Arrow Up/Arrow Down: Bills-Patriots

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For the first time this season, I have to start with my arrows pointing down, because the Buffalo Bills found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard in a 16-10 defeat to the New England Patriots:

 

ARROW DOWN

  • QB - Josh Allen

We have seen the bad and good of Allen through three games this season. Against the Patriots, we certainly saw most of the bad. The Bills quarterback looked confused and flustered early in the game, and that translated into poor decision-making and errant throws. Once things started to unravel, he forced balls where and when he shouldn’t, and wound up throwing three interceptions. He also fumbled again, but it was recovered by his own team. It wasn’t just the three interceptions, it was also when and where they happened. His carelessness cost the offense a shot at three points by taking them out of field-goal range on one sack, and turned, what would have been, a 44-yard field goal into a 49-yarder that Stephen Hauschka missed. Allen did heat up coming out of the locker room after halftime, going 6-of-6 for 69 yards on the opening third quarter drive, but overall his day wasn’t pretty. He finished 13-for-28 for 153 yards and the three interceptions.   

  • WR - Zay Jones

Two different times Jones was targeted on balls that were intercepted, and on each of them he failed to even attempt to catch it. The first was a long pass that was underthrown. The receiver should have come back to it to, at least, try to play defense before it was picked off. The second was on a scramble by Allen, who threw it up towards Jones, who basically just stood there and watched the defensive back go up and get it in front of him. Inexcusable plays. 

  • Blocked punt

Probably the biggest play of the game. The Patriots brought an extra defender into the box at the line of scrimmage, and the Bills did not counter by having their gunner come in to block him. That’s fine, if you’re going to throw the ball to that gunner because he’s therefore wide open, and he was. But punter Corey Bojorquez attempted to get the punt off. It was blocked and returned for a touchdown. One of two things needed to happen there. Either someone on the Bills' punt team had to recognize the extra defender and move their own player over for extra protection, or Bojorquez had to throw it to the uncovered man. Neither happened and it very well may have cost the Bills the game. 

  • Use of timeouts

The Bills were already out of time outs with only 14:54 left to play in the fourth quarter. They used one on defense prior to a fourth down, another on a Sean McDermott challenge, claiming offensive pass interference against the Patriots, and their final timeout when Josh Allen saw the play clock running down just one play into the fourth quarter after an incompletion. It wasn’t a situation that particularly cost them at the end of the game, but it still was a really poor job of managing those timeouts. 

  • Third down offense

The Bills were 2-for-13 on third down for the game. A brutal 15%. That’s not going to win many football games, especially against a defense as good as the Patriots. 

  • Pass protection

Allen wasn’t good himself, but his offensive line didn’t do him any favors in pass protection. He was under duress too many times and had to make quick decisions because of pass rushers around him quickly. Allen and Matt Barkley were sacked a total of five times, and officially hurried a whopping seven times. 

  • Not going up-tempo more often

After a very poor first half, the offense came out and put together a terrific drive to begin the third quarter. They did it by going with a quicker tempo and consistent pace. But they seemed to get out of that rhythm and not go back to it much after that. 

  • K - Stephen Hauschka

Of course a 49-yard field goal is not a chip shot, but Hauschka just signed a new contract before the season, he’s making good money, and it’s very makeable. The three points he missed at the very end of the half would have cut the New England lead to seven, and it cost the Bills a chance to only need a field goal on one of their fourth quarter drives, instead of having to score a touchdown. 

  • Penalties

Eight penalties cost of the Bills 76 yards of field position. Against the Patriots, they all seem to matter more, but that’s a lot no matter who you’re playing. 

  • TE - Lee Smith

Smith personally committed three penalties, including two false starts (which should never happen at home) and a holding call. He also had trouble hearing a cadence while the Bills were near the goal line, stood up and went to Barkley to get the call, and by the time he got reset, the play clock had run out, costing the Bills a delay of game penalty, since they didn’t have a timeout to use to stop it.  

 

ARROW UP:

  • Trent Murphy, Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Kurt Coleman, Kevin Johnson, Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal, Maurice Alexander, Jaquan Johnson, Julian Stanford, Shaq Lawson, Darryl Johnson, Kyle Peko, Jordan Philips.

