BBD Staff Writer: John Maher
The Buffalo Bills (6-10) traveled to Foxborough to try and defeat the New England Patriots (12-4) for the first time ever in Gillette Stadium, with the hope of ending the season on a high note. Though the Bills were guaranteed a losing season, they had the chance to have a winning record in the AFC East, but they came up short.
Despite Bills head coach Doug Marrone saying he was “110 percent confident” during Week 16 that Manuel would play in the season finale, Manuel did not make enough progress in his recovery to start in Week 17, and backup quarterback Thad Lewis started his fifth game of the season.
Lewis and the Bills lost to the Patriots, 34-20, on a rainy day where the story was Patriots running back LeGarette Blount netting a whopping 334 all-purpose yards for the game. The Bills defense and special teams had no answer for Blount, and that resulted in a loss.
Running back Fred Jackson had more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his final two games of the season. Despite being 32 years old, Jackson again proved his versatility by gaining 60 yards on 14 rushes and 53 yards on three receptions.
A five-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter gave Jackson career highs of nine rushing touchdowns and 10 touchdowns scored for the season.
After a relatively uneventful 2012 season which ended with a leg injury, Jackson played in all 16 games this season and was a bright spot on an offense marred with injuries.
The two-hit punch of running backs Jackson and C.J. Spiller showed up again against the Patriots. Spiller showed his ability to make plays in the open field with 105 yards on the ground.
Spiller almost got his first touchdown since Week 13 on a 12-yard run where he dove and nearly reached the goal line. Though he did not score, that run set up Jackson’s touchdown.
Spiller had a disappointing season in terms of production, gaining 317 less rushing yards on only six less carries, but the Bills were the only team in the NFL to have two backs with over 800 rushing yards each. If Spiller is going to have consistent success, however, he needs to improve as a between-the-tackles runner.
Though Lewis was unable to lead the Bills to victory, he had a great game for a backup quarterback, with better stats than his counterpart in the game, New England Patriots and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
Lewis completed 16 of 29 passing attempts for 247 yards with a touchdown, while Brady was just 14-of-24 with 122 yards and one touchdown and interception. Playing in the pouring rain, Lewis seemed unaffected as he threw for a career-high in passing yards.
Sunday was the first game of Lewis’ career without a turnover, and he played well enough to give his team a chance to win.
Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was benched for the first quarter of Buffalo’s Week 16 game against the Miami Dolphins for violating a team rule. Dareus apparently learned nothing from that suspension, as he was once again benched, this time for the entire first half, against the Patriots.
ESPN’s Mike Rodak reported that tardiness was the reason for Dareus’ benching.
Marcell Dareus confirmed that he was late to meetings, leading to his benching. Said he “needs to set [his] alarm clock all season”
— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) December 30, 2013
Dareus told Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com that his goal was to get 2.5 sacks against the Patriots in order to reach double digits for the season, but he did not have any against the Patriots, in part due to his missed playing time.
It was surprising to see Dareus benched again for his off-field conduct. If he serious about setting goals for himself and winning, he is doing no good to himself or the team by missing time on the field for needlessness reasons.
Along with not playing in the first half, Dareus had a huge mental blunder early in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-1 at the Bills’ own 11-yard line, Dareus was flagged for encroachment before New England’s field goal attempt, which gave the Patriots a 1st-and-goal and led to a New England touchdown on the next play. After a successful two-point conversion, what could have been only a nine-point deficit for the Bills became 14 points in a matter of seconds.
Though the Bills did not allow a kickoff return for a touchdown this season, Sunday was the team’s worst kickoff coverage of the year. They allowed their two longest kickoff returns of the season, 83 and 62 yards, both to LeGarrette Blount. Both returns came following Bills touchdowns, both of which placed them within a touchdown of the Patriots, but the kickoff coverage’s inability to stop Blount gave the Patriots excellent field position, led to 11 points between two series and prevented the Bills from making a comeback.
Following the game, criticism from some Bills fans and writers alike was directed toward Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. However, considering the kickoff coverage had been decent all year except this Week 17, calls for Crossman’s firing might have been overreactive.
Following the proverbial “Black Monday” of the NFL where coaches are dismissed of their duties, Crossman remained part of the organization. For the time being, it appears he will remain special teams coordinator.
Just as the Bills could not stop Blount on kickoffs, they could not stop him on the ground. Blount had a career-best 189 rushing yards Sunday, a performance for which he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. For reference, that total was 38 yards more than he rushed for caross 13 games during the entire 2012 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This was an extreme change from Week 16 for the Bills defense, who allowed only 14 total rushing yards against the Miami Dolphins. Blount topped that after two runs. Blount went practically untouched into the endzone on his 35- and 36-yard touchdown runs.
Though the Bills held Tom Brady in check, they had no answer for Blount, and that led directly to the loss.
Though the Bills were again without Manuel, Dareus for a half, wide receiver Stevie Johnson and safety Aaron Williams, they stayed competitive and had chances at victory. While they held Brady to his lowest passing yardage total against the Bills since 2009, their overall inability to stop Blount on the ground and on kickoffs allowed the Patriots to score 34 points.
The Bills’ season is over, and it’s time for them to look forward to 2014. This will be the first off season for Marrone, general manager Doug Whaley and president/CEO Russ Brandon all together, and it will show if the Bills are a team on the rise or just continuing to be the same old Bills that have yet to make a playoff appearance in the 21st century.