Photo: Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

CAPACCIO: Bills-Jaguars: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

The Bills' 2017 season ends in Jacksonville

Sal Capaccio
January 08, 2018 - 12:20 am

The Buffalo Bills' season came to a tough end in Jacksonville Sunday afternoon. That means this will be the last Arrow Up/Arrow Down column of the 2017 season. It’s been a fun ride, but with a bitter end. Obviously, we have to start with those pointing down after the loss.
 

ARROW DOWN
 

First and goal sequence

The Bills had a 2nd-and-2 at the Jaguars’ four-yard line with 3:42 remaining before halftime. They ran six plays from that point on without scoring a touchdown. The critical call was a 1st-and-goal from the Jags' one-yard line after a penalty gave them a free first down when they had lined up to kick a field goal. Tyrod Taylor had a run/pass option that he elected to throw to Kelvin Benjamin one-on-one against Jalen Ramsey. Benjamin was called for offensive pass interference and the Bills settled for a field goal after three more plays. It just wasn’t the right call at that time. The Bills are built to run, not throw. They had already run for 43 yards on that drive alone. They have LeSean McCoy in their backfield. They also have a 250-pound Mike Tolbert and a good blocking fullback. And Ramsey is one of the best cover corners in the league. And they needed one yard. Hand the ball off. The pass interference was actually more of the reason that the Bills couldn't get into the endzone in that sequence than the play call itself. If there's no interference and it's just and incomplete pass, it's 2nd-and-goal from the one. At least two more chances from there to score a touchdown. But that doesn't excuse the play call.
 

Blake Bortles’ running

The Bills allowed Bortles to run far too often for critical yards. He actually finished the game as the leading rusher for either team, collecting 88 yards on 10 carries. Several were designed runs, but mostly it was via scrambling. He even dropped a snap and took time to pick it up and then had enough room to convert a very critical 2nd-and-15 with less than five minutes left in the game. Bortles’ ability to run so well in this one also underscored the Bills' need for more athleticism at the linebacker spot, especially without Matt Milano, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. 
 

Dropped passes 

The Bills really hurt themselves with dropped passes. Multiple players were culpable. And they often came on critical plays that either took away what should have been a first down or would’ve put them in a much more advantageous position to get one when they really needed it. 
 

Third down offense

Only 2-for-7 (29%) in the second half converting third downs and only 7-for-18 (39%) overall. That just makes it far too tough to sustain drives and ultimately score. The Bills really needed a few more conversions in critical situations to keep the chains moving.
 

Passing game and scoring points

It’s been an Achilles heel all season and in the playoffs it was just too much to overcome. Tyrod Taylor completed only 17-of-37 (46%) passes for only 134 yards. He had a yards per-attempt average of only 3.2! There were several dropped passes. There was some miscommunication. A lot of different things went into it, but the Bills' passing game was once again anemic. Their longest pass play of the day covered only 15 yards. And scoring only three points in any game is just putrid. Especially the playoffs when your season is on the line. 
 

Colton Schmidt’s punt towards the end of the first half

Schmidt has a very good game booting the ball overall. But he tried to keep the ball to the sidelines to make sure the Jaguars didn’t get a shot at a return on a punt with 47-seconds left before halftime and the Bills’ offense at their own 19-yard line. It traveled only 34 yards and Jacksonville took over at their own 47-yard line. Five plays later, they kicked a field goal that tied it at the half. Schmidt had an active and good day (see below), but he probably wanted that one back. 
 

Allowing an 8:52 drive

On a day when the defense held up extremely well for three and a half quarters, it was the Jaguars’ second drive of the second half that did them in. Jacksonville began at their own 14-yard line, ran 15 plays, covered 86 yards, and finished it off with the only touchdown of the game, coming on a 4th-and-goal.  


ARROW UP
 

Job on Leonard Fournette

The Jaguars’ rookie running back had almost no impact in this game, outside of one 16-yard run. Other than that, one play he was held to 41 yards on 20 carries, finishing with 57 yards on 21 carries. The Bills came into the game determined to stop Fournette and did it, allowing him to average only 2.7 yards per-carry.
 

