Bills – Patriots Game Review

The Buffalo Bills squandered away a home game to the New England Patriots despite having several chances to pull this one out. The Patriots now sit at 4-2 and atop the AFC East standings with the 37-22 win, while the Bills sit at 3-3 and second in the division. The Bills lost the turnover battle (-3) and simply couldn’t do enough offensively to match a rejuvenated Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. All 13 of the Patriots first-half points were off of Bills turnovers. Three turnovers are tough to overcome to an opponent as sound as the Patriots, but handing over 107 yards in penalties doesn’t help either.

The refs had a tough day on Sunday as well; there were several bad calls by the refs including a phantom unsportsmanlike conduct call on Jerry Hughes for congratulating his own teammate in the vicinity of a Patriot player. Late in the first half, the refs called offsides on Jerry Hughes and upon replay it was clear that he simply got a good jump on the snap. The flag negated a holding penalty on New England deep in Bills territory which would’ve pushed them out of striking distance. There was a questionable pass interference call on Duke Williams in the second half, but I don’t have issue with that one as much since Williams failed to turn his head around for the ball. Later in the third quarter, there was a horrible offensive pass interference call on Sammy Watkins on a pick play which negated a long gain by Robert Woods. There was no attempt by Watkins to block on the play and in fact, even the Fox announcer agreed, that Watkins tried to avoid the defender by getting vertical. On the same drive the zebras tagged WR Robert Woods for another offensive pass interference penalty that wouldn’t be called in flag football. Even the roughing the passer penalty assessed on Jerry Hughes late in the third quarter was highly questionable as he was shoved into Brady’s legs by his own offensive lineman.

In the end, ghost penalties were not the reason the Bills lost this game as they actually recovered nicely after bad calls each time. It was the turnovers coupled with a few too many negative plays (sacks given up and lost yards by Spiller) on offense and stellar play by Brady that ultimately did the Bills in. But you can’t help but wonder what would have been if it wasn’t for those bad calls by the refs.

 

OFFENSE

The offense was able to move the ball with relative ease through the air against the Patriots, despite Revis essentially shutting down the Bills’ best receiver. The middle of the field was utilized with much more regularity by Kyle Orton, something EJ Manuel has failed to do in the first four games. But the Bills offense shot themselves in the foot by giving up sacks, committing penalties, and turning the ball over three times. The running game also couldn’t get much going as the Bills only mustered 68 yards rushing on 23 attempts (2.95 YPC).

Quaterback: Kyle Orton had an up-and-down day as he was just one yard shy of another 300 yard passing day but he also turned the ball over twice (INT, fumble). In the second quarter, Orton stared down Marquise Goodwin the whole way after a useless play action fake and Jamie Collins was happy to oblige with the interception. (Pats scored TD on next drive, aided by pass interference call on Duke Williams). The fumble wasn’t entirely Orton’s fault as LT Cordy Glenn was beaten by Chandler Jones. All-in-all, Orton had a few nice anticipation throws but also hung on to the ball too long on a couple occasions resulting in sacks and a fumble lost. He still continues to give this team the best chance to win but he isn’t the guy who can carry an offense in comeback mode.

Offensive Line:

Who stood out: Eric Wood continues to be the best Bills lineman, though he was solid if unspectacular. The guards – Cyril Richardson and Erik Pears – continue to be a work in progress as both had a few nice plays and a few plays they’d like back.

Who needs work: Tackles Sentreal Henderson and Cordy Glenn had their hands full on the edges against a ferocious Patriots pass-rush. With a little over two minutes remaining in the first half, the Bills got the ball at their own 26 yard line and Chandler Jones beat Cordy Glenn for a sack-fumble of Orton which the Patriots converted for their second touchdown. All five Patriot sacks can be rightfully attributed to the Bills starting tackles. It was a performance to forget for the young Bills duo.

 

Running Backs/Tight Ends:

Who stood out: Tight end Scott Chandler had his best game of the season as a consistent threat in the middle of the field for the Bills. He finished the day with 105 yards on 6 catches and was a weapon on third downs. The tight ends have been relatively quiet this season for the Bills but Chandler was a favorite target of Orton in this one and was a welcome change in direction. His most impressive catch of the day came on a 3rd down half way through the third quarter: a one-handed grab in relatively tight coverage by a safety with the other safety bearing down on him.

Running back Anthony Dixon had a couple of very nice runs that won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. He avoided multiple defenders in the backfield in the first half on one such play, including an impressive hurdle over a Patriots defensive back and turned a potential four yard loss into a one yard gain. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon form a tandem going forward with Bryce Brown sprinkled in.

Who needs work:This has become the weekly CJ Spiller section as he follows up one bad performance with an even worse one. Spiller finished the day with 19 yards on six carries, and a lost fumble after his best run of the day. At this point I’m wondering when the Bills will deactivate Spiller and see what they have in trade acquisition Bryce Brown as they turn the page on their first round pick. It was the usual negatives for Spiller: bouncing runs out far too quick, always looking for big plays instead of taking what the defense is giving him, and taking too many negative yards. Kickoff returner continues to be the best way Spiller can contribute on this Bills team.

