BBD Staff Writer: John Maher
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Buffalo Bills looked to rebound against a 3-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in order to keep any slim playoff hopes alive.
Those hopes quickly died Sunday.
“There’s not much to say about Buffalo’s pathetic performance today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” Ryan Talbot said following the game, which summed up the thoughts of many Bills fans well.
In an uneventful game where there were more than half as many punts (15) as first downs (27) between both teams, the Buffalo Bills were held to single digits for the first time all season, losing 27-6 to fall to a 4-9 record on the season.
Defense (sans big plays)
Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw a career-high four interceptions and cornerback Leodis McKelvin muffed two punt returns, losing one to the Buccaneers, but the defense only allowed six points off turnovers. Though it lost the turnover battle, the defense came up big, not allowing any touchdowns on the five Buccaneers drives that started off turnovers, including four that began in Bills territory.
The Bills defense answered on two of those drives with takeaways of their own, as safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore each came up with interceptions inside the Buffalo red zone.
Along with coming up big off turnovers, the defense looked decent when two specific Buccaneer plays are overlooked. Outside of an 80-yard touchdown run by Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey and a 38-yard touchdown pass from Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, the Bills defense only allowed 128 additional yards.
In total, the Bills defense only allowed 13 first downs, forced nine Buccaneers punts and held Glennon to completing just nine of 25 passing attempts for 90 yards. That defense allowed only 28 yards in the second half, and looked to be in command.
While Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus had the team’s only sack of the game, the defense combined to post eight tackles for loss.
The Bills offense got very little accomplished Sunday and called for punter Brian Moorman eight times. Even though he was slow to get up after being roughed by Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson on his first punt attempt, he remained in the game and had a good day. He pinned the Buccaneers inside their own 20-yard line on three of his eight punts, and Buffalo’s punt coverage only allowed 21 return yards.
Manuel has had an up-and-down rookie season thus far. He has shown glimmers of hope, such as his 296 passing yards and leading a game-winning drive against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, and his 20-for-28, 245-yard, two-touchdown passing performance in a win against the New York Jets in Week 11. He has also had terrible outings, including a game in which he threw for just four yards per passing attempts in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10, and again this Sunday against the Buccaneers.
After throwing just four interceptions in his first eight starts, he doubled his season total. He completed just 18 of 33 passing attempts for 184 yards, and was sacked seven times. Manuel looked unconfident in the pocket, often scrambling too soon instead of moving up into the pocket, leading to the sacks and a Bills loss.
Buffalo’s rushing offense has been extremely inconsistent all season. Buffalo running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 191 yards rushing in Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons, but only mustered 34 combined yards against the Buccaneers.
Spiller rushed for 22 yards on 11 attempts; Jackson added 12 yards on five attempts. The Bills’ leading rusher was actually Manuel, who rushed for 29 yards on five attempts. The lack of rushing production failed to allow the Bills to open up their passing offense, which led to long second- and third-down situations on multiple drives.
The Bills accumulated 11 penalties for 114 yards on the day, many of which came at inopportune times.
Two examples came on Tampa Bay’s second-quarter touchdown drive. On back-to-back sets of downs, third-down penalties were called against the Bills (an offsides against pass-rush Jerry Hugher, followed by an iffy roughing-the-passer call against Byrd), extending the drive and ultimately leading to seven points.
The Bills had a number of big plays brought back due to penalties. An 83-yard Spiller touchdown run was called back due to an offensive holding penalty called against wide receiver Robert Woods. Some thought the penalty should have been called against center Eric Wood, but regardless, Spiller was already steps ahead of both of them in full sprint when the potential holds were committed, making both bad penalties.
Penalties could also be partially to blame for one of Manuel’s interceptions, as one late in the third quarter came after the Buffalo offensive line was called on consecutive false starts that set up a 1st-and-20.
In a game where Buffalo was already outplayed, its mental mistakes cost the Bills any chance at winning. The entire team looked out of it Sunday, and the 11 penalties display that.
Big plays allowed
As aforementioned, the Bills defense looked good but did give up a number of big plays, including the 80-yard Rainey run and 38-yard Glennon-to-Jackson pass. Those plays led Tampa Bay to a 14-3 lead, including a 7-0 lead just 18 seconds into the game off Rainey’s run, and the Buccaneers never looked back. If the defense would not have allowed those two plays early, the score might have been more manageable for competition.
With 19 total penalties and little offense from both teams, this was a game that seemed to drag on for its duration of three hours and 18 minutes. The Bills only made it into the redzone for two plays and crossed midfield only three times for drives that ended with two field goals and an interception. On a NFL Sunday where a league-record 90 touchdowns were scored among the 14 teams that played, the Bills were the only team in the league that failed to score even one.
The Bills’ second-to-last drive of the game was fitting. Their net result of the drive was a loss of -8 yards thanks to allowing consecutive sacks on first and second down and Jackson dropping a third-down dump-off pass, which forced Buffalo to punt even though down by 21 late in the fourth quarter.
The Bills are not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but there is no hope for Bills football in January this year, not with the way they played Sunday. With three games left in the 2013 season, the Bills need to turn it around quickly to reinstall some hope in the hearts of their fan base.