First Downs and Flags: Mistakes Derail Buffalo Bills in Season Opener

Doug Marrone did not have a great coaching debut in terms of decision-making and discipline versus the New England Patriots. (Photo: Brad Mills — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Glenn Gifford

In one of his first acts as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Doug Marrone emblazoned the words “Don’t confuse effort with results” on banners in the Buffalo Bills practice facility field house (per Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News). Many in the media took it as a sign that positive winds of change were about to blow through Buffalo.

In his regular season coaching debut with the Bills on Sunday, Marrone’s team seemed to give a good effort, but the all-important result Marrone emphasized ended in a heartbreaking 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots.

While there are some positives to take from Sunday’s effort, I find myself still quite disappointed with some of the in-game decisions and the consistent lack of discipline demonstrated by the Bills. In my season-opening edition of “First Downs and Flags,” I highlight the positives and negatives of Buffalo’s week one loss versus the Patriots.

First Downs

EJ Manuel

There is little not to like about Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. While Manuel’s statistics (18-of-27 for 150 yards and two touchdowns) are not worthy of Buffalo city planners needing to plan a championship parade route, Manuel showed great poise and leadership throughout Sunday afternoon’s game.

Manuel managed the game effectively. While he had a few bad passes that luckily did not result in interceptions, his poise and playmaking ability gives Bills fans reason to be excited. Throughout this year, Bills fans will get in line repeatedly for the Manuel roller coaster. My prediction is that the ride will lead to satisfaction.

Fred Jackson was the Buffalo Bills’ best running back versus the New England Patriots on Sunday. (Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig — USA Today Sports)

Fred Jackson

In a game where C.J. Spiller struggled, Fred Jackson showed that he still has fumes left in the tank. Jackson was a spark for the Bills’ offense. His 13 carries for 67 yards, many of which came in the second half, helped Buffalo’s offense get up off the mat.

The other thing I love about Fred is his leadership and character. I saw him on the sidelines huddling up (what a concept) the entire offense after the Bills scored on their opening possession of the second half. His efforts were rewarded with multiple “Freddie” chants from the crowd.

Jackson demonstrates that depth at the running back position is important. While Spiller was being keyed on by the Patriot defense, Jackson showed that he still can contribute. Fred’s efforts showed why he remains a fan favorite.

The Secondary

While the Patriots racked up more than 400 yards in total offense Sunday, I was pleased with the play of Buffalo’s secondary on Sunday. Embattled defensive backs Da’Norris Searcy and Justin Rogers both assisted with key takeaways that led to touchdowns. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin had an up-and-down day, but was not the liability in coverage that many predicted.

Considering the injuries to Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd, I thought the Bills secondary did better than expected. While I am still worried about the Bills’ run defense, I thought the defense as a whole did well considering that the Patriots ran a total of 89 plays.

My only suggestion would have been to double team Danny Amendola. He killed the Bills Sunday, looking like Wes Welker 2.0.


Doug Marrone

Doug Marrone ultimately shoulders the blame for the Bills’ horrendous lack of discipline. The Bills were dinged for 10 penalties for a total of 75 yards. Several of these penalties occurred when the Bills would have forced a New England punt or earned the Bills an important first down. The timing of these penalties contributed to the Bills loss on Sunday.

You may recall Buffalo also committed many penalties in preseason games versus the Minnesota Vikings (14 for 106) and Washington Redskins (seven for 38). At that time, Marrone was placed on BBD’s “5 Down” list when his team showed a lack of discipline for two consecutive weeks.

Nothing I saw on Sunday left me with any feeling Marrone has addressed this issue. In fact, the Bills looked less disciplined Sunday than they did in the pre-season.

Offensive linemen Cordy Glenn and Kraig Urbik were both flagged for illegal hands to the face penalties. Both penalties, which nullified first-down plays for the Bills, proved costly to a struggling Buffalo offense.

