By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
Just as they’ve done for decades, the Bills teased fans on Sunday, coming within 15 yards of a historic upset of the Patriots in Foxborough. Instead, when Ryan Fitzpatrick’s final pass landed square in Devin McCourty’s chest, the Bills nation collective sighed and groaned. In typical Buffalo fashion, the Bills made enough plays to keep themselves in the game, and actually outplayed the AFC juggernaut for stretches of time. However, the mistakes were too significant to overcome, and the Bills are now faced with a 3-6 record and would likely need to win the rest of their games to stand a chance at a playoff birth.
In order to understand how the loss came to be, let’s look at how the Bills answered the questions I had for them coming into the game. Starting with the positives…
The Bills finally contained Gronkowski
(Question #1 was: Can the Bills prevent Gronk from going off?)
I’m inclined to thank Tom Brady for this one more than the Buffalo defense, but when the final whistle blew, Gronkowski had 31 yards receiving on three catches. Although one of them was for a touchdown, Gronkowski was only targeted three times on the afternoon. Every single time, there was a Buffalo defender in his face. The touchdown necessitated a dive in the back corner of the end zone, the first pass required Brady to deftly loft the ball over Barnett, and the screen pass was sniffed out immediately. It was one of the few things the defense did well.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball really well… until the end
(Question #5 was: Can Fitz can advantage of the Patriots secondary)
The Patriots came into the week with the 28th ranked pass defense, and they showed why. Fitzpatrick was 27 for 40 on the day for 337 yards and two touchdowns. His passes got out quickly and hit the receivers in stride (for the most part). Some of them had some wobble to them and the receivers seemed to have loads of space to work with, but the Bills haven’t taken what’s given to them throughout the season. For much of the game, I felt like Nix’s comments about the Bills needing a new quarterback had really motivated Fitz. Then, with the game on the line, he did what he does best: force a pass. Instead of getting the ball to his proven red zone playmakers like Spiller, Chandler, or Johnson, he tried to force a pass to TJ Graham and never saw McCourty.
The Bills contained the Patriots running attack… until the last drive
(Question #3 was: Can the Bills limit the Patriots rushing attack?)
After getting gashed for close to 300 yards on the ground in their first meeting, the Bills defense really stepped up against Steven Ridley and the Patriots backs. Ridley rushed 22 times for 98 yards (4.5 yards per carry), and the Patriots only rushed for 117 yards as a team. Kyle Williams was getting his usual penetration, Da’Norris Searcy came up to make some nice tackles in run support, and Mario Williams even sealed the edge well on a few plays. However, when the game was on the line, and the Patriots were trying to run out the clock, the Bills defense could not stop Ridley. He continued to take the ball up the gut, rushing for 26 yards on the Patriots final possession. That’s just not something that should happen when you know an offense is going to run the ball.
The Bills running game continues to look good
(Question #2 was: Will Chan commit to the run?)
After running the ball only twelve times last week, the Bills backs carried the ball 27 times against the Patriots, despite being down for the entire game against a defense that came into the game fourth against the rush. The result was constant success. The offensive line was able to open up enough holes, Fred Jackson ran hard and CJ Spiller continued to prove incredibly elusive. The Bills totaled 162 yards on the ground and Fred Jackson was able to find the end zone twice. It’s become clear that this is the team’s identity. The only problem today was ball security. Fred Jackson has become a fan favorite because he fights hard for every inch, but he needs to start securing that ball if he’s going to keep churning after contact. I’ll take ten yards less and the ball every day over extra yards and a lost fumble.
Now onto the negatives…
It’s clear that this team is not well coached
(On going question)
There is simply no excuse for over 150 yards of penalties. Yes, some of them were suspect at best, but the holding calls, the false starts… these are all things that need to be taken care of during the week. The Bills are a young team, but a strong coaching staff shuts those mistakes down before they start. You never see any competitive football team shooting themselves in the foot this often. If Chan Gailey can’t solve the issues with penalties then it’s clear that he simply can’t get through to his players.
The defense continues to underwhelm
(Question #7 was: How will the cornerback rotation work with McGee out?)
The secondary didn’t play poorly today, but they also failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities. McKelvin had a tipped ball land right in his hands on a drive that the Patriots then turned into a touchdown. The corners and safeties need to start making plays on the ball.
I’ll be quick on this because it’s been said to death, but this defensive line is doing nothing. Yes, Mario Williams pushed the pocket a few times and Kyle Williams continues to look great, but this was supposed to be the team’s strength. It’s not showing up on the field.
The Bills linebackers continue to be the worst unit on the field
(Question was not asked)
I can’t tell if the scheme is wrong or there simply isn’t a lot of talent, but slot receivers, tight ends and running games are killing the Bills. Those are three things that a strong linebacker corps helps to neutralize. Why the hell was Nick Barnett covering Wes Welker on back-to-back plays? Then, two plays later, Barnett was matched up on Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. He got abused every single time. If Barnett is the best coverage linebacker that the Bills have then it’s no wonder they cant stop anybody over the middle.