A week after becoming just the fifth rookie NFL quarterback since 1960 to pull out a fourth-quarter victory in either his first or second game, EJ Manuel took several steps backward. He played like a rookie. A confused one.
Hounded by the exotic and relentless defensive pressure applied by Rex Ryan’s Jets, Manuel was sacked eight times (at least four of those takedowns were a result of his indecisiveness) and completed just 19 of 41 passes for 243 yards and one score. He had two opportunities in the fourth quarter to tie the game, but failed to mount scoring drives.
So, he wound up failing his first NFL road test by a 27-20 score at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon.
But to pin this loss solely on him would be wrong because the Bills were dreadful in many areas on this day.
After a dominating performance against the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers, the Bills failed to apply much pressure on Jets rookie signal-caller Geno Smith. Mario Williams, the NFL Defensive Player of the Week, went from 4.5 sacks vs. the Panthers to zero against the Jets. Buffalo yielded 513 yards, and it might have been worse had New York not committed a mind-boggling 20 penalties for 168 yards.
Smith gashed the Bills depleted secondary for 331 yards and two scores. Yes, Buffalo managed to pick him off twice, but for most of the day he had his way against a defensive backfield that was sorely missing cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, each of whom remain sidelined with injuries. Early in the first quarter, the Bills already thin secondary grew a little thinner when cornerback Leodis McKelvin went out for good with a hamstring injury. That forced the Bills to move safety Aaron Williams to corner opposite third-string corner Justin Rogers.
The Jets decided to pick on Rogers, who was repeatedly toasted, including on the decisive touchdown midway through the fourth quarter on a 69-yard heave from Smith to veteran Santonio Holmes. Holmes, who appears fully recovered from offseason foot surgery, caught five passes for 154 yards. Fellow wideout Stephen Hill also had some monster stats with three catches for 108 yards.
As if the aerial attack wasn’t bad enough, the Jets also destroyed the Bills on the ground. Bilal Powell accounted for 149 of New York’s 182 rushing yards.
The Jets defense also did a number on the Bills. Besides harassing Manuel, they totally bottled up running back C.J. Spiller. In his two against New York last season, Spiller averaged 152 yards from scrimmage. Sunday, he was limited to nine yards on 10 carries and one yard on one reception.
Sadly, for the Bills it doesn’t get any easier next week. The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens come to Orchard Park, and they appear to have regained their defensive swagger. After being embarrassed in the season opener by Peyton Manning, who tossed seven touchdown passes against them, Baltimore has gone two straight games without allowing a touchdown. Even without linebacker Ray Lewis, who retired after the Super Bowl, they remain a formidable defense, and quarterback Joe Flacco will be salivating when he sees the tapes of Bills secondary.
After the Ravens, they have a short week, with a visit to Cleveland for a Thursday night game against the Browns. Then, the Cincinnati Bengals come to the Ralph, followed by consecutive road games in Miami and New Orleans.
The Bills also have to be concerned with their injury situation. Sunday, Spiller left with a knee injury, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus departed with ankle and shoulder problems, McKelvin left for good with a strained hamstring and Alex Carrington was carted off with a leg injury.
Amazingly, this season, which seemed deceivingly promising after last week’s last-second victory, could unravel in a hurry.
OFFENSE: Manuel needs to work on his throwing mechanics. He misfired badly on several throws and has to learn that you can’t throw the ball a yard or two out-of-bounds if you want your receiver to make a play. The offensive line did not play well. Spiller’s performance was perplexing. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett did not have a good day calling plays for an offense that converted just 4-of-18 third downs. GRADE: C-minus
DEFENSE: Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had spent 11 years working for Rex Ryan and employs the same relentless, attacking style. But Ryan got the best of his pupil on this day. Bills got very little pressure on Smith, and that was disconcerting. Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso, continues to impress. He recorded another interception. GRADE: D
SPECIAL TEAMS: Dan Carpenter has been a great pickup in place of the injured Dustin Hopkins. He had three more fields goals – from 23, 43 and 26 yards. Grade: B-minus
OVERALL: I predicted this was going to be a transition season, and I’m sticking with that prognostication. This game was ugly in all three phases of the game. Manuel is going to have to work on a number of things, including his throwing mechanics. GRADE: D
Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s and covered them since 1985. He has written six books about the team’s history, including “My Life on a Special Team,” with Bills special teams great Steve Tasker that is available in bookstores and at amazon.com.