I got to watch this one @ Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon VA w/ a ton of rabid Bills fans. Both the restaurant inside and the alley outside (where we were w/ the big screen TVs that we could barely see due to the bright sunshine and inadequate shade) were packed to capacity. I even got to meet author Jeffery J Miller, who was there to promote his book, “100 Things Bills Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”. I bought a copy, and Jimmy’s is one of the 100 things listed (#66)! We had a blast….’til the second half. Ah well, on to the game…
Ryan Fitzpatrick is certainly the mystery wrapped inside the enigma. For those who say he cannot throw the ball deep, I counter w/ his picture perfect throw to Fred Jackson (4:41 mark of the 2nd quarter) that went for 34 yards. Fred had to lay out to get it, but it was right over the shoulder and TO THE OUTSIDE so that the defender had no shot @ the pick. It wasn’t his only good throw, either. He had one where he hit Scott Chandler for a 6 yard gain (12:38 mark of the 1st quarter) where he fit the ball ‘tween Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung. He had another good one on a third and 6 play (5:50 mark of the 1st quarter) where he hit Steve Johnson for 16 yards and a first down. He made a nice read and a nice throw on the slant route to Donald Jones (11:18 mark of the 3rd quarter) on the 68 yard bomb. His TD throw to Chandler (9:51 mark of 2nd quarter) was sweet both for the throw, which was right over the top of the defender, and for the play call itself, since it was right after Jairus Byrd stripped Rob Gronkowski of the football and the Bills decided to go right after New England. Loved the aggressive call by the coaches there! However, here’s the problem: he had a bunch of throws that were poorly conceived and/or executed as always. He had T.J. Graham wide open for a big gain (13:04 mark of the 2nd quarter), but underthrew the ball and it was picked off by Devin McCourty. In the second half, it got worse. McCourty picked ‘em off again (11:33 mark of the 4th quarter) when Fitzpatrick locked onto Steve Johnson, who wasn’t anywhere near open. He badly missed Steve again (4:02 mark of the 4th quarter), overthrowin’ it deep to the middle, where Tavon Wilson made the easy pick. Even worse was the horribly thrown ball to a wide open Steve Johnson (7:17 mark of the 4th quarter) where it appeared the Patriots had blown the coverage. Steve was runnin’ all alone down the field and Fitzpatrick still couldn’t get it to ‘em. What really irks me is that for most of these plays, the offensive line (more on these guys later) did a great job of givin’ Fitzpatrick time to throw the ball. He just is too erratic to be relied upon. He gives you great plays, but he also gives you atrocious plays, and he gives ‘em both to you in the same game on the daily. I said this earlier in the week, and I still feel it is true: the Bills will not take the step to become a legitimate threat to the Patriots and the other top teams in the AFC/NFL ‘til they get a QB who can be relied upon to win games. Fitzpatrick, to me, seems like little more than a backup forced to start.
Fred Jackson had some good plays and some not so good plays. He made that great catch I mentioned earlier (4:41 mark of the 2nd quarter), and a brilliant jugglin’ one handed catch and run (12:41 mark of the 3rd quarter), but he also got rocked by Brandon Spikes (who did the same to C.J. Spiller @ the end of the first half on a pivotal play) and coughed up the ball (as Spiller did) @ the 13:34 mark of the 4th quarter. Fred also had a very nice blitz pickup (13:15 mark of the 1st quarter) on a 7 yard scramble by Fitzpatrick. Problem for both backs was that the good plays were too few and far ‘tween. Like Jackson, Spiller wasn’t able to generate much in terms of a ground attack. He did have a nice run on a draw play (4:00 mark of the 2nd quarter), but in addition to his costly fumble after the hit by Spikes (1:20 mark of the 2nd quarter), he had trouble in blitz pickup, as Donta Hightower ran ‘em over and forced Fitzpatrick to scramble for no gain (4:42 mark of the 2nd quarter). Dorrin Dickerson made a really nice catch and run (3:18 mark of the 1st quarter) on a well called screen pass that went for 25 yards. He also made a 12 yard catch for a first down (9:00 mark of the 4th quarter) on 3rd and 8.
