The Buffalo Bills went in to Lucas Oil Stadium in desperate need of a victory to get them back in the mix for the postseason. Instead, they come away limping back to Orchard Park with a 4-7 record and their hopes for the playoffs all but over.
Not only that, but now one of the most significant players is openly criticizing certain decisions in play-calling.
Like I said, we're in for a doozy of a week. But before we get there, let's put a pretty little bow on that listless offensive performance. Here are some of my thoughts from the Bills' 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:
- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson is a very emotional player, perhaps more so than any of his teammates. He wears them on his sleeve and lets his feelings be heard, regardless if it's the right or wrong thing to do. Which is why, when Stevie Johnson essentially called out head coach Chan Gailey after the game, it really speaks volumes as to where players' heads may be at in terms of their trust in the man calling the shots. Stevie Johnson opened up on the very first question, saying he feels like the offense would be better suited with Ryan Fitzpatrick being allowed to call audibles at the line of scrimmage. He commented that it's something they did the past couple of seasons, but for some reason this year it's a different ball game. He didn't single out Gailey by name, but he said whoever in the booth or on the sidelines that calls the plays aren't on the field, giving him the logic that Fitzpatrick should be the guy calling the shots. Johnson later revealed that his long reception was on a check from Fitzpatrick before the snap. Will it go over well in the head coach's office? My guess is probably not. But might it be the type of shakedown this Bills offense needs? Only time will tell. One more time, it's going to be an interesting week at One Bills Drive.
- Numerous times throughout that contest the Bills left me baffled by some of their play-calls in late down situations. It's amazing how this once high-flying, chance-taking, wing-it-around offense is now so tightly wound that they're afraid to put their team in a negative situation. You could make the argument that with new lofty expectations, perhaps some of that freedom goes to the wayside. However, I think I speak for most when I say that that shouldn't make a lick of a difference. Here are certain play calls from Chan Gailey that bugged me: 1) 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter, the Bills run a draw with Fred Jackson. A couple of things I take issue with there are not having it be a draw to C.J. Spiller, who is much more effective in space (as he proved during the game), as well as the fact that they're calling a draw play when it's not 3rd-and-forever. 3rd-and-10 is still manageable in my eyes. Maybe not so much anymore to the Bills. 2) Not going for it on 4th-and-15 in the first half on the Colts' 34. Heck, at the very least kick a field goal. They were indoors and it was a 51-yard try. Anything would have been better than the 23-net yards they pushed Indianapolis back with the decision to punt. 3) Punting the ball with 3:32 remaining only 51 yards away from the Colts' end zone. Sure, it was a 4th-and-8. But that's a spot the Bills, in recent weeks, have converted on. They had a full stable of timeouts, but they had the game in their hands on offense. Go down swinging rather than not even getting up to the plate. The Bills never got the ball back, and to 4-7 they go.
- Oh, one more? How about C.J. Spiller standing over on the sidelines for most of the Bills' final offensive possession. Yeah, about that.
- The defense yet again had a solid showing like they have each of the past four games. Yes, I count the Patriots' game in that mix because, well, the Bills have allowed less points to the Patriots than any of their last four opponents. However, the one glaring weakness that popped up throughout the game for the Bills was getting off the field on 3rd downs. The Colts converted 50-percent of their opportunities and stayed on the field for long, time-sucking drives that left the team (and crowd for that matter) void of any energy.
- Once again, C.J. Spiller makes the case that he should be one of the best players in the NFL. But for some reason, the statistics are lessened because of him being held locked up in a box by his coaches. Spiller eclipsed 100-yards on the ground and broke a pair of twenty-plus runs, but probably should have had an even bigger game than that. Chan Gailey said Spiller would get the majority of running back touches, to which he did… 15 to Fred Jackson's seven. That is not enough, especially considering they are the two most consistent playmakers your offense has to offer. Perplexing to say the least.
