The New England Patriots delivered a crushing last-second loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium to the tune of 23-21. Any Bills fan will tell you that losing to the Patriots is nothing new. The Bills have only beaten the Pats twice in the Bradychek era. Although the Bills will tally this one up in the loss column, they have seemingly taken a step in the right direction.
I will start with the positive side of things because I’m still angry and want to avoid using 3,485 profanities.
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel proved that he can be a formidable starting quarterback in this league. His stat line wasn’t especially eye popping, putting up 150 yards with 2 touchdowns, but he showed some flashes. The Bills tried make things easy for Manuel, only allowing him to throw 27 times. Manuel showed that he is able to make great NFL throws, one of them being a perfectly thrown touch pass to Stevie Johnson in the corner of the endzone on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter.
He also showed his athleticism, not allowing the Patriots to sack him a single time by scrambling and shaking off tacklers. Many of his passes were quick, short check-down throws that put his receivers in position to make plays. I think head coach Doug Marrone did an excellent job of not asking too much too soon from his rookie quarterback by having him throw short efficient passes rather than making him try to pick apart the defense downfield.
Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were the ones handling the ball for the majority of the game. The two of them combined for 108 yards on 30 carries while also catching 9 passes out of the backfield. Spiller was expected to be the feature back this year but he struggled for a good part of the game, forcing Jackson to pick up the slack and be a prominent figure in the offense.
Defensively, the Bills played a great game. Mario Williams and company kept Tom Brady in check for the majority of the game and even caused 3 turnovers, one of which was taken for a touchdown. The majority of the points Buffalo gave up came after giving Brady a short field. New England only scored 10 of their 23 points off drives that began behind midfield.
Now, to the bad news. The Bills struggled offensively and defensively on 3rd down. Watching the game it, seemed like the Pats converted every 3rd down that they faced. The Bills did a great job on 1st and 2nd down but couldn’t get stops on 3rd. On multiple occasions the Bills had them at 3rd and 6 and Brady would zing one over the middle for 7 yards. It was extremely frustrating to watch. Offensively, the Bills faced multiple third and shorts but were unable to convert. When they would finally get passed the first down marker, it always seemed to get called back because of penalties (more on that in a minute).
Rookie coach Doug Marrone’s offensive system is a quick no-huddle offense. The plan was to wear out New England’s defense throughout the course of the game. Since the Bills were atrocious on 3rd down (4-13 to be exact), the only defense that was getting tired was Buffalo’s. The multiple 3-and-outs didn’t give the defense time to sit and catch their breath before they were back out there. Marrone’s biggest mistake was not abandoning the no-huddle with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter when Buffalo was up 21-20. Instead of running some clock the Bills kept with their up-tempo offense and went 3-and-out only using a minute of game time. Buffalo punted and New England drove the ball down the field, wasted clock and kicked the game-winning field goal with 9 seconds left. Gotta love it.
Possibly the most annoying thing about this game was the amount of penalties. Penalties, penalties, and more penalties. The refs might have needed to ice their elbows like an MLB pitcher after throwing a flag every other play. Buffalo was constantly shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties. I was shocked when I looked at the stats that they only had 10 for a total of 75 yards. They were getting multiple false starts, illegal hands to the face, and 12 men on the field. 12 men on the field? This is an NFL team…how can you get more than one 12 men on the field penalty? But, as the legandary Dan Dierdorf pointed out roughly a millions times, “You’re gonna get that with a young team”.
So Buffalo begins their season with a loss. Give this team a little time to mature and get a few more games under their belt and they can be solid team. Carolina Panthers next week.