Steve Johnson had a rough game. He and Fitzpatrick seemed to be a bit out of sync @ times, such as on the blown coverage play I mentioned earlier (7:17 mark of the 4th quarter). They did connect on a nice third down conversion (5:50 mark of the 1st quarter), but not much more. Steve was held badly on a play by Sterling Moore that went uncalled by the officials (7:24 mark of the 3rd quarter) and he also missed on a block (10:42 mark of the 2nd quarter) that blew up a run to the right side by Jackson. Donald Jones made the most of his few opportunities, especially on that slant route he caught and took 68 yards to the house (11:18 mark of the 3rd quarter). He added a 22 yard gain later on (3:53 mark of the 3rd quarter. Brad Smith emerged as a receivin’ option in the passing game and not just a wildcat QB that doesn’t throw, comin’ up w/ a nice TD catch toward the end of the first half (2:06 mark of the 2nd quarter). Scott Chandler had a good day both blockin’ (his block led the way for Graham’s 10 yard gain @ the 14:22 mark in the 1st quarter) and receivin’ (TD grabs @ 9:51 mark and 3:35 mark of the 2nd quarter) to highlight the receivers.
The offensive line did very well in pass protection in this game. As a unit, they were solid in keepin’ the pocket clean. Things got rough once Kraig Urbik got injured, as he was doin’ a good job of gettin’ out on screen plays. In particular was one @ the 3:18 mark of the 1st quarter where he and Eric Wood got out in front of Dorrin Dickerson, leadin’ the way for a 25 yard gain. Chris Hairston had a really nice block on Jermaine Cunningham @ the 9:51 mark of the 2nd quarter on Chandler’s 24 yard TD catch. The guy who really had the rough outin’ was Erik Pears. Man, did he have a long day. Not all was bad, as his block helped lead the way for Jackson on an 11 yard run on the game’s first offensive snap (15:00 mark of the 1st quarter). He also got to Vince Wilfork and stuffed ‘em on an 8 yard completion by Fitzpatrick to Graham (6:49 mark of the 1st quarter). But, he had his share of struggles too. He got called for holdin’ on Cunningham (10:42 mark of the 2nd quarter), was beaten bad off the edge by Cunningham (10:19 mark of the 2nd quarter), and needed help from Chad Rinehart to stop the rush on the next play (10:13 mark of the 2nd quarter) in a rough 3 play stretch. In terms of run blockin’ things weren’t so good. Very few holes and New England’s linebackers (Hightower, Spikes, Rob Ninkovich) were able to beat blocks and get to the ball carrier.
It’s not time to panic just yet folks, but when it comes to the dominant play of the Bills’ defensive line, as the late Clara Peller would say, “Where’s the beef?” They had a couple good games against KC and Cleveland, but in the division games, where the team needs ‘em to shine the most, they have failed to impress. Mario Williams is the primary culprit, as he has failed to show he can constantly get off blocks and into the backfield, somethin’ I’m sure the Bills envisioned when they made Super Mario the highest paid defensive player of all time. I keep hearin’ how he’s tyin’ up blockers and allowin’ others (like Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus) to have opportunities to get to the QB. Sorry, but I call BS on that. From what I’ve seen, Mario is bein’ single blocked most of the time, somewhere ‘round 23 times in this game alone. He did have a couple good plays, like when he helped to stop the Pats for a 1 yard loss (12:11 mark of the 2nd quarter), when he teamed w/ Kyle Williams to blow up a screen pass to Shane Vereen (7:45 mark of the 2nd quarter) and force the incompletion, and when he teamed w/ Kyle Williams and Dareus to break down the pocket and sack Brady (3:00 mark of the 2nd quarter). Problem is, that’s just not enough production for someone so highly touted and someone who has accomplished much in a short career span. Most of my notes have the same comment: Mario single blocked by Sebastian Vollmer….again. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself:
- 8:57 mark of the 1st quarter
- 4:06 mark of the 1st quarter
- 3:30 mark of the 1st quarter
- 10:00 mark of the 2nd quarter
- 0:15 mark of the 3rd quarter
The linebackers also struggled in this game. Nick Barnett ended up w/ 15 tackles, but had issues in coverage (got juked on the play action pass to Daniel Fells @ the 9:55 mark of the 1st quarter that gained 18 yards), trouble comin’ off blocks (Wendell took ‘em out on a 10 yard Ridley run @ the 9:28 mark of the 2nd quarter),missed tackles (got burned on cutback run by Bolden @ the 12:49 mark of the 4th quarter), and took some poor pursuit angles (overshot a play @ the 12:56 mark of the 2nd quarter that allowed Bolden to get to the second level and gain 12 yards). Same goes for Bryan Scott. He overshot plays (Ridley run @ 9:28 of the 2nd quarter, Bolden’s run @ 12:56 mark of the 2nd quarter), got caught up in traffic and couldn’t shed blocks (Ridley run of 8 yards @ 6:52 mark of 2nd quarter), and struggled in coverage (horrible miscommunication on the Gronkowski TD @ the 15:00 mark of the 4th quarter). Kelvin Sheppard was the invisible man, mainly due to the coaches usin’ a nickel scheme that took ‘em out. They went for extra pass coverage, especially against Gronkowski, but the Pats were smart enough to just run on ‘em instead. The Bills, for some strange reason, would not come out of this package.