Pass defense

Blake Bortles may have been able to take off and run a few times, but when he actually tried to throw it there was nothing there for him. The Bills held Bortles and the Jaguars passing game to 75 total net yards! Bortles was 12-for-23 for 87 yards.
 

Third down defense

Jacksonville went the entire game converting only two third down attempts - out of 12! That’s only 17-percent. They were 1-for-6 in each half. 
 

P Colton Schmidt

Yep, I gave him an Arrow Down for one of his punts, but Schmidt also has seven others and five of them pinned the Jaguars inside their own 20-yard line. Another was a touchback, and he averaged 43.4 yards a punt, even including the 34-yarder. The Jaguars’ field position starts just after punts was: their own 9, 13, 11, 47, 14, 11, 20, 25.
 

LB Lorenzo Alexander

The veteran may have been the best defender on the field all day. He finished with 10 total tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hurries. He had some key stops late in the game, as well, that helped allow the Bills to get the ball back for their final desperate drives.
 

RB LeSean McCoy

So much for the bad ankle. Shady was a total gamer, gutting and grinding out 75 yards on the ground and another 44 as a receiver for a 119-yard day from scrimmage. McCoy finished with 25 touches, a full workload despite the injury last week that looked like he could keep him out of the game.
 

10 points allowed

A quick search at Pro Football Reference tells me the Bills became only the eighth team since the merger to lose a playoff game allowing 10 points or less. That’s not an Arrow Up stat as a team, but the defense gets an Arrow Up for their performance, especially on the scoreboard!
 

Bills fans

An amazing turnout in Jacksonville by Bills fans. Thousands of people decked out in red and blue filled EverBank Field. They were noticeable when the Jaguars had the ball, too. People were tailgating in the parking lots hours and hours before the game kicked off. They took over downtown Jacksonville the night before, then a couple hundred more (or so) greeted the team at the airport once again. I’ve always said there’s nothing like this city when the Bills are in the playoffs. Fans proved that this whole week. They were amazing.
 

THE BIG PICTURE
 

There will be plenty written and said about the big picture of the season as a whole in the coming days and weeks, so I’ll just keep this one to this game.

This result was what I had referred to as a worst-case scenario for the Bills. As much as so many fans and media said it didn’t really matter if they won or lost because they weren’t expected to be there and were playing with house money, I said that if they lost a winnable game that would negate a lot of those feelings and be frustrating. That's exactly what happened. The Bills had many, many opportunities to be the victors in this one and be preparing to head to New England to play the Patriots. But instead, they’re headed home for another offseason. The two goal line sequences - one on offense and one on defense - ultimately determined this game. The Jaguars scored a touchdown on their 4th-and-goal. The Bills didn’t get a touchdown after having a first down at the one-yard line.

But the bottom line is you just can’t expect to win any football games, preseason, regular season, or playoffs, by scoring three points. Three. The Bills certainly had stretches of bad defense this year that cost them. But, for the most part, their offense was the bigger issue all year long and wound up being their Achilles heel in the season finale. Of course, the Jaguars have a very talented, fast defense. Give them a lot of credit. But this is the NFL. Every team has good players and you have to find a way to get the ball in the endzone. Three points is just unacceptable. And it was the third time this season, more than any other team, counting both the regular season and playoffs.  

There were just too many mistakes made in this game by the Bills, including both players and coaches, to come away feeling anything but frustrated that they let one get away from them. As Kyle Williams, Eric Wood, and several others know all too well, you can never take for granted being in this spot again. You can’t count on it. That’s why when you are there and have a game like this that was there to take, it just makes it that much tougher to swallow.

All that said, it was a fun ride. An unexpected ride. And even though Sunday was the end, if the Bills take a good look at why they struggled the way they did (which I’m sure they will), and make moves this offseason to correct those issues, and get better in those areas, it might very well really be just the beginning. Let’s hope.
 

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