch and beat the Bills into the turf. The second half saw the Patriots score 35 unanswered points as the Bills showed little to no backbone or ability to make adjustments. It’s a particularly troubling loss given that the Jets also dropped their game, and the Bills could have had sole possession of first the AFC East. Alas, it was not to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking a look at where it went south.
The Bills rushing attack was held in check
(Question 1 was: Who is going to run the ball for the Bills?)
Despite the early week indications that the Bills were going to have to roll with Tashard Choice at running back, both CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson were back in uniform for the Bills. However, it was apparent early that neither one was playing at 100%. Spiller had the same burst through the line, but appeared to shy away from contact, a fact that cost the Bills a sack in the first half when Spiller was unable to pick up a blitzing Dont’a Hightower. Jackson ran with his usual power and determination, but he wasn’t able to break as many tackles as usual. Perhaps most importantly, both runningbacks lost fumbles. Spiller’s was particularly costly as the Bills were about to score to close out the first half. It was a good sign that both backs were able to play, but if they can’t be effective, the Bills offense is going to stall.
Chan Gailey and company got out coached for the second time this season.
(Was not a question asked before the game)
When these teams went into the locker room at halftime, the momentum was squarely on the shoulders of the Buffalo Bills. Then the third quarter started, the Bills punched it into the end zone again, and held a commanding 21-7 lead. Then Bill Belicheck’s team made adjustments and left Chan Gailey’s Bills in the dust. The Patriots started using misdirection in the run game and throwing the ball underneath to Welker and Woodhead, and the Bills seemed to have no answer. The Patriots offense continued to run the same style of plays over and over, daring the Bills to make a stop. Buffalo just wasn’t able to. Mix in some false start penalties, and the Bills unit just didn’t seem ready to play in the second half.
Fitzpatrick fell back into turnover mode
(Question #4 was: Can Fitzpatrick keep his turnovers to a minimum)
The old Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up today. With the exception of two strong touchdown passes to Scott Chandler, Fitzpatrick played a very adequate game today. On his first interception, he horribly underthrew TJ Graham, who had Devin McCourty beat by at least three yards on a go route. Similarly, in the fourth quarter, he chucked a ball across his body and underthrew Stevie Johnson for another pick. Even on passes that were merely incomplete, the ball was frequently thrown behind, or too high, to open receivers. If the Bills are going to spread out defenses, Fitz needs to prove he can beat teams over the top. Right now he can’t, and it’s killing the offense.
The Bills got dominated in the trenches on both ends
(Question #5 was: Can the Bills take advantage of the Pats O-line?)
This was a borderline embarrassing performance from both lines. The defensive line rarely got pressure on Brady and was continuously beat off the line in the run game. Despite the Pats continuing to go back to the ground, the Bills were unable to mount any kind of run defense, letting Ridley and Brandon Bolden gash through them with ease. It’s particularly troubling given that the Patriots had given up nine sacks in three games and were starting a backup at left guard in place of Logan Mankins. Lastly, it was another poor performance from Mario Williams who continues to be nowhere to be found in pass rush.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills offensive line failed to open up any holes for their running backs. The interior of the line had so much trouble containing Vince Wilfork that they frequently had three men keeping him in check on any given play. Erik Pears also had a really rough game at right tackle, getting beat for two sacks and also being flagged for two false start penalties. To top it all off, both Kraig Urbik and Cordy Glenn left the field due to injury, and Chad Rinehart allowed a sack on his first snap in place of Urbik. For a unit that was so physically dominating in the last two weeks, they appeared very meek today.
The Bills linebackers are by far the weakest unit on the team
(Question #2 was: Can the linebackers control Gronkowski)
If Rob Gronkowski didn’t have a case of the drops today this could have been an even worse performance. As it was, Gronk still beat the Bills for 104 yards and a touchdown on the day. The touchdown was a glaring coverage breakdown in which nobody even laid a hand on the big man running down the seam. Similarly, Nick Barnett lost Danny Woodhead in space on the runningbacks receiving touchdown. That combined with an afternoon of missed tackles and Patriots runningbacks breaking free into the secondary, and it’s pretty clear that the Bills are going to need to add more playmakers in the middle of their defense.
The Bills continue to be unable to contain Wes Welker
(Question #6 was: Can McKelvin and Rogers contain the slot?)
Another week and another dominant performance from Wes Welker against the Bills. This time he did his damage mainly against Justin Rogers. Dave Wannstedt seemed to have no answer for Welker, even though it should have been apparent that he was the number one priority from a defensive gameplan standpoint. Welker was continuously open underneath and benefitted from the plague of missed tackles that hounded the Bills all afternoon.
On a positive note, Stephon Gilmore showed some real promise in this game. He failed to record an interception, but he had two near misses on solid plays where he jumped the receiver’s routes. He also laid a few strong hits, especially the one that caused Gronkowski to drop what would have been a sure touchdown in the 3rd quarter.
And the positives…
The Bills wide receivers stepped up in the absence of Stevie Johnson
(Question #3 was: Can the Bills WRs step up if Belicheck schemes for Stevie?)
One of the few positives to take away from the game is that the Bills other wide receivers came to play. Donald Jones showed good hands and burst on two catches over the middle, taking one to the house after a shifty move in the open field. However, he was taken off the field late in the game after being lit up when Fitzpatrick led him directly into Vince Wilfork. TJ Graham also got more involved in the offense, doing most of his damage on wide receiver screens, but showing good open field quickness and acceleration. Brad Smith also got in on the fun, scoring a TD in garbage time and making another tough catch over the middle on the Bills opening drive of the second half.
Shawn Powell showed up to play in his first game
(Question #7 was: How will Powell handle the pressure of his first game)
Even though it had little effect on the outcome of the game, Shawn Powell had a solid first game as a Bill. He dropped the Patriots inside their own 20 on three occasions and showed good leg strength on multiple punts where he was able to flip the field. He did shank one punt in the second half, but it was a solid opening for the rookie.
Well, so far the Bills are consistent: they can’t beat teams in their own division and when they lose, they lose big. They’re entering into a brutal stretch of five games that includes the 49ers, Texans, Cardinals, and Patriots again. If the Bills are going to have any chance of making a playoff run, they need to make adjustments quickly and pull out a few victories against these likely playoff bound teams.