The Bills stumbled to another loss in the first home game of their 2018 campaign. It wasn’t as ugly as the loss to the Ravens a week ago, but it wasn’t a lot better, either. The game wasn’t as close as the 31-20 score might suggest.
It was an odd day at New Era Field, not the usual home opener. The excitement of the draft had ebbed by the start of training camp, and preseason games had left the fans scratching their heads. The blow out loss at Baltimore crushed their spirit. Sunday at New Era, there was very little of the typical opening day excitement. There was hope – there’s always hope – but no excitement. And it was hot, so the fans had wilted before the game began.
Still, the fans made noise, in the beginning. The defense responded with a three and out on the Chargers’ opening drive, but after the Bills’ offense went three and out themselves, it began to look like Baltimore all over again. Rivers was ‘All-World’, and it looked like the Bills defense was an open book to him. He had no pressure, no trouble finding open receivers, and no trouble hitting them. It wasn’t long before the fans got quiet.
It was somber where I sit. For the past six years, I’ve sat behind a family with four tickets. Opening day always was the father and his three fifty-something sons. Dad went to his first Bills game in 1960 and bought these season tickets in 1985. Families like those can be found all over the stadium. Sunday, only one of the sons and his son were there; Dad had died in June, 82 years old and 58 years a Bills fan. It was a sad day in our section, and the Bills did little to change the mood.
The Bills woke up a bit in the second quarter, but their general futility and the heat drove many fans out of the stadium at half-time. The Bills actually looked competitive in the third quarter. They had some success on offense and, mercifully, on defense. The score, if not the game, approached respectability, but fans continued to leave. A skeleton crew was left to make noise in the fourth quarter as the Bills mustered a last-ditch effort to get back into the game.
The fans wore the usual collection of vintage jerseys – Kelly, Smith, Reed, Fitzpatrick – with several 13s on display to honor Stevie’s return to New Era to wave the flag as the Bills took the field. A few Edmunds 49 jerseys, and more than a few Josh Allen 17s.
The rookies didn’t disappoint – they looked like rookies.
Allen is, without question, the best QB the Bills have. He showed that. His throws are a thing of beauty – powerful sometimes, nice touch on swing passes, accurate throws off balance or on the run. The guy is a great, great thrower.
Turns out he’s also an excellent runner, and the Bills decided to put the League on notice. The Bills ran the read option several times, and Allen wasn’t afraid to keep it. He’s not going to earn a living toting the pigskin, but he’s going to keep defenses honest.
And he can scramble. He can break tackles in the backfield, he can move around. He can stay upright with a tackler on him.
And still, Allen plays like a rookie. He holds the ball too long. He seems to lose concentration on some of his passes. He throws an occasional fast ball when a little more air would help.
Oddly, I think his two interceptions were positive plays. The first was a remarkable effort on Allen’s part to stay upright, looking downfield with a tackler hanging on him. He waited, waited and finally saw the window he thought he could hit. Turns out he couldn’t, but he’ll learn. Great play. The comparisons to Roethlisberger are easy to see.
The second INT happened in that part of the game where the QB needs to take chances to get his team back in it. Allen saw the opportunity and took the chance. He will learn from that throw, too. He needs to take those chances to learn how to execute under game pressure.
18 for 33 and 245 yards with a TD and two okay INTs was a good outing for a rookie’s first start in the NFL. Five sacks is not good. A few sacks weren’t on him, but a couple should have been avoided. One was the corner blitz that he should have seen and didn’t.
The offensive line, of course, did Allen few favors. And Daboll’s passing schemes are creating few open targets for Allen.
Edmunds continued to mix solid plays with late reads and misreads, getting caught in the wash on some running plays, being left flat-footed on many passing plays. He’s on the field for virtually every play, and he should be learning, play after play. In the meantime, QBs like Rivers will pick on him regularly.
Most troubling about the Bills is their general disarray. Marcus Murphy made key mistakes in the punting game, refusing to fair catch one ball, and lining up what looked like 60 yards from the line of scrimmage on another. He ran up 15 yards and still only could short-hop the catch.
Critical penalties, again.
McDermott taking over defensive play calling. That shouldn’t be necessary; he and Frazier should be on the same page by now.
Vontae Davis? His disappearing act begs the question: Do Beane and McDermott actually know what they’re doing? They preach character and they couldn’t figure out Davis had nothing left in the tank?
Most courageous play of the game? Taiwan Jones, hands down. His recovery of Murphy’s fumble or muff or whatever that was, and his absolute refusal to go down as he tried to get the ball out of the end zone was awesome. However, maybe I don’t know the rules, and maybe Jones didn’t either, because apparently there was no need to run the ball out, as the officials ruled that the play was a touchback.
Runner up? McCoy getting back on the field to see if he could go. Bills desperately need McCoy on the field. The guy is special, and a gamer, and Allen needs the help.
If McDermott’s the coach his clippings say he is, this team will continue to improve and begin winning some games. He has the quarterback to do it, but a lot of questions remain.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: Mark Korber doesn’t mince words and we like it that way. You can’t find Mark on social media, but you’ll find him here when he feels he has something to write about. Thanks to Mark for his terrific contributions to our blog.