Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots (12/3/17)

ORCHARD PARK, NY (WKBW) - The Buffalo Bills came in with a game plan to take on quarterback Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots, hoping to find the way to a shocking win that would keep them on pace with the AFC Wild Card race. Instead, their problems of old came back to bite them and the Bills lost 23-3, dropping their record to 6-6 on the season.

The Bills seemed to have a good game plan heading into the game, but the execution was lacking as the game wore on. Where exactly did it all go wrong for the Bills?

Seven observations from the Bills’ loss to the Patriots:

1) Have we seen the last of Tyrod Taylor?
- This question certainly has a lot of layers to it after what we saw throughout the game on Sunday. On the first play of the game, Tyrod Taylor injured his knee and played through it as long as he could, before getting carted off the field and to the locker room in the second half. In between those two events, the Bills were completely inept in the passing offense. Throws were missed, the Bills had a total of 65 yards passing (less than that if you look at the net gains after sacks), the pass blocking struggled, and worse yet, Taylor committed a sin he normally doesn’t commit: he turned the ball over just outside the end zone, taking away a valuable chance for points. In the eleventh start of the season, it just reaffirmed what has been abundantly clear all season long, that he and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison just are not a good fit together. Taylor made a couple of big plays with his legs against the Patriots, but if you can’t move the ball through the air there just isn’t any hope in trying to keep pace with a Tom Brady-led offense. Now, when Taylor went off with the injury, rookie Nathan Peterman came into the game. He wasn’t incredible by any means, but he certainly responded well to the moment and got the stench from his first start in Los Angeles to dissipate a bit. He was even let down a couple of times by his receivers not catching a pass that hit them in the hands. Plus, he threw the ball with anticipation and threw tight window passes, which was one of the reasons they made the switch to him in the first place. I think it’s very much within the realm of possibilities that we could have seen the last of Taylor in this game. Sean McDermott wouldn’t comment on Taylor’s injury, or the decision on a quarterback for next week as Taylor is still being evaluated, but the thought has to be running through the head coach’s mind. If Taylor has a semi-serious injury, that would mean the Bills would have no other choice to play Peterman. And with only four games left in the season, any semi-serious injury could certainly put the idea of the Injured Reserve in their minds. Even if Taylor comes out alright from the injury, think back to the Monday press conference after Peterman’s starting debut against the Chargers. If you need a refresher, here you go:

 

 

That did not sound like a coach who had given up on the rookie quarterback, and, it also sounded very much like a coach that was genuinely considering keeping Peterman as the starter, despite the outcome of his first start. With their playoff hopes in the balance and three winnable games in a row on the horizon, will the Bills trust Taylor to run the offense well enough for the outcome of their season, or would they rather let Peterman play it out and then find out more about him along the way? It’s clear they do not believe in Taylor much more than Peterman, and the thought even crossed my mind that they could bench him in the Patriots game for ineffectiveness even before the injury. The outcome of Taylor’s medical evaluation will make the decision easy on McDermott, certainly. However, if Taylor comes out alright from the injury, this will be what McDermott is thinking about more than anything for the next few days.

2) Dennison’s offense starts off with a yell, goes out with a whimper
- I’ve been very hard on offensive coordinator Rick Dennison this season for the job that he’s done, but I’ll give credit where credit is due: he came out with a nice and innovative scripted game plan to start the game. He used plays that they hadn’t shown much of throughout the season, and even got Joe Webb involved in the Wildcat offense. He ran three runs out of the Wildcat with Webb to set up a pass play that flat out worked. Travaris Cadet was wide open down the seam and Webb just missed him, in what should have been a 37-yard touchdown. Heck, they were even running out of the shotgun early on. However, when the adversity hit them and they got down by a bunch of points, all of that creativity was thrown to the wayside. Instead, all that came through was all of the predictable play-calling and an outright stale stench anytime the offense took the field. Tyrod Taylor surely takes a lot of the blame here, but the fact that they had only 40 net yards passing through just over 45 minutes of game time is on more than just the quarterback. The backbreaking play call, especially in the fourth quarter down 20 points, was the decision to throw a fade route to Zay Jones on 4th-and-goal — which is a low percentage throw in the first place. In that spot, it doesn’t make much sense, especially after a similar play was just defended well by the same defender two plays prior. The Patriots defense knew what was coming and the Bills didn’t do anything in the second half to put them on their heels. The stale play calling, the mismanagement of the quarterback position, and the uneven play of the offensive line certainly calls into question Dennison’s long-term status as the team’s offensive coordinator. At this point, the Bills know what they have in Taylor, but the same might also be said about Dennison — and the more we see, the more evidence that we get that both Taylor and Dennison could have similar fates in the offseason.

