The Bills lost to the Patriots on Sunday, 16-10. It’s never good to lose, and it’s never good to lose to the Patriots. They always do something that makes you angry.
It was a day full of highs and lows, and it was the kind of day that makes the NFL perhaps the most successful entertainment vehicle of all time.
I stood in the mob of people waiting to get through security at Gate 2. It was partly cloudy, the temperature was in the high 60s. I was struck by how happy people were; hundreds and hundreds of people around me, smiling and laughing, enjoying the fact that they had tickets to the big game, enjoying the thrill of just being part of it. You don’t often see that many people that happy.
Every time there’s a flyover at the stadium, I think it’s kind of hokey and what’s the big deal, and every time there’s a flyover, I really enjoy it. There’s nothing hokey about four F-16s in formation! That was great! And there was a football game, too, and what a game!
You want hokey? How about a couple getting married at halftime on the 50-yard line? But even that was fun, Kyle Williams presiding over the ceremony and Kim Pegula presenting a football signed by all the Bills and two tickets to the Super Bowl to the happy couple.
Putting aside for a moment that the Bills lost and their quarterback got knocked out of the game, just looking at it from a fan’s perspective, that was a really entertaining game. The defenses were outstanding.
There were big plays – interceptions, including Hyde’s dramatic interception in the end zone, a blocked punt, a couple of great runs from scrimmage by Gore, momentum shifts, and drama from beginning to end. I almost wished I wasn’t a Bills fan, so I could have enjoyed the entertainment without having to be so disappointed in the outcome.
All right. I’ve postponed talking about the game long enough, in part because I don’t know exactly what to say, so I’m just going to spill it out and we’ll see how it goes:
1. The Bills’ defense was amazing. Just amazing. My friend at the game commented about how uncomfortable Brady was in the pocket, and it was true. He didn’t get hit much, but it was clear that he didn’t like being back there. He was antsy. Making him uncomfortable is the key to controlling Brady, and that’s what we saw yesterday. He missed some easy throws, he threw too hard to Edelman one time and it went through Edelman’s hands. He wasn’t exactly confused, but he wasn’t able to do what he wanted. The pass rush was just aggressive enough, and the back seven covered up receivers all day long. I heard that Brady’s passer rating on Sunday was the lowest one-game passer rating he has had since 2006!
There were times during the game when I wondered whether Levi Wallace is the best cornerback on the team.
I have growing appreciation for Milano. His open field tackling is great. Brady likes to throw to his receiver who is one-on-one with a linebacker, and late in the game when he desperately a completion for a first down, Brady tested Milano up the sideline. Nothing doing. Great defense.
2. As usual, the game turned on a half dozen plays. One of them was the blocked punt, which was a huge mistake by the Bills. How could the Bills not be prepared for a 10-man rush? Haven’t they practiced that? When the teams lined up it was obvious the punt was going to be blocked – there simply weren’t enough blockers to handle all the rushers, and you knew the Patriots were doing it because they had identified something on film. Someone needed to recognize the problem and call time out. It turned out to be the most important play of the game, and the Bills blew it.
3. Most of the other big plays were Josh Allen interceptions, which leads to a general discussion of Josh Allen. I didn’t do a game-by-game analysis, but that had to be Allen’s worst game as a pro. He was more or less terrible, right from the beginning, when he made an ugly overthrow in the right flat, followed immediately by an ugly wide overthrow in the left flat. He never misses two throws in a row like that.
Looking at the game as a whole, and taking into consideration McDermott’s post-game comments, I’d say the moment was too big for Allen. Put another way, he choked. McDermott said that Allen didn’t do the things he’s been taught to do. He didn’t recognize the double coverage on McCourty’s interception, and he threw the ball up for grabs on his other two interceptions. McDermott said, and it was true, that Allen settled down at half time and came out doing what he’d been taught to do. Then he lost it again.
Comparing Allen’s performance to Brady’s, they both struggled against really good defenses. The difference was that Brady knows that things going bad doesn’t mean he should start doing stupid things. Allen obviously doesn’t. Brady knows that there’s always another play, and Allen doesn’t.
A case in point was Allen’s scramble and injury. I haven’t seen a replay and won’t comment on the hit other than to say that a QB needs to expect to get hit when he’s running for an important first down.
First, the first down was important only because Allen had played so poorly for the first three quarters; if he’d done his job, he wouldn’t have felt he needed those extra yards, and he would have gone down to avoid the contact.
But, second, even under the circumstances, what Brady understands and Allen doesn’t is that there’s always another play. Go down, and if you’re two yards short of the line to gain, so be it.
Let the coach decide whether to go for it or punt. Would you rather get the first down and let Barkley play the rest of the game, or punt and have Allen continue to be your QB? The Bills needed Allen, and he put himself in a position that resulted in his being unavailable the final possessions.
Josh Allen just has to get better.
4. I try not to beat up players too much in these reports, but I have to make an exception in the case of Zay Jones. I’ve never been a big Zay booster, but I’ve watched him some this season and been impressed by his size and speed and willingness to run routes. He’s looked to me like a threat on the field, even if the production isn’t there.
After the Patriots game, if it were up to me, he would be off the team. McDermott is a big believer in second chances, teaching opportunities and all that, and McDermott may take that attitude with Zay, but I wouldn’t.
I’ve bought McDermott’s process, and it starts with accumulating players who are intense, relentless competitors. When Tre’Davious White got his second interception last week, the play that clinched the win over the Bengals, McDermott praised him for continuing to run, which put him position to make a play when Hyde tipped the ball. Natural competitors, guys who fight for everything on every play, are at the core of what McDermott is trying to do.
Against the Patriots, Zay was exposed as a guy who doesn’t want to compete.
On three plays, Zay showed he doesn’t want to fight for the ball; the interception down the right sideline in the first quarter, when Zay kept running on a slightly under-thrown ball instead of stopping and making an aggressive play on the ball. The interception on the right sideline in the third quarter, when Zay completely gave up on a ball he could have caught and allowed the Patriots to take it. The incompletion on fourth down in the end zone with ten minutes left. I would have kicked the field goal, but the Bills had a play, Barkley made the throw and Zay must win the fight for that ball.
Three plays, two interceptions and a missed touchdown, all because Zay Jones didn’t compete. I’m a believer in the McDermott process, and Zay doesn’t fit the mold.
5. Is there more to say? Sure. Frank Gore. Jerry Hughes. Tremaine Edmunds. John Brown. Cole Beasley. Matt Barkley, who did an excellent job under really difficult circumstances.
The national press seems to be reporting this game as another mail-in Patriots win over the Bills, but I’ll tell you this: No NFL teams are going to look at the film of that game without concluding that the Bills have an awesome defense.
The Pats were averaging over 400 yards per game; the Bills held them to 225. They were averaging over 30 points a game; the Bills held them 16 and 7 came on a blocked punt.
No NFL teams are going to think the Bills offense is impotent. The Pats were giving up 190 total yards per game; the Bills gashed them for 375 and it would have been much worse if Allen hadn’t decided to throw INTs all over the field.
Going into the game I thought that the Bills being competitive was more important than the win. They had to show themselves they could play with the Pats, and they did. After the game, of course, the Bills still have a loss and still looking at the mistakes that cost them the game; they have to live with the disappointment and learn from it. But to a man they know now that they can play with the best. Now it’s time to get better and beat the best.
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: Wow, Mark was bang on with this post. Thanks to Mark Korber for all his contributions to our blog. You won’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s ‘Stadium Wall’ message board.