BBD Staff Writer: John Maher
The Buffalo Bills traveled to Florida for the second time in as many weeks to face a Jacksonville Jaguars team who came in on a three-game winning streak after starting the season with eight straight losses.
The Bills came into the game on a two-game losing streak, while rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was coming off a dreadful, four-interception performance in Buffalo’s Week 14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This game was a good day for Manuel to rebuild his confidence, however, as the Jaguars came into the game ranked 29th in total defense and 30th in points allowed.
Due to key takeaways by the defense and three Manuel touchdowns, the Bills (5-9) pulled out a 27-20 win against Jacksonville (4-10) Sunday.
Manuel started the day having seemingly learned nothing from his loss to the Buccaneers, as he started out the game with four incompletions, plus one errant screen pass out of bounds that was officially ruled a fumble, followed by an interception. He put that behind him, however and only had two incompletions the rest of the game.
Manuel finished the day 17-of-24 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an eight-yard touchdown run. His three touchdowns came on drives of 72, 80 and 94 yards, showing that Manuel is capable of sustaining drives once the offense gets in a groove.
Though Manuel did not have an excellent game, throwing an interception and losing a fumble, he had six completions of 17 or more yards and his three touchdowns led to the Bills win. He showed vast improvement after his worst career game one week earlier.
A major reason for Buffalo’s lengthy touchdown drives Sunday was the play of rookie wide receiver Robert Woods. After having good chemistry with Manuel early in the season, Woods had not had a touchdown since Week 4 and missed a game with a hamstring injury. Manuel and Woods got their chemistry back Sunday. Woods’ 82 receiving yards, which included his third touchdown reception of the year on a 7-yard Manuel pass, led the team and is Woods’ career high.
Bills strong safety Aaron Williams had been without an interception since Week 7. That changed on Sunday when he picked off Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne on Jacksonville’s third offensive play. This takeaway led to a Dan Carpenter field goal and an early Bills lead on Buffalo’s first possession.
On Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half, Williams made a play that might have been even bigger. Jaguars running back Denard Robinson got a great burst from the 25-yard line and appeared headed for the end zone until Williams caught him at the 1-yard line and tore the ball out of his hands. The ball went out of bounds for a touchback, which gave the Bills the ball on their 20-yard line. Williams’ heads-up play took away what otherwise would have been a Jaguars touchdown and kept the score at the time at 20-10.
Williams left the game early when he injured his ribs making a tackle in the fourth quarter, and did not return. His big plays before his injury allowed the Bills to remain in the game. WGR’s Joe Buscaglia reported Monday that Williams’ injury will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
William was not the only member of the secondary to step up big on Sunday. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey all made big plays.
Robey had two big plays that led to the Bills win. After letting up a 28-yard pass in coverage late in the first half, Robey responded on the next play by stripping Jaguars wide receiver Mike Brown and recovering the fumble. Robey’s big play stopped a Jaguars last-minute drive in its tracks, and allowed the Bills one more possession before halftime, which they ended with another field goal by Carpenter. On the last drive of the game, Robey made another big play when he had a third-down sack that put the Jaguars into a 4th-and-15 they failed to convert.
McKelvin had a good game too in what has been a career season. He led the team with eight solo tackles and had a forced fumble one play prior to Robey’s forced fumble, which went forgotten as the Jaguars recovered the ball. He made another big play in the fourth quarter when with the Jaguars on the Bills 1-yard line trailing by seven and looking for a game-tying score, McKelvin broke up a second-down pass in the end zone intended for Brown.
Gilmore rounded off the excellent cornerback play by helping to seal the win. One play after McKelvin’s pass breakup, Gilmore picked off Henne deep in the back of the end zone. In what appeared to be an attempted throw-away by Henne, Gilmore looked like a receiver in his interception, grabbing the ball at the highest point and getting both feet down. This red zone takeaway prevented the Jaguars from tying the game and allowed the Bills to run some of the clock out.
The Rushing Offense
One story of the season has been the inconsistency of Bills running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Jackson and Spiller combined for 195 rushing yards against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13, totaled only 67 rushing yards in Week 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and rushed for 198 yards Sunday.
On Sunday, the rushing success of Spiller, Jackson and Manuel were a huge reason for the Bills pulling out the win. Jackson led the team with 80 yards on 17 carries, Spiller added 67 yards on 13 rushes and Manuel tacked on 37 yards and Buffalo’s lone rushing touchdown. Overall, 12 of Buffalo’s 25 first downs came from rushing the ball, which helped the Bills control the game’s time of possession.
Buffalo’s 5’9”, 248-pound fullback, Frank Summers, had a key role in Sunday’s win. Summers had a key lead block on Manuel’s eight-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and later caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Manuel in the fourth quarter that went on to be the game-winning score. Summers, who had 30 total yards Sunday, is proving to be a solid replacement for former Bills fullback Corey McIntyre.
Bills wide receiver T.J. Graham has been mostly irrelevant for the Bills offense this season. He has only scored one touchdown even though he has played in all 14 of Buffalo’s games.
This Sunday was no different as Graham recorded zero touches, making it his third straight week without a reception. Rookies receivers Woods and Marquise Goodwin have played far better than Graham, who needs to step up his play if he wishes to remain playing for the Bills beyond this season.
Aside from the consistently strong play of left tackle Cordy Glenn, the play of the Bills offensive line has been unpredictable this season. Though Buffalo’s rushing offense had success against Jacksonville, the offensive line struggled with allowing pressure in pass protection, allowing five sacks.
Specifically, right tackle Erik Pears often struggled against his man and gave up pressure against Manuel or against a running back in the backfield. Pears had two penalties on the day (one false start, one holding).
Pears won Buffalo’s starting right tackle job this season, but his recent poor play could have him headed back to the sideline after this season.
The Bills have shown the ability to obtain leads all season, but they haven’t always been able to sustain those leads. That happened again this Sunday, as the Bills got out to a 20-10 halftime lead but let the Jaguars back in the game to a tie early in the fourth quarter. Even after the Bills regained the lead on the drive following Jacksonville’s game-tying score, Buffalo allowed the Jaguars to come within one yard of tying it again.
Buffalo’s offense struggled in the first and third quarters, but scored 24 of the team’s 27 points in the second or fourth quarters.
Though it is difficult to pinpoint a single player or unit for the team’s struggles to hold leads, it is an issue Buffalo’s coaching staff should address.
Although Jacksonville came into the game on a three-game winning streak, they also came into the game with four inactive starters due to injury, including running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receiver Cecil Shorts. Many fans expected the Bills to win, though it proved to be meaningless as a Miami Dolphins win over the New England Patriots officially eliminated the Bills from playoff contention for the 14th consecutive season.
The Bills could potentially play spoiler in each of their last two games. The Dolphins’ playoff hopes will be on the line in Week 16, and a first-round playoff could be on the line for the Patriots in Week 17. Though the Bills are locked into their ninth consecutive losing season, finishing the season with one or two big wins in the AFC East would be a great foundation for 2014.
Tags: Aaron Williams, Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, EJ Manuel, Erik Pears, First Downs and Flags, Frank Summers, Fred Jackson, Game Reviews, Jacksonville Jaguars, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey, Postgame Takeaways, Reviews, Robert Woods, Stephon Gilmore, T.J. Graham, Week 15