The Buffalo Bills had an emotionally charged stadium, perfect weather, and momentum following their come from behind win over the Detroit Lions from the week before and still couldn’t overcome their abysmal record when facing the New England Patriots on Sunday.
With the 37-22 loss, the Bills have now lost their last six meetings with their division rivals and single-handedly resurrected Tom Brady’s career – if it was ever in danger to begin with.
What did the Bills in?
1. Offensive Turnovers. Teams that win the turnover battle typically come away with the victory when the clock hits zero and today was no different. The Bills turned the ball over three times in the first half (an interception by Kyle Orton and fumbles by both Orton and CJ Spiller) and failed to force any Patriots’ turnovers. The Patriots turned those turnovers into 13 points.
2. Defensive Impotence vs. the Pass. Brady had his best game of the season throwing for 361 yards on 27 of 37 passing and four touchdowns while averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt. His record is now 23-2 when facing Buffalo. The Bills were without starting safety Aaron Williams and they could have used his services.
Duke Williams started in his place and was called twice for defensive pass interference and later gave up a 43 yard touchdown pass to Brian Tyms (who?) to start the third quarter.
Duke Williams wasn’t the only member of the Bills’ secondary that struggled. Leodis McKelvin also gave up a 56 yard catch and run touchdown to Brandon LaFell to seal the Patriots’ win. In general the Bills’ defense gave up far too many long pass completions – an aspect of the Patriots’ game that had gone missing before the Bills helped them locate it today.
Brady consistently hit tight end Rob Gronkowski (who the Bills did manage to keep out of the end zone), LaFell, and Julian Edelman at will and faced little pressure when throwing.
3. Bills Run Game Non-Existent. The Bills rushing game failed to materialize for the second straight week. The Bills rushed for a mere 68 yards on 23 carries. For a unit that is supposed to be the strength of this team’s offense it has not looked the part. While Buffalo never led, the game didn’t dictate they move away from the rushing game until the fourth quarter – they simply never established it in the first place.
Some of that is on the offensive line and the play of guards Cyril Richardson and Erik Pears, both of whom have been manhandled on a weekly basis and rate out as below average guards. Orton was sacked five times – three by linebacker Rob Ninkovich alone – and Buffalo’s backs are finding little room to run. CJ Spiller – in a contract year amazingly enough – has been especially disappointing and is putting together the worst season of his career.
Spiller managed only 19 yards on six carries in this game and is averaging 1.7 yards per carry over the last two weeks.
4. Watkins Goes Missing Again. Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins once again was missing in action. Spending the majority of the game covered by Darrelle Revis this was to be somewhat expected but Watkins failed to record a catch until the second half, finishing with just 27 receiving yards on two receptions.
Even more worrisome was that Orton did not even look his way, targeting him only three times all game.
Instead, just as in years past with previous Bills’ quarterbacks, Orton leaned on tight end Scott Chandler who caught six balls for a career high 105 yards. In fact, five of Chandler’s receptions went for first downs and four of them were third down conversions.
Chandler is the first Bills’ tight end to have over 100 yards receiving since 1992.
But when the team’s most prolific pass catcher is a tight end (one not named Gronkowski or Graham) that said team barely resigned in the off-season then that tends to signal major issues with said team’s offensive play calling and execution.
The only good news for the Bills on the night was the fact that they shut down the Patriots’ run game, forcing them to the air (which didn’t work out so well for Buffalo). For the third straight week Buffalo held their opponents to less than 70 yards on the ground – the first time they had done so since 2000. They dared Brady to beat him (never a smart plan) and he did.
Going forward the Bills need to continue to generate pressure up front because its becoming increasingly clear that the back end of their defense can be a liability. They need to find some way to solidify their offensive line – mixing up the guard and tackle positions wouldn’t be out of the question as only center Eric Wood and left tackle Cordy Glenn should be untouchable – and return to the dynamic and reliable run game they employed last season.
Orton is little more than a game manager, and while better at reading and reacting to in game situations than EJ Manuel, cannot be depended on to lead large comebacks week in and week out.
Thus the run game has to be there and the defense cannot have an off game if this team is going to make a run at the playoffs this season.
If Bills’ fans want some cause for optimism they can focus on the fact that the team does not play a team with a winning record again until the end of November.
That is only good news if the Bills take advantage of it – unlike their performance this week with the AFC East lead on the line.