Every single Bills defensive player who suited up deserves an arrow up. They were that good as a unit. I have only seen five teams play this season up-close and personal - the Bills and their four opponents. I find it hard to envision many defenses better than them, if any, from what I have seen. They absolutely might be the best unit in football, and they are extremely well coached. Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier have great game plans, the players stick to that, and they don’t beat themselves.

Since McDermott and Frazier have been in Buffalo, they’ve done an excellent job defending Tom Brady. Sunday was one of their best. He was 18-for-39 for 150 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. It’s really incredible to think they lost the game after that job they did on Brady. Whatever it is, they’ve unlocked the secret to containing him, and did it again. In the five games Brady has faced the McDermott/Frazier combo in Buffalo, he’s thrown five interceptions and only three touchdown passes.

The Patriots were only 5-for-18 on third down (28%). The Bills held them to 224 total yards, 184 yards below their season average. It was simply a fantastic perforce by the defense. 

  • First drive of second half

The Bills had been outscored 17-3 in the third quarter of games before Sunday, but against the Patriots, they came out of the locker room and just marched down the field. Allen completed all six of his passes and then put the ball over the goal line on fourth down, for a drive that totaled nine plays, 75 yards, and took 4:23 to complete. It was also the first touchdown scored against the Patriots defense all season. 

  • RB - Frank Gore

A lot of people mocked the Bills for signing the 36-year-old Gore at the start of free agency. Probably even many of you reading this right now. However, the joke is on whoever felt that way. Gore ran for 109 yards on only 17 carries, which was good for a terrific 6.1 yards per-carry. He also became only the fourth NFL player to ever run for 15,000 career yards, joining Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders. He’ll join all of them in the Hall of Fame someday, too. 

  • PR/KR - Andre Roberts

Roberts showed why he’s one of the best return men in the league with several returns that made something out of nothing. His two kickoff returns totaled 71 yards, and he averaged 7.7 yards per-punt return. Roberts finished with 107 all-purpose yards. 

 

THE BIG PICTURE:

I don’t blame any Bills fan for having mixed feelings after this one.

On one hand, it was a tough loss to take against maybe their most-hated opponent. They had chance after chance, and at one point were within two yards of taking a lead in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t finish it off.  

On the other hand, they went toe-to-toe with the six-time Super Bowl champions who’ve been dominating every team they’ve played so far, especially on defense. Even on offense, overall, the Bills had solid numbers. Check out these comparisons:

  • Total yards: Bills (375-224)
  • Rushing yards: Bills (135-74)
  • Passing yards: Bills (240-150)
  • First downs: Bills (23-11)
  • Time of possession: Bills (32:40 - 27:20)
  • Offensive points: Bills (10-9)

The Bills dominated this game in all ways except for one - the scoreboard, and that’s what matters. A big reason they didn’t was because of turnovers. Four for the Bills. One for the Patriots. They weren’t good enough on offense to take advantage of so many chances the defense handed them. All of that was discouraging, but the defensive performance, and the group of players they have, shouldn’t just make you feel good, it should make you feel incredibly optimistic about where this season can still go.

Not many teams (maybe none?) on the Bills' schedule are going to be as good as the Patriots on defense. Yes, Josh Allen made several mistakes, again, and threw balls that he just shouldn’t have and can’t keep doing. That’s enough to always keep you nervous. But as long as this defense plays the way they have been all season - and there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t - the Bills are going to be in every game, and win plenty of them.

I said all week leading up to this game that it shouldn’t be a crowning if the Bills win, nor an indictment if they lose, and that’s still the case. This was Game 4 of 16. They still have 12 more to go. It would have been great to see the Bills at 4-0 after the first quarter of the season. They’d have looked glamorous sitting atop the entire AFC, but even that wouldn’t guarantee them anything, because the NFL season is a marathon not a sprint.    

A big question this week will be the health and status of Allen, who was placed in concussion protocol after the game after getting hit in the head during the fourth quarter. Barkley came in and finished the contest, and may now have to be ready to start next week against the Tennessee Titans, which now is a huge game in the AFC standings.  

Get used to hearing the phrase “big game in the AFC standings,” because we’re going to be in for a bunch of those from here on out, because look at this:

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