- The optimist will point out Ryan Fitzpatrick has limited his turnovers over the past four weeks. The pessimist will tell you that's because the Bills are limiting what he's allowed to do with the plays that are called. Wherever you land, one thing that can't be ignored is how poor a read his interception was late in the game against the Colts. Tom Zbikowski, not exactly a highly regarded coverage safety, simply laid in waiting and stepped right in front of the throw. If it weren't for Stevie Johnson bailing Fitzpatrick out and stripping Zbikowski of the ball to maintain Buffalo's possession and chances of winning, another late interception may have been the story of this game.
- Speaking of Stevie Johnson, he got his first 100-yard receiving game since…. December 11, 2011. To Fitzpatrick's credit, he made the check at the line to get Johnson 63 of his 106 yards on one play. But it was Johnson converting on his chances when the ball was within reach that helped him to one of his biggest outings for the Bills in the last calendar year.
- After a slow start, Mario Williams is suddenly on pace for 12.5 sacks this season. Like the Bills defense in its entirety, he's coming around. A three-sack performance certainly helps those efforts. He had a winnable matchup against some lower-tier tackles, and was able to come away with big-time statistical production.
- I'm a fairly diplomatic and logical thinker most of the time. However, I can't figure out how the Colts were able to snap the ball at the end of the first half after their receiver just fumbled at the one-yard line. It was as clear as day. Reggie Wayne's momentum had not been stopped, and during his fight for the end zone Jairus Byrd stripped him clean and plopped on to the football. To make matters worse, it's not as though the replay officials had a lack of time with Indianapolis rushing to the line to snap it. The Colts called a timeout, giving the referees an additional 30 seconds to get under the hood and review that play. Somehow that one fell between the cracks. That's an inexcusable execution by the officiating staff that is normally trigger-happy when it comes to reviews. A terrible job in which the Bills deserved to be ticked off.
- I do have a major question in regards to everything that happened ahead of that ball being stripped at the goal line. For instance, what the heck was Bryan Scott doing covering Reggie Wayne over the middle of the field? I'll hang up and listen.
- As an aside to the debacle at the end of the first half, I'm in the minority with my next opinion. However, I thought the referees got the call right on the spike play. From my view on the sidelines, I saw the ball hit the turf and immediately darted my eyes up to the scoreboard, and there it still read "0:01" before it ticked off after the play had been whistled dead. The Wayne non-fumble fumble was inexcusable, but the refs got that one right.
- It had been over two months since the Bills last got an interception from a cornerback on their roster. The last, and only, of the season before Sunday? Leodis McKelvin against Cleveland when the Browns were in total desperation mode. Justin Rogers ended the drought after losing Reggie Wayne over the middle of the field. As luck would have it for him, Andrew Luck threw it behind Reggie Wayne, deflecting off his hand and in to the awaiting arms of Rogers. Only two interceptions by cornerbacks after 11 games. Baby steps, I guess.
Bills' MVP: HB C.J. Spiller. 14 carries for 107 yards. Not nearly enough touches, however.
Bills' LVP: HC Chan Gailey, for offensive play-calling. (See what I did there?)
Up Next: Sunday, December 2 vs. Jacksonville at Ralph Wilson Stadium
- At 4-7, the Bills are all but out of the playoff hunt in the AFC. Barring an unforeseen five-game "heater" (as Stevie Johnson calls it) and a lot of other teams ahead of them losing, this season is pretty much in the books. And for the 13th straight season, the Bills will likely be left on the outside looking in on the playoffs. Somehow, the defense is progressing and the offense is regressing. Whichever area of the Bills seems to be the weak link, the song remains the same: it's not good enough. The Bills will likely have the same view as all of us when the postseason kicks off in January, watching consistent teams that earned the right to be there. Against a beatable opponent that was begging to be taken out, the Bills and their coaching staff instead took themselves out of the game with poor decision making. Game over. Season likely over. And oh, what could have been with the schedule in front of them.