Tampa, FL (WGR 550) -- With their season waning and a need for every one of their remaining games to be a victory, the Buffalo Bills responded with their worst performance of 2013.
Now that's saying something considering the debacle in Pittsburgh at the end of November, but the Tampa Bay outing let the one in Pennsylvania rest easy. It went down as the most haphazard, numbing loss of the Bills in the calendar year.
Just as it happened after their heartbreaking defeat dealt to them by the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo couldn't escape the lingering effect from their gut-wrenching demise in Toronto to Atlanta.
They came out with a lethargic energy and failed themselves from the first play to the last. Sometimes there is some good with the bad, but this was an overwhelming and colossal failing effort on the Bills part. To their credit, the Bills owned it from the head coach on down.
As the team is left to their thoughts of what went wrong, let's collect ours in the Bills most recent dud.
Where's the mental toughness?
- That's the biggest takeaway from this game. In his post-game press conference, head coach Doug Marrone brought up the loss to Kansas City and how his team failed to respond to it in Pittsburgh, and then likened it to what happened on Sunday in Tampa Bay following last weekend's overtime loss to Atlanta. When a game is tight and the Bills are in it from the start, the players are a resilient bunch. When they get the rug pulled out from underneath them and are left wondering what could have been one week, the Bills have now earned the label of not being able to bounce back from those painstaking defeats. That has to drive Marrone crazy, because it insinuates that there could be an even bigger problem than initially perceived. This team has its work cut out for them, and a big part of it is having the wherewithal to push away the mental distress a close loss brings about. It's unclear if that can be fixed by the end of the season, but it definitely has to be developed if the team wants to take the next step in 2014.
Manuel doubles season interception total in one week
- After limiting his turnovers through his first eight games, EJ Manuel uncorked his worst game of the season to date. Throughout the year, he's been flirting with turnovers on a weekly basis due to inaccurate throws, and, has gotten away with it for the most part. Manuel had no such luck in Tampa Bay. A whopping four interceptions were added to his total for the season, doubling the amount that he's accrued throughout the season before the Tampa Bay game. As was predicted in the 5 things to watch column, fans are starting to panic about Manuel's future because his rookie counterpart had the better game. Mike Glennon wasn't great, but he had a pair of touchdown passes to go along with his interceptions. Manuel was just all over the field on Sunday, and not in a good way. While the first interception wasn't totally his fault and was a play that could have been caught by Stevie Johnson, he also put his receiver in a position to get crushed on that turnover, as well as his fourth interception that went in and out of the hands of Robert Woods. He hit some players in stride against Atlanta and at the very least didn't cost his team the game, putting the Bills in a position to win it. With the run game stalling, the Bills needed their rookie quarterback to lift up the team. Instead, they got his absolute worst. Such is life with a rookie quarterback in the NFL.
No help from the O-Line
- You're going to see a domino effect theme going throughout the column. Manuel wasn't good, and the running game wasn't good, which led to more pressure being put on the rookie quarterback. The commonality between both mishaps? The offensive line was abysmal all game long. The front five gave up tons of pressures, they allowed seven sacks, they had penalties which negated big plays. They just looked lost against a good but not great defensive front in Tampa Bay. From the unit's leader in Eric Wood straight to their worst player in Doug Legursky, all members in the red, white and blue had a terrible outing at Raymond James Stadium.
Rainey set the tone early on
- And along the domino train we go. Center Eric Wood attributed the lack of success in protecting EJ Manuel to being down by 21 points to start the second half. Although it doesn't atone for the poor play, the argument does have its merits. It all started off on the wrong foot when the Bills barely got in the way of Bobby Rainey on his 80-yard touchdown run on just the second play of the game. Showing the same burst that was apparent against both Atlanta and Carolina in the past three weeks, Rainey crushed the Bills succinctly and instilled all the confidence Tampa Bay needed for the win. Tampa Bay did their part to try and give away the game, but the Bills outdid the Buccaneers in that phase of things, at least.