 

Wide Receivers:

Who stood out: With Sammy Watkins on Revis Island, second year WR Robert Woods stepped up to the plate and had several nice catches on the way to a 7 for 78 yard day and a touchdown. His best gain came on a 4th and 2 play where Woods burned his defender on a Go route and Kyle Orton hit him in stride for a 33 yard gain. He was also responsible for a great catch and awareness that resulted in a successful two-point conversion on that drive.

New slot WR Chris Hogan came up with a few nice catches over the middle, and a well-run route in the end zone resulting in a touchdown. Hogan did have an easy drop on that same drive earlier, but he acquitted himself nicely on a subsequent play making a difficult body adjustment and catching a low throw from Orton.

Who needs work: In a curious move, WR Mike Williams was a healthy scratch in this game and there are even reports that he has been granted permission to seek a trade. Williams was with head coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse and had an awkward breakup with the team as he quit the team in the face of a possible suspension due to an off-the-field incident. When the Bills traded for Mike Williams this off-season, it caught my attention due to his history with Marrone and a relatively high cap-number for Williams who did not project as a #1 WR in the NFL. After a nice off-season and first month of the season, things seemed to be progressing well after the Williams-Marrone re-marriage. This time, it seems, Williams has rubbed the Bills front office the wrong way (specifically GM Doug Whaley) as there are reports that he has claimed he is a #1 WR to Whaley who has since called him on his bluff and granted him permission to seek a trade.

WR Sammy Watkins was kept under wraps by Darelle Revis, as expected. There wasn’t anything he did that stood out to me as needing work, but rather just great coverage by Revis on most plays causing Orton to look elsewhere.

 

DEFENSE

The Bills run defense continued their stellar play holding the Patriots running-game to 47 yards on 23 carries (2.04 YPC). And on the other end, the pass defense continued their struggles as Brady carved them up for 361 yards and four touchdowns on 37 attempts. The front four were able to sack Brady twice and did pressure Brady more often than not, however it wasn’t enough. The one thing that did impress me about the Bills defense was their mettle and resolve after bad calls by the refs twice. In the past, these bad calls would crumble the Bills and Brady would put up easy touchdowns immediately after. On Sunday, the Bills held them to field goal attempts on both occasions (one of them was missed) which showed mental toughness that I was not used to against the Patriots.

 

Defensive Line:

Who stood out: Jerry Hughes was an active participant in the Patriots backfield all day long. He abused LT Nate Solder a couple of times including a sack with a blind-side hit on Brady. He also had a near sack-fumble in the second quarter; how Brady hung on to that football I’ll never know. Marcell Dareus had another nice game as he pressured Brady several times including the sack collected by Mario Williams.

Who needs work: I’m not sure if Kyle Williams was a 100% healthy, he didn’t look like his usual self where he dominates at the point of attack and wreaks havoc in the backfield.

 

Line Backers:

Who stood out: Nigel Bradham was flying to the ball, as usual, and had several key stops in the backfield. His effort has been unmatched thus far and he rarely quits on a play. He may not be the best coverage defender but I’ll take that type of effort from my linebacker every Sunday.

Who needs work: Brandon Spikes simply isn’t a good coverage linebacker and the Bills were smart to sign him to a one-year deal. In a revenge game against the Patriots, who refused to re-sign him due to the aforementioned lack of coverage ability, I was expecting far more from Spikes. He was his usual stout self against the run but is simply outmatched against the pass.

 

Defensive Backs:

Who stood out: Nobody in particular as Brady picked on the Bills injured secondary. Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Roby were solid but unspectacular.

Who needs work: The Bills defensive backfield missed safety Aaron Williams who sat this one out due to multiple ailments (wrist, neck). Backup safety, Duke Williams, was called upon to replace him and he struggled mightily in this one. The Patriots went back to their two tight end sets with Tom Brady checking into a favorable play call at the line of scrimmage depending on how the defensive personnel matched up, and Williams struggled to cover Rob Gronkowski, as a result. After the Kyle Orton pick in the first half, Duke won the “Most Blatant Pass Interference” award of the year as he shoved WR Julian Edelman in the end zone putting the Patriots offense at the 1 yard line (they scored on the following play). Williams had another pass interference call that was borderline and probably shouldn’t have been one. His biggest blunder, in my opinion, was a complete lack of effort coupled with laziness on the deep catch and run by Brandon Lafell. Williams was jogging on the play at a point where the Bills were in decent position to get a stop and get the ball back down 8 with two timeouts left and possible the two minute warning. If I’m Jim Schwartz, this play will be a major talking point during film review.

The Bills are banged up at safety and had to start Corey Graham at the position and he had a few struggles of his own, including the long TD pass to Brian Tyms in the second half.  Leodis McKelvin was burned badly by Brandon Lafell in the 4th quarter, but it was partially due to Duke Williams who was supposed to help him over the top.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who stood out: Brady’s favorite whipping boy, Duke Williams, was a standout on special teams and has been for much of the season. He has been excellent in punt coverage and had a couple of very nice hits on the usually shifty Julian Edelman.

Who needs work: Nobody in particular. Fred Jackson seemed to have made corrections on his punt return plays close to his own endzone as he blocked the oncoming gunner to allow the ball to roll into the end zone, something he failed to do on multiple occasions against the Lions.