FOXBORO, Mass. (WROC) — This is a panic button loss for the Bills.
More practically, it’s a game that demands recalibration of expectations.
Forget any talk about a Super Bowl, at least for the time being. At 4-3, the Bills will have serious work just to make the playoffs.
It’s not just that the offense looked ordinary for a third consecutive week. No one is gonna mistake those 25 points for any sort of success. We all saw the offense struggle for three and a half quarters against one of the league’s worst teams with, at best, a mediocre defense (and the Pats were missing two elite pass rushers!).
Give the offense credit for figuring out a way to score the couple of touchdowns that provided a late lead. Not that it’s any surprise. Over the last three weeks, the offense has not played better than when down two scores late in the fourth quarter. Not exactly a cake and ice cream accomplishment.
The real problem now is that the Bills defense is also no longer dependable. Sure, they found a way to finish off the win last week against the Giants. In the same spot against an equally incompetent offense this week, the Bills allowed Mac Freaking Jones to drive the length of the field in the final two minutes for a go-ahead touchdown.
Mind you, this was a situation where New England would have been happy settling for a tying field goal. They would not have been chasing a 4th down inside the Buffalo 35. They didn’t need it. In fact, Jones only had to convert one third down on the final drive.
The Bills have big-time defensive injuries, but the Patriots offensive line is fairly terrible. Their guards are ranked 63rd and 76th out of 80 qualifying players per Pro Football Focus. New England has another guard that’s ranked 70th. He played tackle against the Bills.
The Patriots tight ends were both rejected by other teams. Their best wide receiver is somehow Kendrick Bourne. Rhamondre Stevenson is an excellent back, but the 34 yards he gained on the opening play of the final drive matched the entirety of what he gained rushing (and cost me some $$$).
Finally, New England has the most average quarterback in the world. Yet, the Bills defense made Jones look like Tom Brady. Actually, they made him look better. In all the years of Brady torment in Buffalo, he only drove for a touchdown in the last two minutes to beat Buffalo once. Thanks to Leodis McKelvin, that one last-minute touchdown drive needed only go 31 yards.
Mac Jones had to drive it 75 yards.
You can argue the Bills defense was in almost the same spot last week and closed out a win and that 1 out of 2 in the NFL isn’t all that bad. And that’s fine. The conclusion of such logic makes the Bills defense a coin flip to finish games against the league’s worst offenses. Coin flips are not dependable.
Replacements for former stalwarts wilted at the wrong time Sunday. Christian Benford was called for a pass interference that put the ball at the one for the game-winning TD and the interference still did not prevent the pass from being completed. Dorian Williams was benched for the second time in three games trying to step in at linebacker. The real backbreaker to me on the final drive was the Hunter Henry third and 8 conversion with the Patriots probably still out of field goal range. That catch was made smack dab between Terrel Bernard and Taylor Rapp.
I still think this is an above-average group on defense, but it’s no longer good enough to carry an average offense. It may be time to admit Buffalo’s offense is not a whole lot better than average.
The first three quarters of the last three games have produced a total of 17 points. That’s three scoring drives over nine quarters. After the loss in Foxboro, Josh Allen and Sean McDermott talked about fixing slow starts. We’re missing some forest for the trees here. The Bills offense goes slow in the start and the middle lately.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Bills just don’t have the personnel to dominate offensively. Gabe Davis was invisible for the second straight week. Dawson Knox could not hold on to a key fourth down throw early in the fourth quarter. Give Ja’Whaun Bentley credit for a good defensive play, but passes entering and then departing Knox’s hands have become all too common to excuse this particular mistake.
Ken Dorsey is either too inexperienced or simply not talented enough to mold a group of middling pieces into an elite-level offense, even with a pair of super-elite stars at the center. Maybe Dorsey someday develops into that level of offensive genius. Maybe it’s even later this year, but so far, whatever potential the Bills offense has remains locked.
There were certainly bright spots. Dalton Kincaid had, by far, his best game was a pro. He was active and open and even creating a little run after the catch. I like James Cook’s game. He was strong and elusive. His vision to find the hole is maybe his best attribute and I thought he was at his best in this game. The third quarter TD pass to Cook is a play where the coach tells his back, “This is you versus that tackler. Make him miss”. That’s a professional six points from Cook.
While encouraging, It’s hard to buy these two young offensive weapons are the pieces Buffalo can build around going forward this year. First of all, we haven’t seen much of this from either guy before Sunday. Secondly, Cook and Kincaid combined for 160 total yards before the final two drives and it still resulted in the same meager-looking number Buffalo has put on the scoreboard the last three weeks.
Throw in the opener and this is now more games than not that the offense has looked much less than elite and certainly not intimidating or capable of a long run in January. Perhaps Brandon Beane might find a cavalry at the trade deadline. It might take a blockbuster to make any real impact. Barring that, Dorsey is gonna have to play this hand he’s been dealt.
The season isn’t over. The Bills still have ten games left to figure things out. There are lots of Super Bowl teams that lose to last-place teams or go through mid-season struggles. It would not be totally crazy if the Bills turn this around and, once again, end up with the dangerous team they’ve been in January the last few years.
The problem is figuring out exactly what part of this team can drive a squad that strong. The offense and the passing game used to be the fastball. The fastball now is really just Allen to Diggs. With everything else, the Bills are just hoping to find the strike zone.
On defense, Ed Oliver should be back soon and a version of Von Miller that can trouble quarterbacks is bound to show up at some point. There will be success on that side of the ball, but there will also be the lingering doubt that a Mac Jones level QB can, at any point, look like Tom Brady.
It’s hard to see what part of this team could carry it to a long playoff run. There are just so many holes in the dam right now, it seems more likely the next step is that everything bursts.