McKelvin's brushes with turnovers finally caught up to him
- Because of the poor play on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, cornerback and punt returner Leodis McKelvin took it upon himself to try and make a play in the third phase of the game. The results? A pair of muffed punts and one lost fumble. While it didn't lead directly to points for the Buccaneers, it deflated the Bills once again after a timely three-and-out that force their opposition to punt the ball away. While he's been a good returner in the past, he's had his brushes with disaster in both practice and the games. Sometimes he loses concentration when trying to field the punt because he wants to get his return attempt started, subsequently muffing the catch. Both he and the special teams units weren't anywhere close to providing a potential spark to a Bills team that so desperately needed it.
Penalties at the worst times
- And then there were the penalties which killed both the offense and defense on numerous occasions. Whether it was holding, pass interference or a personal foul call, the Bills managed to rack up 114 penalty yards on 11 accepted littered yellow linens. As the Bills did the rest of the day, those 11 instances lacked focus, accountability and a presence of mind of the moment. Whether it was the offensive line getting torn up to shreds or the defense finding it difficult to stop Tampa Bay at times, all in all the Bills were just outplayed. And when a team is outplayed, they start taking penalties.
The youth movement
- The Bills started the evaluation of some of their younger players on Sunday as they try to figure out which men near the bottom of the depth chart can play at a high level with some added responsibilities. On Sunday, we saw five players get increased playing time for Buffalo. Tight end Chris Gragg, linebacker Nigel Bradham, guard J.J. 'Unga, linebacker Ty Powell and running back Ronnie Wingo all got more time on the field than they had been used to throughout 2013. Gragg started off the game as the team's tight end but went without a catch as Scott Chandler still got the bulk of time on the field. Bradham seemed to be getting all the snaps at linebacker that Arthur Moats previously had been getting. 'Unga got two series at right guard -- the third series of the game and the Bills' final possession -- as Kraig Urbik watched from the sideline. Powell got a few snaps on defense late in the game and even made a tackle. Wingo had one rushing attempt and a reception in the second half as well. While the playoffs aren't mathematically out of the question just yet, all that needs to happen is for Baltimore or Miami to win only one game along the way. Because of that, it'd be fair to expect this wave of young players getting more time on the field to continue.
Bills MVP: K Dan Carpenter - 6 points!
Bills LVP:You make the call - This is a first for sideline reactions, but there are way too many candidates to narrow it down to just one. The floor is yours, Bills fans. Comment below, and title your comment "Bills LVP: (Insert name here)." Vent away, but keep it clean.
Draft Order Update (NEW FEATURE!): Through 14 weeks, the Bills hold the 8th overall pick. They passed Tampa Bay with the loss, not because of a head-to-head tiebreaker (which doesn't matter for draft order), but because the Buccaneers schedule has been more difficult than Buffalo's. Had Minnesota and Cleveland been able to hang on in the final moment of their games, the Bills would have been up to 6th overall. If they lose to Jacksonville next weekend the Bills will likely be, at worst, 7th overall.
Up Next: Sunday, December 15 at Jacksonville (4-9), 1 pm
- Showing potential throughout the season to be a team that looked like they had some good pieces in place, the Buffalo Bills dialed up an absolute stinker on Sunday in Tampa. Did they crush all the hope and optimism that prevailed in wins over Carolina, Baltimore, Miami and the New York Jets? Not in the slightest. But those four victories and the feelings stemming from them seem like a long time ago. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel is now in the biggest "prove it" moment of his young career. Playing a completely below average defense in Jacksonville, he must be able to show the potential from a month ago that fans are clinging onto. For the rest of the team, it was a deplorable effort. It's an effort and attitude that must be eradicated from the team if they ever want to make the jump to being legitimate playoff contenders. Along the way, they are going to have heartbreaking losses just like all teams do. It's how they respond to it that really shows the mettle of the constructed roster. It just goes to show that Doug Marrone and company have more work cut out for them than they had initially thought.