When the clock hit all zeroes on Sunday afternoon, Buffalo Bills fans everywhere hung their heads, even if only for a moment. Yet another close loss to the divisional foe who has owned them for years, the New England Patriots. Penalties piled up. Another game-winning drive given up in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
However, that is only part of the story for there are positives to come out of Head Coach Doug Marrone’s debut on the Bills’ sideline. Quarterback EJ Manuel had a good debut. Not much was asked of him, but he looked very comfortable and poised in the pocket. His athleticism was on display on a few plays, including one where he spun out of a would-be sack by Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones and got the throw off. The two touchdown passes had very nice touch on them, especially the one to Stevie Johnson with two defenders trailing him.
The defense also turned in some very good plays. They did get dinked and dunked to death on that last drive, but they sacked quarterback Tom Brady twice, picked him off once, and collected two fumble recoveries. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin turned in some nice plays in coverage, knocking down key passes on a late Patriots drive that ended up stalling out.
Unfortunately the team just could not close it out in the final five minutes of the game. The Bills’ last offensive drive was a three-and-out that did not take much time off the clock. The defense could not get off the field on third down during the Patriots’ game winning drive. A loss, even a close hard-fought moral victory of a loss, is still a loss. A divisional loss is never good for a team trying to buck a terrible streak of playoff absences.
A mixed bag of a game is an apt description. Some positive and some negative. There are fans who are optimistic and others who will not give the team much credit until they win. Both groups have good points. This year’s version of the Bills, however, is quite different from the team that took the field against the New York Jets in the opener last season.
For those who have forgotten that mess of a game, then-quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions, the Bills’ defense gave up three touchdowns to Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez, and the end result was a 48-28 beatdown that was not as close as the score looked. A very different feel permeated the fanbase then. No one had anything positive to say about the Bills except for running back CJ Spiller’s performance. A running back who was bottled up all game by the Patriots in this season’s opener.
Both games were divisional losses. Both games counted the same in the standings. One loss in the standings and one loss in the division. Yet the standings alone could not tell the story. For a two point loss counts in the standings the same as a twenty point loss.
The Bills’ teams that took the field in those two losses? Hard for them to be any more different. Giving up three touchdowns to Sanchez versus two to Brady? Three interceptions for Fitzpatrick versus zero for Manuel? There is reason for optimism, albeit cautious optimism, Bills fans.
Yes, the team needs to learn how to close out close games. For all fans know, this game could have been a fluke. The defense may have gotten lucky with Brady not being in sync with his receivers. Manuel could end up wilting under more pressure as the season progresses. Only time will tell. But the early signs are more encouraging than the signs of last season’s Week One loss.