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Finding positive signs in a Bills loss

You may be long past moral victories by the Buffalo Bills but I'm here to tell you there are positive signs emerging with the 2013 team despite the 2-4 record.  At the very least, for those of you who have complained over the years about a lack of mental toughness, this team has shown the ability to preservere.  

When the Cincinnati Bengals went up 24-10 a little over four minutes into the third quarter, converting a Thad Lewis fumble into a touchdown drive, I figured the game was about to get ugly.  But the defense looked like a completely different unit the rest of the game. The offense, with a less than healthy, limited CJ Spiller and playing without its top receiver, Stevie Johnson, still managed a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to force the game into overtime.

It might not make you feel any better today but it should bode well for the future.

In his first ever start as a Buffalo Bill and just his 2nd NFL regular season start, Thad Lewis played well enough for the Bills to win if the defense would have shown up before the fourth quarter.  Lewis led a 73 yard touchdown drive on his very first possession and led a 7 play, 86 yard game tying TD drive in the fourth quarter in just 1:32.  Lewis threw a pair of picture perfect deep balls, something the Bills had been lacking.  His 47 yarder to TJ Graham in the first quarter was the Bills longest pass play of the season and led to the touchdown which came from Lewis on a quarterback draw.

His 40 yard scoring pass to Marquise Goodwin that tied the game in the fourth quarter was another beautiful throw as he hit the speedster in stride in the end zone.  Lewis should have had another long completion to Goodwin earlier in the quarter but the officials missed an obvious pass interference call on Adam Jones.

The Bills had 12 offensive possessions and ended up with points four times(3 TD's and 1 FG).  They also turned the ball over on downs when the Bengals defense came up with a goal line stand early in the second quarter.

The only thing I didn't like from Lewis was him holding on to the ball too long and taking sacks.  He could have done a better job of throwing it away and he didn't protect the ball on one of his scrambles which led to it being knocked out of his right hand and recovered by the Bengals.

The Bills were impressive on third down, converting 47% of the time, which is way above their season average of 30%.

The problem was the defense and the way they were gashed by Andy Dalton and company for the first three quarters.  Cincinnati had 24 points, 387 yards of offense and 21 first downs by the end of the third quarter.  The Bills made the Bengals punt on all four of their fourth quarter possessions and forced another punt on Cincinnati's initial drive of overtime.  The defense was put in a tough spot on the game winning drive which began at the Bills 33 yard line after a 29 yard punt return by Brendan Tate.  Its the second straight game a big play against the punt coverage team played a key role in the outcome.

The Bills had trouble with the wide receiver screens and also gave up some big plays on swing passes to Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard.  Cincinnati had 6 plays of at least 20 yards.  Marvin Jones had a reverse for 34 and a catch for 42(a season long for him).  AJ Green had a 54 yard catch(a season long for him too).  Benjarvis Green-Ellis had a season best 25 yard run and Dane Sanzenbacher had a season long 23 yard catch.  Bernard's 23 yard reception was also a season best.

Perhaps some of you are unhappy with Doug Marrone and/or Nathaniel Hackett for the series that ended with that Bengals goal line stand.  The Bills were trailing 10-7 and had first and goal at the Bengals two yard line and ended up with no points.  They ran Fred Jackson behind the right side of the line on first, second and third down and gained one yard.  On fourth down Lewis rolled to his right and appeared to be looking for fullback Frank Summers but Lewis was tracked down by James Harrison for a one yard loss.  The Bengals then drove 98 yards for a touchdown to go up 17-7.

I don't have a problem with Marrone going for it at all, even though an easy three points were there for the taking.  I like the attack attitude and not "settling" for the field goal.  I didn't like the Bills going with the jumbo personnel group the whole time, using two backs and two tight ends as well as reserve tackle Thomas Welch.  The Bills got a touchdown with that package in Cleveland but it seems so tough to run when you invite all of the Bengals defenders into the box since there were no receivers on the field.  If you were intent on running on all four plays, how about a quarterback sneak at some point?

I'm not going to blame the game on the officials but their work was awful.  They missed the pass interference by Jones on Goodwin that I referred to earlier.  They missed a face mask by the Bengals on Goodwin on a kick return.  There was a bogus taunting penalty on Kyle Williams who got in Bernard's face after he collided with Kirk Alonso on an incomplete pass.  They also called a Brian Moorman punt that went out of bounds at the Bengals one as a touchback.  It was overturned by replay.  Not to sound like a homer…there was a cheap pass interference on AJ Green in overtime too.

Speaking of Moorman, welcome back to you sir!  He had a net average of 42 yards on his 5 punts and in addition to the punt that went out at the one, he had another fielded by Jones at the five and he was stopped in his tracks after bobbling the catch.  Moorman's punt in overtime was long and had great hang time but the coverage team couldn't get down there and Marcus Easley(who has been stellar on kick coverage this season) had the first and best chance to stop Tate but missed him.

Also on special teams, Dan Carpenter continues to be a nice pickup.  He booted a 51 yard field goal and is now 12-13 on field goals this season and 3-3 from 50 or more yards.
Finally, I'd like to declare the battle at left guard over and declare Doug Legursky the winner by default.  There were back to back plays in the second quarter that demonstrated why Colin Brown should stay on the sideline.  On a shovel pass to Fred Jackson he just stood there and wasn't able to block either of the two Bengals defenders who were there.  On the very next play, Brown was beaten for a sack. He has been the worst player for the Bills through the first six games of the season.

2-4 won't make you happy but 2013 is all about the big picture folks.  The Bills have been in every game, against opponents who had a combined 17-12 record going into week six.   They've scored at least 20 points in every game even though they played a rookie QB in the first five games and their fourth string QB against Cincinnati. Buffalo has also shown the ability to overcome injuries and overcome their own bad play too. Perhaps the good times aren't that far away. 

Who would you rather have as your quarterback right now?
  EJ Manuel
  Geno Smith
  Ryan Tannehill
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