How did the Bills lose this game? Who had the largest impact? Here are my thoughts.
Much like last week, the script for this Bills game was written long before it happened, but this time, unfortunately, the outcome was what many had predicted. The Bills were expected by most to lose this game, and if you put stock in the Vegas betting lines, they were expected to lose by quite a bit; the closing line was eleven points. Early in the game however, as in Miami, the Bills again were presented with, or created for themselves depending how you look at it, an opportunity to dictate a very different outcome. While no one will deny that the Saints offense is one of the most dynamic in the league over the past 10 years, save for last year, the Bills seemed to catch New Orleans on a post-bye week low in the first quarter. While games are not won and lost in the first quarter, this was the point at which the Bills had their best opportunity to make an impact, and they were unable to capitalize.
So what and who exactly had the largest impact on this game?
Untimely Yellow Flags: I will never be one to claim that a game was a home-job, or that the referees had the ultimate impact on the outcome, and today is no different. The penalties that killed the Bills in this game were not all bad calls, and that was obvious to many fans; most were unforced errors on the part of the players. These penalties led to the extension of two New Orleans second half drives and took a beautiful touchdown pass to T.J. Graham off of the board. Perhaps the most critical penalties on defense occurred in the second quarter. New Orleans thus far had only been able to score 14 points on the Bills aggressive defense, but with a little over two minutes remaining Nickell Robey was called for illegal contact on a ball that sailed over Kenny Stills head. This extended the drive, but two plays later Mario Williams was held and still found his way into the backfield forcing Brees to throw the ball into tight coverage where Leodis McKelvin came down with the interception. This pick however was also erased by a penalty as Mario Williams got his fingers inside of Drew Brees’ facemask, returning the ball to New Orleans at the Bills 15 yard line. Two plays later it was Brees to a still-limited Jimmy Graham for a touchdown, seemingly cementing momentum in the Saints favor.
Another penalty led directly to another Jimmy Graham touchdown in the third quarter with the Bills down 21-10 and the Saints driving. Facing a third and 6 from the Bills 35 yard line, a Drew Brees pass fell out of the reach of his intended receiver. However Jerry Hughes was called for defensive holding away from the play, giving New Orleans a first down, and two plays later Brees was able to find Jimmy Graham once again in the end zone. These plays, although not necessarily the reason the Bills lost the game, were most certainly pivotal.
Ball Security: This is not bash Thad Lewis time, nor should it be. In his third start of the season Lewis went 22 for 39 with 234 yards a touchdown and one interception. Against a top ten pass defense not much more should have been expected, but those numbers are highlighted even further due to the fact that the Bills running game was once again limited to under 100 yards. The big negative for Thad Lewis today was in his handling of the football when it was still in his hands. His three fumbles, two of which were lost were critical in determining the outcome of this game.
On the Bright Side: Despite the outcome there are positives that can be taken from this game. My favorite things about Doug Marrone thus far are his ability to prepare a team, and his slogan which reads “do not confuse effort with results.” While this game should not merely be written off as another moral victory, do we not all feel that it was much closer than the final score read? With a hobbled Stevie Johnson, an inactive CJ Spiller, and Thad Lewis at quarterback, the Bills still found a way to keep themselves in the game for a majority of the time. Kyle Williams and Mario Williams also turned in very strong performances and the Bills held the New Orleans running game to only 77 total yards. If the Bills turn in a similar performance next week at home against Kansas City, minus the tough penalties and the fumbles lost, I will bet they will come out with a win.