Road wins in the NFL are big. The Bills had a road win in their hands on Sunday, leading the Houston Texans by 3 with a couple of minutes left in the game.
The Bills let it get away. Good teams win games like that. The Bills aren’t good, not yet. They look like they could be good, but they aren’t.
Let’s state the obvious:
• Special teams killed the Bills on Sunday. Fumbled punt, blocked punt. Both led to points.
• Penalties killed the Bills on Sunday.
• Peterman killed the Bills on Sunday. He simply cannot – CANNOT – throw an interception at that place on the field with the score tied. The second interception wasn’t much better. He just doesn’t see the field well enough yet, and I don’t know when he’ll get enough playing time to learn to see it better. He looks like he needs to throw about 75 interceptions before he gets it. And since this is the last I’ll say about Peterman, his touchdown throw was spectacular.
• The Bills defense did enough to win the game. The pass rush was great.
On to the less obvious.
One pattern that’s emerged over the past year and a half is that the Bills are a second half team. Especially with a limited offense, McDermott plays a conservative game for 30 minutes. His objective is to stay within striking distance, because he expects his team to win the second half.
They did that Sunday. He needed his defense to get the stop at the end of the first half against the Texans, and they got it. Then the defense turned the ball over to start the second half, and the Bills were in business.
Of course, that pattern looks suspiciously like the style of play we saw when Dick Jauron coached the Bills: solid defense, stay close, run the clock, find a way to win (or lose) in the end. That style is great to get you to .500; unfortunately, it’s also great to keep you at .500.
There were signs of life on the offense. Kelvin Benjamin ran some nice routes and made several nice catches, including going high for Allen’s off-balance throw deep down the left sideline that was called back. Zay Jones looked like a real NFL receiver. The Bills ran another wideout screen, and they found Clay over the middle nicely. No one was mistaking the Bills passing game for the Chiefs or the Rams, but they made plays. The Bills need more of it.
LeSean McCoy is a player. I say it every week, because the guy comes to play every week.
Tre White also is a player, and I haven’t been saying that. Nobody throws at him. Hopkins’ touchdown was what everyone has come to expect from Hopkins – an outstanding football play by an outstanding player. White was right there; Hopkins just won that time. That will happen.
I think the Bills win the game, if Allen hadn’t been injured. (Not that it mattered, but wasn’t that roughing the passer? They have those rules to protect the passer, and then they don’t call it.) Why do I think the Bills would have won? One, because Allen understands ball security and won’t throw the INT at the end of the game. Two, because he would have completed the pass on the play after his injury. Three, because he’s a good QB. Yes, he made a couple of poor throws again on Sunday, gimme throws that he needs to complete. But I can live with that. I love his pocket awareness, his escapability. His running ability was on display again this week. His running is an important weapon.
Compare Allen’s scramble to the right and completion over the middle to someone – McCoy or Clay – with Watson’s interception to Poyer. More or less the same play, from the QB’s point of view. The rule for QBs is don’t throw late over the middle. Not because it doesn’t work, but because young QBs don’t see the field well enough and don’t see some defender lurking. Allen knew he had the throw and made it; Watson thought he had the throw, but almost from the moment he let it go you could see that Poyer could make a play. We’ve seen Allen make very few rookie mistakes like that.
The Bills have their quarterback.
JJ Watt is extraordinary. He made some plays on Sunday that were better than any play most guys make in a season. Amazing quickness, strength and awareness. And still, the Bills offensive line held up nicely, giving Allen time and giving McCoy room to run. Offensive lines are having trouble all over the league. I’ll say again what I’ve been saying all season – the Bills talent on the oline isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible. Coaching makes the difference. What else explains keeping Allen and Peterman upright against Watt and Clowney and Mercilus?
Meanwhile, Bills fans are the BEST! Talk about travelling well! Bills’ blue was all over the stadium on Sunday, and they were making noise. The spontaneous chants were coming from Bills fans, not Texans fans.
Bills blue was all over my hotel near the stadium.
At lunch on Saturday a guy walked into the place wearing a Bills cap and got a few friendly boos. I went over to talk to him. Guy lives in Brooklyn, NY, has season tickets and goes to all the away games!
Saturday night was the best. We went to Christians Tailgate, the Houston Bills Backer bar, and we were blown away. The place was packed. The block was closed off, and the street was FULL of Bills fans. There must have been 2000 people there, maybe 3,000. Everyone was having a good time. Just the noise was amazing! (Being an old geezer, it was too loud for me, I’m usually done after one drink, anyway, so we found a place around the corner to have a beer and a burger and went home. Can’t miss that beauty rest, you know.)
What now? I like this team. I like their intensity, their discipline. I liked it with Jauron’s teams, too. The Bills need to amp up the offense, and we saw a few signs of that Sunday.
I’m worried about Allen. The Bills need him on the field. Right elbow injuries are problematic for throwers. Assuming the Bills can get him back, I’m still expecting the Bills to be a pretty good team during the second half of the season.
The Colts are another winnable road game, so the Bills have a chance to redeem themselves. Time’s awastin.
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: Like many Bills fans, I also wondered why roughing the passer was not called when Josh Allen was injured. Pretty sure if that play happened to Tom Brady, there would have been flags all over the place. Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on social media, he’s a smart man.