Another Sunday, another Bills game and yet again I don’t know what to think. A Bills team doing much better than I had anticipated actually had me believing that they could win another game despite being an underdog, but it was not to be. What makes the loss painful (and they always seem painful) is that for most of the game it looked as if it was there for the taking. Add some key injuries to the loss and it’s going to be a rough week for the Bills and their fans.
The 2017 Bills did what the 2017 Bills have been doing – playing good defense and moving the ball as efficiently as possible – mostly via the ground game. The defense gave up a huge 77 yard touchdown when All Pro receiver AJ Green got a step behind rookie Tre’Davious White – painful to watch but understandable that a player like Green would exploit even the smallest of mistakes from a corner playing in only his fifth NFL game. The Bills got the touchdown back when they came up with a tipped ball interception that resulted in a touchdown drive.
Most Bills fans would probably have preferred skipping the opening 30 minutes as it resulted in the loss of Charles Clay in what looks to be a fairly major injury (Coach McDermott said he will be out multiple weeks). Also hurt in the first half was nickel corner Leonard Johnson, leaving both the receiving corps and the defensive backfield short of talent.
By just about any measure Sunday’s loss to the Bengals was frustrating. This was not a game where the Bills were outclassed from the start – they were in the game and actually had a number of good things happen, but they just could capitalize on those opportunities – that’s where the frustration comes in.
The Bills continue to come up with turnovers and drive the turnover ratio in a positive direction. On Sunday the Bills managed to get two interceptions off tipped passes (ironically both to AJ Green) and also forced and recovered a fumble (also by Green). This gave the team ample opportunity to pass the Bengals on the scoreboard but it never happened – that’s frustrating.
Prior to the start of the game we all knew Buffalo was dealing with injuries and was thin on talent – Jordan Matthews and E.J. Gaines were inactive due to injury and there were legitimate concerns going into the game about how the Bills would be able to move the ball via the pass and how they would effectively cover the Bengals receivers. With the injuries the team suffered in the first half the situation grew even more dire and it showed. Without Clay the Bills were very limited in the passing game and became somewhat one dimensional having to run the ball. The Bills managed just 16 yards rushing and 39 yards passing in the second half. Regardless of how solid your defense plays, that caliber of offensive production is not going to win you the game, especially if you start with a tie ballgame.
It is obvious Buffalo had a huge task in front of it to come out and beat the Bengals in the second half. The team has been playing much better than I thought they would this season and that’s a testament to a coach and an organization who have managed to build a team with players who are buying into what the team is trying to do – the belief in the system and “being addicted to the process” has really been able to get the most out of the team, and for that I’m excited.
Unfortunately, no amount of buy in to a system can really makeup for talent on the roster. Buffalo certainly has talent and some promising players, but few would argue that their roster is loaded with the talent needed to become a contender, especially when injuries inevitably hit.
With so few playmakers on the field in the second half I really expected to see Tyrod Taylor use his feet, but it never happened. Tyrod is what he is as a quarterback – I don’t think he’s terrible, nor do I think he’s a franchise quarterback. Tyrod is dynamic when you factor in his ability to run so I was very surprised this aspect of his skill set was not utilized. There we no designed running plays for Taylor, no option plays, not even rollouts to get Taylor out of the pocket. Instead, Taylor became a one-dimensional pocket passer with receivers who were generally well covered and the results were predictable – I already shared the woeful second half yardage stats above.
Despite all the adversity and trouble moving the ball, the Bills still had a chance to win it at the end of the game when they got the ball back at 3:33 in the fourth quarter and no timeouts – if they could drive 75 yards for a touchdown they would almost certainly win. Game winning drives are not Tyrod’s forte so I didn’t have high hopes.
Let me preface my review of the final Bills drive by saying that I am not a Tyrod hater, nor do I believe he should be pulled for another quarterback on the roster. By now I think it is pretty obvious what the Bills have in Taylor – a physically gifted quarterback you can manage the game and make the occasional downfield throw. I think Taylor is about as good a quarterback as the Bills have had in years, although that’s not saying much – it’s a pretty low bar. I also think that Tyrod has suffered from a lack of supporting cast, although I’m pretty confident that if he did have a better supporting cast he’s only be incrementally better. In short, Tyrod is who the Bills have – he’s usually not good enough to win games for the Bills, nor bad enough to lose them.
Unfortunately, on the last Bills drive on Sunday Tyrod was bad. Again, 75 yards with no timeouts from a guy not known for his game winning drives limited my expectations, but this drive was a disaster. Any quarterback, even the infamous Billy Joe Hobert, knows that in the situation faced on Sunday you absolutely can’t do two things – take a sack or turn the ball over – Tyrod did both. On the first play Tyrod took the snap, dropped back and waited…and waited. As a fan the clock went off in my head just like it had done countless times with the likes of Rob Johnson – THROW THE BALL! GET RID OF IT! I understand it was a tough situation and that none of the receivers were open, but that’s no excuse for not moving and/or throwing the ball away. If the receivers are well covered there’s not much the quarterback can do, but he better damn well understand that standing in the pocket forever is something you cannot do in that situation – you’re going to get sacked and that’s exactly what happened. An incomplete pass to LeSean McCoy and the Bills were faced with 3rd and 15 and Tyrod threw a terrible interception right to George Iloka – game over.
In the end, I don’t think the entire loss can be hung on Taylor – he’s only 1 of 11 men on the field at a time and he had some daunting obstacles. On the other hand, he’s got to take some blame for doing the things he absolutely could not do if the Bills were to have a shot at winning on a final drive. Ando so you have it – a team with some talent deficiencies loses a tough road game, not really a big headline. With the Bills on a bye in week 6 we should all have time to reflect on what the Bills have done so far and think about what they might do this season – Sunday’s loss and the injuries sustained may put a damper on expectations.