A strange thing happened on Sunday, moments after Rian Lindell’s field goal gave the Bills an overtime victory against the Arizona Cardinals. I was angry with the Bills. I don’t ever recall feeling that way after a win. I’ve been there many times after a loss but never after a win.
For the first time in his tenure as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, Chan Gailey had drawn my ire. I won’t leave out Ryan Fitzpatrick either, who remains consistently inconsistent when it comes to throwing the football.
There were too many times where Gailey’s play calling left me scratching my head and some of it may have been influenced by Fitzpatrick’s struggles.
Approaching the end of the first half, the Bills got the ball at their own 20 yard line with just 54 seconds left and no timeouts. Gailey called three short pass plays which gained 8, 4 and 7 yards. When Fitzpatrick spiked the ball after the third completion, the Bills had only moved to their own 39 yard line and there were just 11 seconds left in the half. Fitzpatrick was sacked(on a 3 man rush) on the next play and the second quarter came to an end.
Now let’s move on to the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 16 thanks to Jay Feely’s career best 61 yard field goal, the Bills have the ball at their own 20 with 1:09 remaining. Fitzpatrick is sacked on first down putting the Bills in a 2nd and 16 hole and Gailey plays it safe the next two plays with Fred Jackson running up the middle for a total of nine yards.
The problem I have is that Arizona had their full complement of time outs when the series began so they stopped the clock after each Bills play. That three and out took a grand total of 19 seconds off the clock, leaving the Cards plenty of time to get downfield and give Feely a chance to win the game with a 38 yard field goal attempt.
Next stop is overtime. The Bills get the ball and get a big break on a pass interference call on the Cards which allows the drive to continue. A 17 yard run by C.J. Spiller gives Buffalo a first down at the Arizona 35 yard line. Gailey then proceeds to call three pass plays for a quarterback who is 25th in completion percentage and whose 56% completion rate in this game was lower than his season average which is 58%.
A safety blitz throws off the play on first down and a T.J Graham drop kills second down. On third and ten, Fitzpatrick has a wide open Fred Jackson at the Arizona 30 yard line with plenty of room to run after the catch. It is an easy first down and at the very least, would give Lindell a very makeable field goal attempt. But Fitzpatrick made a terrible throw and missed Jackson, badly.
Gailey decided to punt at which point I let loose with a stream of obscenities. I know the new overtime rules figured into the decision and Gailey felt he could take advantage of a rusty John Skelton who was now quarterbacking the Cards but to me that was coaching not to lose instead of coaching to win.
Even if Lindell makes it, Arizona still gets the ball with a chance to tie the game and extend overtime or win it outright but Gailey had a chance to put his team in front and instead gave the ball back to Arizona and gave them a chance to win.
I saved the best one for last. The Brad Smith pass out of the wildcat. To me this is another example of an NFL coach outsmarting himself. They probably felt the Cards were not expecting that and why would they given the fact that Smith hasn’t thrown a pass all season. In fact, he’d only thrown one pass as a Bill(it was picked off).
Your team is leading 16-13 in a game it really needs, so they can stop a serious amount of bleeding. You are moving the ball(from your 41 yard line to the 36 of the Cards) and there’s only four minutes left in the game. If there was a moment for a conservative play call, that would have been it but Gailey opts to have a guy who hasn’t thrown a pass all season put it in the air? And a deep ball too?
One quick point on the decision not to have Lindell try the 53 yard field goal. It got me thinking, maybe the Bills think Lindell can’t hit it from that distance although Gailey told us on Monday that Lindell hit one from 50 in warm ups. Gailey said he’s not a big fan of 50+ yard field goal attempts.
Is it because he doesn’t like it or because Lindell can’t hit it? In 2010(Gailey’s first season as Bills coach), Lindell tried five field goal attempts of 50+ yards but hit only two. Last year there were no attempts from that range and there have been none this season as well.
It wouldn’t be a Monday recap without documenting a handful of throws to open receivers that were missed by Fitzpatrick. I already made reference to the worst one, in terms of when it happened and the potential effect on the outcome of the game, when he missed Jackson on a short pass in overtime.
In the first quarter, Fitzpatrick threw behind Stevie Johnson on a slant. In the second quarter, again Johnson was open but Fitzpatrick’s pass sailed over his head. On the very next play, Fitzpatrick once again threw behind his number one target.
In the third quarter, he moved around the pocket to avoid the rush and saw an open Scott Chandler but the pass went down towards Chandler’s feet.
Fitzpatrick is now making me think of his two predecessors at the position. He has the inaccuracy of J.P. Losman and the inability to throw downfield as demonstrated by Trent Edwards.
The good news is the Bills did win the football game but there’s a big picture here and this was a day where I lost faith in the Head Coach and was further convinced Fitzpatrick’s days should be numbered, as in the end of the season should be the end of his Bills career.