Orchard Park (WKBW) Different coaching staff, different quarterback, similar result against the Patriots. Still it didn't feel like the same old Bills on Sunday. There were hints of progress for a young team under new head coach Doug Marrone. Just not enough to beat New England. Not yet.
The 23-21 loss dropped the Bills to 3-24 in their last 27 meetings against the Patriots. Kyle Williams may have summed it up best "Just because all of you (reporters) said we were going to lose by fifty and we get beat by three doesn't make me feel any better. I want to win", said the Bills defensive tackle in the post-game locker room.
Frustrating Williams was the fact that the Bills had their chances. Despite a sluggish start, turnovers and 10 penalties along the way the Bills had a 4-point lead , at home, entering the fourth quarter. They just couldn't close the door.
Offensively the Bills missed several opportunities in the fourth quarter. On three drives the Bills failed to convert on a third down. The Stevie Johnson drop on third-and-two was a killer. EJ Manuel may have led him a bit too much with the pass but Johnson got both hands on it. It would have been a tough catch, but he will likely tell you that he should have had it. (I didn't get a chance to talk to him postgame).
The following offensive possession was equally as tough. With 5:51 to play the Bills went three-and-out, failed to milk to clock and gave the ball right back to the Patriots for what turned out to be the game winning drive. The Bills chose to continue to push the pace and go no huddle on that drive. Doug Marrone defended the approach after the game.
"Our philosophy, we had to score", said Marrone. When you're talking about milking the clock they still had three time-outs. We get the ball back; we were still over four minutes. Four minutes and fifty-something seconds. We felt like that we still needed to score to win the game.", Marrone continued.
Even with the failed execution by the offense on that series the Bills defense had a chance. But the same unit that kept the Bills in the game by forcing turnovers, and frustrating Tom Brady at times, also failed to finish things off.
Following the punt the Patriots took over on the New England 34 with 4:31 to play. Then Tom Brady went Tom Brady. The veteran marched the Patriots down the field with a 12 play 49 yard drive that set up the game winning field goal. Brady went 7-7 passing on the drive. The Bills had no answer for WR Danny Amendola who hauled in four catches on the drive including 2 on third down. The backbreaker was the 10 yard catch on 3rd and 8 with 1:20 to play from the Buffalo 39. Gostkowski trotted out 4 plays later and knocked the game winner from 35-yards out four plays later.
Despite the loss I think there was plenty to build on for the Bills you can start with the play of rookie QB EJ Manuel. I think he was solid in his regular season debut. The first round pick went 18-27 for 150 yards passing and two touchdowns in the loss. The game didn't look to big for him. I think he seemed calm and collected. He didn't force anything and showed great touch on the touchdown passes. He showed good mobility to me coming off the knee procedure. Finished with 23 yards rushing and was able to avoid a sack along the way. Did he miss some plays. Yep. But I think it was a solid start for the Bills QB of the future.
I liked the aggressiveness of Mike Pettine's defense. Did we really see someone from the secondary blitz?? Da'Norris Searcy played well in replacing the injured Jairus Byrd especially in the first half. He finished with 8 tackles, 1 sack and the 74 yard fumble return for the touchdown in the second quarter. The play provided a well timed spark for a Bills team that desperately needed something