Oh, you Bills. Sunday was a chance to make a statement, a statement that the Patriots’ days of owning this division are numbered, a statement that the Pegula Era would be one of successful seasons, and a statement that this team is a force to be reckoned with, not next year, but now. Instead, the only statement the Bills made is that they still haven’t cracked the formula for beating Tom Brady. A combination of horrendous officiating, horrible play calling, critical mistakes on offense, and abysmal defense in the second half turned what could have been a win into a 2 score rout.
First, let’s talk about the officials. Now, I know a lot of cynical people like myself share the belief that with as much money as there is in the NFL, there’s just no way it could be entirely legitimate. However, there’s just been a lot of horrible officiating in every game for every team this year and it’s just not consistent anymore. For instance, Robert Woods gets called for an entirely bogus Offensive Pass Interference penalty. A few drives later, Julian Edelman gets away with the exact same thing without a flag. It’s fun to take it out on the Patriots supporters by blaming Robert Kraft’s deep pockets or Bill Belichick’s Dark Jedi powers, but it’s just the depressingly usual inconsistent officiating we’ve come to expect in today’s NFL. It’s quite frankly a disgrace to Herr Goodell’s beloved “shield”.
Second, the play calling. Hackett needs to be fired. He’s grossly incompetent and it’s cost us a couple of games this season alone. Down 3 with 14 seconds left in the first half, why bother running a play when you’re deep in your own half of the field? I know the Bills got away with that last week in Detroit, but don’t push your luck. There was no way they would have even gotten close to a field goal shot, so it was an unnecessary risk and one that bit them right in the proverbial rear end. Then we have the fact that Hackett loves to abandon the run game as soon as the Bills trail by more than 3 points, something that still bewilders me. Finally, Marrone has to take some of the blame as well. The difference between coaching quality was never more evident than in the second half, when the Bills were suddenly unable to handle the adjustments the Patriots made at the break. After holding Tom Brady to a mere 13 points, all off of turnovers, in the first half, the usually stout Bills defense gave up 24 points in the final 2 quarters. Clearly Bill Belichick saw a chink in the Bills’ defensive armor and worked out a way to exploit that weakness and the Bills’ struggling offense simply could not keep up.
Third, the mistakes. Penalties and turnovers, two things that kill a team’s momentum more quickly than anything else and the Bills were strong in both categories this weekend. Three first half turnovers lead to 13 points for the Patriots, as I mentioned. The way the defense played in the first half, even if the Bills ended up punting away those possessions and didn’t score off of any of them, it makes the second half much more manageable, allowing them to take fewer risks and play a close game. As it was, it allowed the Patriots to go into the break with a lead, a lead they could immediately build on with the first possession of the second half (which they did). Between those and some drive killing penalties, the Bills collectively shot themselves in the foot and did more damage than the Patriots did on their own.
Finally, the defense. Man, where was the defense that held Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler to a collective 34 points? As I alluded to earlier, I think it was a masterful job by the Hoodie during halftime, putting together some adjustments for the Bills defense that allowed Tom Brady to look like the guy who played in 2007, as opposed to the guy who couldn’t score 20 against Oakland. Combined with an apparent lack of adjustments by the Bills (or worse, adjustments that were less effective), the Patriots were unstoppable in the second half. At least the Bills get a 3 week break, since they get to host a rookie in his third start next week, then play Geno Smith (or Michael Vick) the week before their bye.
PS: While it’s not something to be especially proud of, we have continued our streak of taking important players out of the game. I’m not in favor injuring players, of course, but it speaks to the physicality with which the defense is playing, particularly in the trenches. I think that is a good thing, something we’ve been missing in Western New York for quite some time.