Shortly after the Bills 37-31 loss at New England on Sunday, Head Coach Chan Gailey was asked for his opinion on the play of the defense, which had just finished giving up more than 30 points to an opponent for the 5th time this season.
Gailey answered by saying “we can’t turn it over.” He didn’t mean the defense couldn’t force a turnover(which it did not), he meant the offense can’t turn the ball over as they did on three drives including the loss sealing interception on the Bills final possession.
Now, Gailey is correct with his answer as the three turnovers came back to haunt the Bills. The first, a Ryan Fitzpatrick fumble, came in the first quarter and gave the Patriots a drive start at the Bills 13 yard line. Tom Brady turned that gift into a touchdown.
The second came in the fourth quarter and a Fred Jackson fumble at the Patriots one yard line prevented the Bills from cutting into a 34-24 deficit.
The third turnover which wrapped up the Bills 12th straight loss in Foxborough, came in the end zone when rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham ran the wrong route and Fitzpatrick’s pass wound up in the hands of New England safety Devin McCourty.
So while Gailey makes a valid point about turnovers, he completely absolved the defense and sounded like a man who is trying to protect Dave Wannstedt and to keep from going 0-2 on his defensive coordinators.
The Bills did not give up a 100 yard rusher. Actually they did but Stevan Ridley lost 2 yards on his final carry so he ended up with 98 yards for the game.
The defense did not give up a 100 yard receiver and did a nice job on freakish tight end Rob Gronkowski. He recorded his 9th TD catch in 6 career games against the Bills but was held to 3 catches for 31 yards, thus ending his streak of 100 yard games against Buffalo at 3.
But the defense did not take the ball away at all. The closest they came were missed opportunities by Bryan Scott and Leodis Mckelvin on the same drive in the first quarter. Scott couldn’t hang on to what looked like an easy pick after Marcell Dareus deflected a Brady pass up into the air. Mckelvin appeared to have his 2nd interception of the season after a pass bounced off Deion Branch and into his hands but Mckelvin lost the grasp although its possible Branch stripped it out.
The defense once again failed miserably on third down, allowing New England to convert 7 of 12 and they weren’t cheap ones. The Pats succeeded on third and five(twice), third and six, third and seven and a third and ten(that came on a penalty).
They quite simply couldn’t get enough stops. New England had 12 possessions in the game but you can throw out their final one since they knelt down with the game in hand. You can also toss out the drive right before halftime when the Pats went conservative, trying two plays and then letting the clock run out.
With the remaining nine drives, the Bills gave up four touchdowns and three field goals. They forced a punt just twice.
For the record, in three division games this season(all losses), Buffalo has now been torched for 137 points.
Despite the three giveaways, Fitzpatrick and the offense had a very productive day, rolling up 481 yards, a franchise record 35 first downs and holding on to the ball for just under 34 minutes.
But once again the Bills under utilized perhaps their best offensive weapon. C.J Spiller had just 9 carries which he turned into 70 yards(a 7.7 yards per carry average) and he caught 4 balls for 61 yards. That’s 13 total touches out of 71 offensive snaps for the Bills.
Fred Jackson had a strong game as well with 16 carries for 80 yards and 4 catches for 35 yards. He did fumble twice but I’m willing to give him a break on the second one since it appeared he was knocked out cold by a Brandon Spikes elbow to his head. Jackson averaged 5.7 yards per touch but Spiller averaged 10 yards.
Spiller is a more dynamic player and has the ability to make bigger plays. He has to have the ball in his hands more often, especially in the running game.
Add this to the list of NFL rules I don’t like. Teams are charged a time out when a player is injured inside the final two minutes. I know its in the book to prevent players from faking injuries to stop the clock but can’t there be a little common sense or judgement by the officials? I don’t think Donald Jones and Jackson were faking injuries on that final drive and having no time outs left certainly influenced Gailey’s play calling.
Of course the Bills would have had one time out remaining if they hadn’t blown their first one of the second half when the play clock was nearing zero following a Spiller run to the New England five yard line earlier in the fourth quarter.
Penalties, penalties,penalties. Way too many of them for the Bills. 14 to be exact for 148 yards. There were some dubious holding calls on Bills offensive linemen and some pass interference calls that were questionable. One of those was called on Stephon Gilmore in the end zone when Brady’s pass came down somewhere in New Hampshire. What happened to the ball was uncatchable?
The sad thing is that right before Fitzpatrick threw the pick, I actually believed, for the first time all day, the Bills were going to win. I flashed back to last year’s victory over New England and was convinced I was about to feel the joy of watching them knock off the Pats at the end of the game again.
Knowing Miami was thrashed at home by Tennessee, I figured the Bills would beat the Dolphins on Thursday night to improve to 5-5, leading to meaningful games in December. Then it all came crashing down as the Bills fell to 4-23 in AFC East games since 2008.
If you still want to believe they can make a run for a post season spot, Buffalo would probably need to go 6-1 the rest of the way and a perfect 5-0 in their AFC games. The Bills are 2-5 in conference games which is one of the key tiebreakers.