Buffalo 20 – New England 34
How did the Bills lose this game? Who had the largest impact? Here are my thoughts on Buffalo’s season finale.
Buffalo was looking to close out the season on a high note. They wanted to close out the season on a three game winning streak, continue to display the improvements their defense had made, and most importantly to Doug Marrone, finish the season with a winning record in the division. Unfortunately, what stood in the way of the team and its goals was the New England Patriots and a rain soaked Gillette Stadium. With nothing left to play for besides their personal goals, most thought the Bills would leave it all on the field, build on last week’s dominant performance and go into the off-season on a positive note. Sadly, this was not the case as New England handed the Bills yet another hard loss in New England. So what exactly went wrong?
The Run Defense: What happened? A week after allowing only 14 yards to the Miami Dolphins’ running backs, the Bills somehow allowed LeGarrette Blount to run for 189 yards on 24 carries. Blount had touchdown runs of 35 and 36 yards during the game. New England seemingly came into the game with one plan, and I’m not all that sure that the weather even played a factor in their decision. They decided that they were going to run the ball on the Bills no matter what. It was not only Blount that had a huge day, the Patriots totaled 267 rushing yards. Even second running back Stevan Ridley averaged 6.2 yards on his 12 carries. One of the worst storylines about New England’s huge rushing day is that most of the yards were on carries between the tackles, right at the teeth of the Bills defensive line. Mike Pettine had no answer for the inside hand offs that New England called early in the game, so the Patriots simply repeated them over and over, obtaining the same results.
Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to the poor run defense early in the game was the absence of Marcell Dareus. It was announced near the beginning of the game that Dareus would not be playing during the first half due to a violation of team rules. I was told that it was in fact the same violation that held him out of the first quarter last week, habitual lateness to meetings. Even when Dareus came back into the game, the Patriots continued to run the ball. Yes, it was for fewer yards than in the first half, but it still enough to run the clock, and put the game away. Clearly the loss of Jairus Byrd to an ankle injury did not help the situation, but this was an inexcusable performance for the Bills defense. What a difference a week makes.
The Bills on Offense: In Foxborough, Buffalo’s offensive struggles are usually just as great as their defensive struggles, regardless of how good or bad the New England defense may be. This game started a bit slowly for the Bills, a common theme throughout the season. Buffalo’s first drive resulted in a field goal, but they were held scoreless the rest of the half. Yes, the Bills were able to move the ball and actually pick up a couple of first downs, but the points didn’t follow.
On Sunday, the Bills leaned on their running game again to give backup quarterback Thad Lewis a chance, and once again they were successful in that regard. C.J. Spiller (19-105) and Fred Jackson (14-60) were solid contributors throughout the game, and their 165 combined yards were right near their season average. Jackson was a hammer as usual, taking the ball up the middle with authority and leveling defenders along the way. Spiller, after a few failed attempts to continually bounce runs to the outside, had his nicest run of the day, a 24 yarder on a cutback run up the middle.
What about Thad Lewis’s game? Well, Thad Lewis looked exactly the same as he has almost every time he has stepped onto the field. Tough, elusive in the pocket and able to make a few big plays. Lewis (16-29, 247, 1 TD) was able to do enough throughout the game for the Bills to get a win. He kept possession of the ball and completed five passes of more than 20 yards, including nice sideline passes to Robert Woods and T.J. Graham. What Lewis was unable to do however, was continually move the ball past the sticks on third down and extend drives. The Bills went a paltry 4-13 on 3rd down, which is not good enough to beat the Patriots under any circumstances.
The Bills’ special teams were atrocious. Late in the 3rd quarter, and early in the 4th quarter, the Bills kicked the ball to LeGarrette Blount. Blount, who had already been killing the Bills running the ball all day, decided he’d contribute in the return game as well. Blount’s returns went for 83 and 62 yards following Buffalo scores. Any momentum the Bills had quickly evaporated following the two kick returns. With the game on the line, and a comeback possibly in the making, the Bills kick coverage team disappeared. This has happened at inopportune times throughout the season and should not be tolerated. Many on Twitter were calling for Crossman’s job after the game, and I cannot say that I disagree.
I hope that fans do not confuse Thad Lewis’ performances this year with the performance you should expect from a starting quarterback. Thad was fun to watch at times and is a good option as a backup for next year based on how the team responds to him. However, he is not a starting quarterback. His numbers, while very similar to Manuel’s this season, have hit his ceiling. Manuel’s ceiling on the other hand, is much higher (we hope).