The Bills 2019 season has been rewarding and beyond expectations, at least in this reviewer’s eyes. Clinching a playoff spot and getting to 10 wins with 2 games left in the season is well beyond what I had anticipated. The game with the Patriots Saturday night though showed that there is still a ways to go before being a true Super Bowl contender is within the realm of possibility.
The Patriots brought their “A” game and the Bills, while fighting to the end, really could not match it. The champs know how to play big games. The Bills are still learning. The Patriots offense had been maligned for much of the season and for good reason, they really were not very good.
Saturday night though, the execution was sharp, the quarterback accurate and on point. Death by a million paper cuts as the Pats made few chunk plays but lots of little ones. The Patriots rose up and dominated on both sides of the ball.
Some telling stats: The Patriots had possession for 39 minutes (+ or -) to the Bills 21, 414 total yards (most against a Bills D coached by McDermott) to the Bills 268, the Patriots were 7-of-14 on 3rd downs, the Bills were 2-of-11. Both Patriot lines dominated their Bills counterparts.
Run and stop the run? Not so much. Control Michel? No. Control Edelman? No. Make Brady uncomfortable? No.Tackle well? No. Perhaps after how the Bills D played vs Brady the last game (and last year too for the most part) they lacked the fear of getting embarrassed. That sometimes can be a great motivator. Whatever it was, they did not have an extra edge to their game like the Patriots did.
On the other side of the ball, Josh Allen was wildly inconsistent. It was the true Allen experience. He missed open receivers where touch was required (especially early in the game where the setting seemed too big for him and his teammates) but then dropped in some truly jaw dropping deep throws, perhaps for the 1st time all year.
His touch on the last drive, save for the miss by inches to Knox in the end zone, was outstanding. The strikes to Beasley nearly singlehandedly got them the equalizer. Allen competed like crazy, which he always does.
The O line though no showed in the running game and, at the end when a tying touchdown was in reach, was atrocious in pass protection… giving their young quarterback no hope of pulling it out.
At some point recently, McDermott mentioned how teams need to build up scar tissue before they break through to truly achieving meaningful goals. There are no moral victories for a 10 win team but I think the scar tissue from losing in a game with truly a playoff atmosphere to a team that is a champion and knows how to win should go a long way toward helping the Bills achieve their goals. If not this year, then in the future.
Onward to the likes and dislikes.
The things I did not like:
- The Bills tackling was atrocious throughout most of the game, from the missed tackle by Matt Milano on Michel in the 1st quarter to the multiple missed tackles on the Burkhead td in the 4th quarter.
- The defense was unable to get the Patriots behind the sticks almost all night. It seemed they were in 3rd and 1,2 or 3 almost every series. The inability to stop the run forced the linebackers to come up and the safeties to do so as well. That opened up the middle of the field and Brady exploited it all night long. Lots of credit to the Patriots O line and their scheme and demerits to the Bills D line.
- The offense could not sustain drives at all during the entire game. Part of it was due to Allen’s inaccuracies but also and, more problematically, was the inability to run the ball. There were too many run, run, punt series. Singletary, to my eyes anyway, did a nice job of getting the maximum out of the little that was available but it was not enough to sustain drives.
- There has been a clamor among a segment of Bills fans for the reappearance of Duke Williams. There was never a more screaming need for a receiver that could win a jump ball in the end zone (or for a first down) then at the end of the game when 5’8″ Cole Beasley did his best to corral the last heave by Allen. It clearly was too much to ask. Are the Bills really getting more out of Isiah McKenzie then they would out of a tall, strong receiver like Williams?
- Every time the bills insert Andre Roberts on offense it seems the Bills run to his side of the field. If I know that I would imagine the Patriots defense did too. They certainly had the Allen quarterback keeper inside the10 at the end of the game sniffed out.
- The missed face mask call on Josh Allen’s drive in the 4th quarter. It seemed really obvious and, if called, would have taken the Bills down near the 10 much sooner than they got there.
- Baffled why the Bills did not take a timeout before the last play. They had one to use and they sure as heck weren’t going to need it on D. The play was a mess as Dawkins fell at the snap, the Pats blitzed through that spot and Cody Ford just about totally whiffed his block on the other side as well. A total jailbreak. The Patriots had won the prior 3 plays and had momentum. Take some time and regroup.
- Cody Ford really struggled on the edge again. After a pretty good game vs Pittsburgh, I thought he regressed. The interior line had no luck opening holes either and were clearly outplayed all night.
- After the last few weeks, no one has been clamoring for more of Frank Gore. That said, if you are not going to use him at all, why dress him? Perhaps the Bills inability to sustain drives and thus very short time of possession made it more difficult to find a spot to play him.
- I thought the Bills were too conservative in their play calling on first down. 7 of 10 drives had first down runs, including 4 of 5 in the second half. They had very little success beyond the early portion of the game with it.
The things I liked:
- While Allen had massive inconsistencies, his throws to Knox to the one and the touchdown to Brown were things of beauty. He made some really difficult throws to Beasley on the last drive and a sidearm throw to him in the 1st half, which was perfectly placed, were telling signs of Allen’s growth as a quarterback. The criticisms of Allen do not mean I am unhappy with him in general. I see tremendous overall improvement from year 1 to year 2 and from the first Pats game to the last one. As Jim Kubiak stated: ” His effort, ball security, awareness, leadership and toughness were all exemplary. What he lacked was the ability to make the ordinary plays”.
- The Bills were aggressive at the end of the first half. I loved them trying to score and not take the 10-3 deficit in to halftime willingly. The play call for the touchdown to Dawkins was outstanding! Trying to maximize the few seconds they had left by passing was aggressive and what winning teams do.
- The Bills had an opportunity to challenge the spot on a run of Sony Michel’s in the first half. Replay seemed to show him to be short of the first down. That said, it was unclear as to where the ball was when his knee hit. I think they very likely would have lost that challenge without the visual evidence of where the ball was. By saving what likely would have been a lost challenge and having a timeout taken away, McDermott was able to have one timeout left to call when the ten-second runoff on the Knox catch and subsequent re-spotting of the ball would have ended the half with the Bills on the 1.
- Nice to see the refs call offensive pass interference on the Patriots. They’ve lived on that forever and it is rarely called.
- Big hustle play by Ed Oliver to get to Brady as he headed to the goal line. With the score at 17-13 at the time, it saved a go ahead score and forced a field goal.
- Special teams. No penalties, Bojorquez had an excellent night punting (though the Pats came really close to blocks on more than one occasion), Siran Neal did a great job downing the punt at the 1 and Andre Roberts had some nice returns. I thought it was their best game of the year given the opponent.
- A really nice 4th down tackle by Kevin Johnson on Harry to force the Patriots off the field when they were driving for what seemed like sure points.
- Outstanding punch out of the football by Jordan Poyer on Rex Burkhead early in the game when the Patriots seemed to be getting the momentum of a big drive started.
- No turnovers. For a great D like the Patriots have, they thrive on take aways. The ball security was good all night and Allen did a nice job of throwing things away rather than risk turnovers.
The game next week against the Jets will be anticlimactic. Cheer for no injuries and a healthy team going into Wild Card weekend. The Bills are headed to either Houston or Kansas City.
Personally, I’d rather see Houston but I’m excited to see the Bills in the playoffs again and this time with a legitimate chance against whomever they play. The rebuild is ahead of schedule. Work still needs to be done on roster construction but to be a viable playoff team at this point is really encouraging.
Editor’s babble: Many thanks to Joe Tauriello for his comprehensive contributions to our blog. You can find Joe on Twitter @Joe_Tauriello.