Props to Stephon Gilmore for a good job out there. He broke up a pass for Brandon Lloyd (3:30 mark of the 1st quarter), though Lloyd would return the favor later (beat ‘em on 3rd and 10 for a 17 yard gain @ the 7:41 mark of the 2nd quarter). Still, he made other solid plays, such as a great pass breakup (13:26 mark of the 4th quarter), a near INT due to a great break on the ball (0:42 mark of the 1st quarter), and another near INT in the end zone (11:51 mark of the 4th quarter), plus a great hit on Gronkowski to stop a potential TD (14:08 mark of the 3rd quarter). Jairus Byrd forced a Gronkowski fumble (10:00 mark of the 2nd quarter) and another from Wes Welker (2:25 mark of the 2nd quarter). George Wilson, Bryan Scott, and Justin Rogers all had headaches tryin’ to deal w/ Gronkowski, w/ Wilson inexplicably lettin’ Gronkowski get past ‘em for a TD late (15:00 mark of the 4th quarter). Aaron Williams had a nice breakup early (11:27 mark of the 2nd quarter) and was victimized by a near perfect TD pass from Brady to Lloyd (4:09 mark of the 4th quarter) where his coverage was as good as you can get, but the pass was just right in the spot it needed to be and the defender couldn’t get to.
Welcome to the Buffalo Bills, Shaun Powell. He had one really nice blast (7:20 mark of the 3rd quarter) for 54 yards. But, he also had one go off the side of his foot (2:03 mark of the 3rd quarter) that only traveled 28 yards. Overall, he averaged just under 40 yards per punt. Not bad for his first game. Coverage units weren’t spectacular, but didn’t hurt the team either. Returns were nonexistent due to great kickoffs by the Pats.
As far as what the coaches called, I really didn’t understand their stubborn refusal to come out of the nickel package, even when the Patriots had 2 tight ends on the field in an obvious run formation. They kept smallish LB/DB Bryan Scott out there, and they paid for it w/ huge runs off tackle w/ Scott usually bein’ washed out by blocks from the OL. When the Bills ran a quick out to Graham (7:24 mark of the 3rd quarter), why didn’t they try to run a pick play to clear the path for Graham? The Pats do this often w/ Welker (they did it on a memorable conversion last year in the game @ RICH that the Bills won). There was another time I wondered why the offense ran a power play to the short side of the field (6:24 mark of the 1st quarter) when the defense was slanted that way….and there was no lead blocker? When the Pats ran (basically) that same run play on the Bills, they had a PAIR of lead blockers and pulled an O lineman to lead the way as well. Theirs worked; ours didn’t. Hmm…
I did notice a few non-calls too: Steve Johnson got grabbed on a third down play by Sterling Moore (7:24 mark of the 3rd quarter) and on McCourty’s second INT (11:33 mark of the 4th quarter), Spikes blasted Chandler w/ a blow to the head that was missed by the refs. Oh, and who buys Welker’s account of just who Brady was addressin’ w/ his “**** you *****es!” comment after his 4 yard “touchdown” run? If you haven’t heard it or read it, he said he was addressin’ teammate Brandon Lloyd. Riiiiiiiiight.
So, the Bills missed the opportunity to go ahead of New England by a pair of games and to take the lead in the division. Well, those are the sorta things bad teams do: fail to close out. I am still hopin’ that the Bills are in the process of turnin’ the corner and becomin’ the kinda team that can win those types of games, or close teams out when they have ‘em on the ropes (like a 14-7 lead late in the first half and the ball 6 feet away from takin’ a 2 TD lead). I just see ‘em makin’ the same ol’ mistakes though. It’s like a bad rerun that you can’t stop from bein’ replayed over and over and over and over. And now, they have to go on the road for two big ones vs San Francisco and Arizona. I’ve watched all of Arizona’s games so far this year, and I’m tellin’ you all, they are scary good, especially on defense. They blitz early and often, they fly all over the field, and they are extremely aggressive. You know, all of the things we had hoped from the Bills’ defense. San Fran is a well coached team that is solid in all areas of the game. They will both be very tough games for the Bills to win. It isn’t impossible, but will take a dedicated effort for four quarters, which is what they couldn’t come up w/ last Sunday. Time to shake that one off and get ready for a brutal two game stretch. Good luck, Bills. I remain a faithful and loyal fan….no matter how frustrated a fan I am.