The defense continues to struggle with neutral zone infractions. There is no excuse for a neutral zone infraction; all you have to do is watch the ball! Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams were both flagged for this, while Jerry Hughes was twice called for offsides penalties.

If the margin of victory in the NFL is razor-thin, penalties and a lack of discipline will end up costing you victories in the long run. Doug Marrone, you have an undisciplined football team that takes needless penalties. Your team has shown this since the preseason. It’s time to fix this.

No-Huddle Offense in the Fourth Quarter

On Buffalo sports talk radio (WGR 550) on Sunday evening, there was a heated debate on the utility and rationale behind using the no-huddle offense in the latter half of the fourth quarter.

In his postgame press conference, Doug Marrone defended the use of the no-huddle offense in the fourth quarter because he stated that the Bills were still “needed to score to win the game.” Nursing a one-point lead when the Patriots scored on a field goal with 10:48 left to play in the game, Marrone clearly felt that the no-huddle offense was still necessary.

Marrone was dead wrong. If there was one person on the field Sunday that you did not want to not have the ball late in the game, it is Tom Brady. In the two drives prior to the Patriots’ game-winning field goal, a drive that started with 4:31 left to play and ended with just :05 on the clock, the Bills blazed through their plays with lightning speed, taking less than two minutes off the clock each time. This was a ridiculous move in my opinion.

With a rookie quarterback and an exhausted defense, it would have seemed prudent to run a little clock. Perhaps rookie offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett could have used a few seconds to think about running another play other than the read option (with no option)?

New England did a nice job of mixing up their tempo throughout the game. At different times they ran no-huddle, went to five-wide sets and huddled. The no-huddle is meant to confuse the defense and limit their substitutions. New England demonstrated both why and when you should use no huddle by using mixed tempos.

New England “needed to score” with two minutes left in the game. Guess what? They huddled and used clock. It is very difficult to determine what would have happened if the Bills huddled, but I disagree with all of the arguments on how this is Buffalo’s new philosophy and that they should run no-huddle all year.

Buffalo did a poor job of clock management Sunday. Regardless of the philosophy and game plan, I am of the opinion that the less time Tom Brady has with the football and the less time the Bills defense is on the field is a good thing.

Several NFL teams who needed to score today huddled in the process. If Buffalo uses the no-huddle more sparingly when it plays to their advantage, it could be effective. As it stands right now, the Bills no-huddle offense does not confuse or surprise anybody.

Steve Johnson

Remember the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 when Steve Johnson dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass, then later went to Twitter and blamed God for the drop?

I like Steve Johnson as much as the next guy, but Johnson needed to catch the ball today on a vital 3rd-and-1 late in the fourth quarter. He would have gotten a first down and brought the ball into Patriots territory, but instead the ball went off his fingertips. That dropped pass was one of the pivotal plays that affected the outcome of this game, and although thrown slightly wide by Manuel, it is a pass that Johnson has to catch — period.


While I am more optimistic about Buffalo’s future at quarterback after Sunday’s game, I find myself unsatisfied with the Bills being merely “competitive” when they play the New England Patriots. I take little solace in the fact that the Bills “gave them a good game.” A decade of losing to the Patriots will do that to a man!

New England ran a whopping eighty nine plays on Sunday. They did this while huddling periodically. If the Bills decide to huddle selectively and give their defense a break, they could reduce the number of plays that are run against them.

Lastly, if Marrone wants fans to buy into his philosophy of results over effort, he should get his team to put forth a better effort in the area of self-discipline. The lack of discipline is a reflection of his leadership. Improved effort in the area of discipline will lead to results.

Tags: Da'Norris Searcy, Doug Marrone, EJ Manuel, First Downs and Flags, Fred Jackson, Justin Rogers, Leodis McKelvin, New England Patriots, Steve Johnson

One Response to “First Downs and Flags: Mistakes Derail Buffalo Bills in Season Opener”

  1. JoAnne Pautler says:

    Another well written article, made me feel I was at the game and not just watching on TV. Your fan, JoAnne

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