Until the Bills can beat the Patriots, they aren’t going to win the AFC East. It’s been the reality for years, and nothing’s changed after the Patriots’ 24-12 over the Bills on Sunday. Not that the Bills were going to win anything this season.
It was a game we’ve all seen before. Pats coming at the Bills with a different look, and another different look, and another. It’s the Belichick way. It leads to confusion, which caused a timeout by Allen early in the first half. It leads to big plays against the Bills, like the jet-sweep runs. It leads to three and outs.
This game looked like a lot of Bills-Pats games lately. The Pats always seem to be in control, but they don’t pull away. The game stays close, and in the third quarter it often looks like somehow the Bills could win. But the Pats ARE in control, and the Bills DON’T win.
Characteristic of many Bills losses to New England is the turnover at an important part of the game. Who wasn’t screaming at Croom to go down and to hold on to the ball after his 24-yard reception took the ball down to the Patriots’ six-yard line? It was SO obvious. Take the gain, go down and avoid the gang tackle. A touchdown makes it a one-score game, and notwithstanding the Patriots impressive running game, the Bills would have been in a football game.
Instead, the Pats put together a long drive, flip field position, get a three and out and get a field goal to put the Bills into a hole they couldn’t dig out of.
It’s not just the Patriots that bring out Bills’ mistakes. It’s been happening all season. Penalties particularly. Part of Sean McDermott’s process has to be to develop a team that plays mistake-free football, to the greatest extent possible.
Two years into the process, mistake-free isn’t how anyone would describe the Bills. It’s not a question of talent – it’s training, practice. ANY tight end in the league is trained to hold onto the ball; it isn’t about talent. Whatever McDermott is doing to teach that lesson isn’t working. He needs to work on his process.
The game was pretty much over after the fumble.
I had several reactions to the game:
It was interesting to listen to Trent Green and Bruce Ariens critique Josh Allen. It was like two pros sitting in the family room, making observations to one another that most of us don’t see. Floating the ball on his first interception, and then again on the second interception to the other side. Not taking the easy checkdown to McCoy. Throwing to Foster in tight coverage by McCourty.
Actually, I think they were wrong about that. They said it was a bad matchup. Well, you’ve got Gilmore on the other side, and that’s by definition a bad matchup. So you’re down to your third best receiver, and on the Bills, the third best receiver is also by definition a bad matchup. Allen made an excellent throw, and it’s one of those throws where you ask your receiver to make a play. Foster just didn’t make it.
On the other hand, the announcers didn’t know anything about the Bills, or they didn’t bother to say anything about them. Nothing about Edmunds, a couple sentences about Lorenzo, nothing about the offensive line, nothing about the Bills’ safeties. There’s a lot to say about this team, and they didn’t bother to say it.
What didn’t they say? Well, they actually said very little about Josh Allen. This season has been all about the Bills quarterback, and even with the problems Allen had against the Patriots, he looked like a star in the making. His arm is amazing. His pocket presence is great; he made a mistake, was nearly sacked in the end zone, and then made a miraculous play to avoid the safety. Very few QBs escape to make that play.
Everything that I see from Allen that is good is very good. He’s calm, he understands a lot of what’s going on out there, he throws the ball beautifully. The things that I see that aren’t so good are the things that he should learn with experience: his desire to go downfield on every play, his failure to put air under some balls and to put too much under others. He’s seeing and learning every week. Now he’s seen Belichick and that defense.
Some of what Allen needs is time throwing to his receivers. Too many plays where either Allen or the receiver misreads the defense. Of course, he also could use a better receiver or two.
What’s up with McKenzie? Carted off the field for the second week in a row, and for the second week in a row he returned to play some more.
Gotta give Belichick credit for figuring out how to run on the Bills. The Bills have to have better answers. The Pats don’t have a dominant offensive line, and the Bills’ defensive line, although not what you’d call stout, hasn’t given up yardage like that all season.
Something needs to be fixed, and the something probably is some of the players on the front seven. Losing Milano certainly is part of the problem – he made a difference on the field every week until his injury.
It was a pleasure to watch a game without a lot of penalty calls. Of course, pass interference in the end zone might have made the game different. Foster or McKenzie (who was it?) clearly was making a play on the ball and got pushed away.
Two rules I’d like to see changed that won’t be: One is that a fumble into the end zone and then out of bounds is a turnover. That’s just wrong. If I fumble out of bounds at the one, I keep the ball. If I fumble it one yard deep into the end zone and then out of bounds, I lose the ball? Why?
The other is the rule that the ball carrier has to touch the ground to be down. Edelman was tackled, clearly tackled. He was off his feet and on top of two defenders who were off their feet and on the ground. Gravity had done its job, and he was as down as he could be. If the ball carrier is off his feet by contact and is lying on players who also are off their feet and on the ground, the ball carrier should be ruled down.
The Bills certainly are looking toward 2019. Charles Clay was inactive for the Pats game. He may be less mobile than Croom, but he’s certainly a better player than Logan Thomas. Just maybe not better for this coach and this team. It’s a good bet that Clay won’t be in Buffalo next season.
Not that I’m in favor of tanking at all, but one more loss could give the Bills a spot near the top of the 2019 draft. The Bills will be a lot better in 2019 than 2018, because they are going to load up on talent. Every little bit helps, and drafting fifth in the first three rounds would be better than tenth.
Still, there’s nothing better than a Bills win, and we owe the Dolphins a loss.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: Merry Christmas Eve! Although this game was just like any other game against the Patriots* at Gillette Stadium, we were blessed to see Tom Brady looking old and rickety. Gronk looked like he couldn’t twist or jump at all and I can probably run faster than he can now. Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on social media, but he frequently posts at twobillsdrive.com.