ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — I have seen this game before on more the one occasion patrolling a sideline for New England v. Buffalo.
The Patriots leading the Bills and in such control that the only team Bill Belichick is worried about beating him is his own. Even if that means playing so conservatively it’s almost like he’s coaching left-handed. There is zero fear of Buffalo coming back to win.
Monday night felt like a loss straight out of the Drought.
Don’t get me wrong. I won’t, in a million years, compare this Bills squad to some of the terrible ones that amassed those 17 playoff-less seasons. On this day however, mistakes were made at the worst possible time. The quarterback was left despondent trying to tell everyone things would be okay while Belichick waltzed into his locker room with a laugh and a W. (This part is actually literally true. He happened to walk by me on the field after the game sharing a hearty laugh with an assistant). It’s all too familiar.
To be fair, a large part of this game was a joke thanks to Mother Nature. The wind was as advertised rendering passing more hope than plan. A game of this magnitude, on national TV in prime time, deserved a better shake from Western NY weather. And if you want to stick this among the torches and pitchforks from those demanding a dome, I won’t get in the way.
I was still very impressed with Josh Allen. And even Brian Daboll. They depended on the pass and the Bills still found a way to move the ball with success, considering the situation. Allen mostly stuck with a low fastball. It was smart and it worked. I think his fourth quarter success–along with the winds dying down a bit–were the only things that worried Belichick. I think it’s a big reason why he finally allowed the Pats offense to come out of its run only shell for a couple fourth quarter plays.
Even if the Bills were not physically tough (we’ll get to that more in a second), I was impressed by how mentally tough they were. Allen fought tooth and nail making play after play. The defense had a quality goalline stand opening the fourth quarter and kept the game well within one score.
The conditions were adverse. The opponent was nasty and clever. The Bills still hung in right to the very end.
All that cannot excuse the continuing issues on the line of scrimmage exposed, once again, by the Patriots. Buffalo can’t run the ball (60 yards on 19 carries by the three running backs) and they can’t stop the run (222 yards on 46 carries). Not even with Spencer Brown and Star Lotulelei back in the lineup. You can almost picture Morgan Freeman parodying his famous Shawshank Redemption line to describe the Bills. “Physical? That’s just a made up word”.
There were other issues for sure. The offense repeatedly left points on the table and the mistakes in the red zone were agonizing. Dawson Knox missed catches he should/needs to make. His false start was probably the play that actually ended the game. Allen’s only misstep was tangling with Tommy Sweeney’s feet on second and goal to snuff out Buffalo’s second to last possession. The only Buffalo turnover was an unforced error on an Allen to Matt Brieda handoff.
The headline is still going to be the run defense. Not because it was particularly terrible. Throw out the long Damien Harris run (if only the Bills could) and Buffalo allowed just 3.5 yards per carry on 45 carries. That’s pretty solid work.
It was still curious how McDermott and the Bills defenders handled the run D situation postgame. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde took serious umbrage to being asked whether losing a game where the opponent passed the ball only three times was embarrassing. Both safeties quickly reminded the press audience that the Bills allowed only 14 points and they got some key second half stops. Both are indisputable fact.
McDermott lamented over and over that the Bills average drive start was the 40 yard line. Going 1-4 in the red zone was another common refrain. Again, both are without argument.
All of those things would have been reasonable discussion points had the game been played on a football field. That’s not where this game was played. This game was played next to a giant jet engine. Which never dropped below full throttle until the fourth quarter.
If we’re going to context the bleep out of Buffalo’s run D in their defense excusing the big numbers as a one play issue, let’s do it both ways.
Fourteen points allowed isn’t a bad day at the office for the defense, but there isn’t an offense in the league that would have been expected to score 20 in Monday night’s conditions. Except maybe Indianapolis. Tell most defensive coordinators that the weather would almost remove the deep pass as an option and I wonder how many would be satisfied with giving up 14. It’s not as if New England even pretended they were going to throw much.
The Patriots defense had to contend with a Buffalo offense that not only tried to pass, but actually did it with some success. New England still only conceded ten points on the road and seven of those came on a gift punt return muff.
This is the same group of Buffalo defensive players that, after a win where they allowed only three or six or ten points, will lament not forcing more turnovers or scoring touchdowns themselves. It’s a commendable, never satisfied approach following wins that peculiarly went out the window following this loss. The Bills did acknowledge they can get better, but Hyde also said he doesn’t think run stopping is an issue.
Buffalo, of course, dominated the Jets, Jags, Dolphins and Saints third string backs. None of which the Bills will see in the playoffs. The Titans, Colts and Patriots piled up 632 yards in three games against Buffalo. Those backs will be coming to an AFC playoff game near you. Maybe in January, the NFL won’t count each team’s “one big run”.
Allen said afterward that “everything is still in front of us”. He’s right about that. If Buffalo wins next week in Tampa, the narrative will right turn in a hurry. Run the table and Buffalo still takes the division title with a very good look at the one seed. All regular season goals are still within reach.
There’s even mathematic reason for optimism. The seven Buffalo wins are by at least two touchdowns while four of five losses have come by less than one score. The analytics guys would tell you that 0-4 in one score games is more unlucky then unsuccessful. Though outside the game in Nashville, it’s hard to look at any of the Bills five losses and point to a litany of misfortune that caused it.
All of the recent losses have a few things in common. The Bills were pushed around at the point of attack. They were outcoached. They found a way to lose. The getting pushed around part doesn’t seem to be a problem being solved any time soon.
This is not a Drought era team. The quarterback alone is way too talented and there’s plenty more talent and experience beyond that. However, this Bills team is in danger of their season ending exactly the same way all 17 did during the Drought. Much earlier than expected.