3) This loss is not on the defense
- For Bills fans, the one thing to hang your hat on in this game is how well the Bills did against Tom Brady and the Patriots in the first half of the game, even though it was a serious talent disparity. Sean McDermott’s game plan for the Patriots was working — using four or fewer pass rushers the majority of the time, and depending on the front four to manufacture a pass rush while maximizing the coverage on the back end. To their credit, it was working and they held the Patriots to field goals each time the ball went past the 50-yard line. The defensive line was getting pressure up the middle and on the edges, bringing Brady down three times and hurrying him another three times while the game was still competitive. It all started to drift away from the defense as the game wore on, with the offense not giving them much time on the sidelines to catch up, and without much offensive success, it seemed like the defense was just swimming upstream. By that point, the Patriots were just running over the tired defense and complementing that with Rob Gronkowski. However, the defense, against one of the best offenses in the league, allowed only 9 points at the half and only 23 points for the game. Allowing 23 points, a majority of the time should be good enough to get a victory if you have a competent offense helping out. That just wasn’t the case, and the solid defensive effort in the first half was wasted.

4) The Gronkowski hit was embarrassing
- Rob Gronkowski made one of the biggest impacts in the game for his receiving ability, and then, made an inexcusable decision to potentially take away one of the Bills’ best players for the rest of the game, and maybe even into next week. First, we’ll set the scene: Tre’Davious White was jostling with Gronkowski down the field, maybe to the point of a pass interference penalty that wasn’t called but got himself into a position to pick off a pass. White came down with the ball, landed out of bounds, and the play was well over with. Then Gronkowski, clearly frustrated that there wasn’t a call, made one of the dirtiest hits on a defenseless player that you’ll see this season. While it might not have been his full intent, Gronkowski connected directly with White’s head and left the rookie with a concussion. See the video below:

 

 

Gronkowski is one of the best players in the entire NFL, and clearly one of the best at his position — and for him to lose his cool that much, in a game in which they’re up by 20 points, and over just a no-call from the officials, was a despicable act. There is no place for that in the game, to which Sean McDermott agreed, but then wouldn’t get into whether or not he believed Gronkowski should face a suspension from the league. However, at the very least, Gronkowski needs to be fined by the NFL. No matter if he meant to hit him in the head or not, it was a premeditated play on a defenseless player after the play was well over and he made contact with White’s head, resulting in him being placed in the concussion protocol. Considering how much those head injuries are a hot topic in the NFL, the league has to act with some sort of punishment — at the risk of making themselves look like a hypocrite from the message they’re trying to send about player safety. Had a Bills player done this, I’d be writing the same thing. It was a cowardly act and an embarrassing moment for a really good player.

5) #FreeMattMilano
- The charade needs to be over. The Buffalo Bills have given Ramon Humber plenty of time to prove that he can be the full-time linebacker next to Preston Brown, and one thing continues to be reinforced every week that both he and rookie Matt Milano are available to play: Milano is the superior player and an ascending one that has gotten better as the season has continued. While Humber is a solid blitzed up the middle and a good downhill run stuffer when he goes unblocked, there are a lot of areas that he struggles with that are key to the job that the rookie has shown a better ability in. Most prominently, that’s with securing the tackle, getting off blocks, and a quick reaction/coverage ability in the zone defense. Humber struggled in all three areas, and now that the Bills are going to a mostly nickel look, they’re going to need their best two zone linebackers on the field. Preston Brown has shown well enough to maintain the middle linebacker job (and because there isn’t anyone else to play that role), and Milano should be his ride or die partner all game long. It’s time to see if he can be a long-term starter and to see how he handles a full workload over the final four games.

6) Jordan Matthews has been a bust for the Bills
- This has been a bubbling issue for the Bills for several weeks now, but in another ineffective game for the wide receivers and passing game as a whole, Jordan Matthews was nowhere to be found. He was targeted all of three times but failed to make much of an impact — which has been the case for most of the Bills’ season. Now, let me be clear, this is not the total fault of Matthews. There have been times he has been running open over the middle of the field as the slot receiver, and he just hasn’t been picked up by Tyrod Taylor. However, he doesn’t get open nearly enough to warrant any clamoring from people for him to get the ball more. With how much he’s likely to cost in the offseason, it’s beginning to trend toward this only being a one-year arrangement for Matthews with the Bills. Rookie Zay Jones has certainly turned a corner for the Bills and Kelvin Benjamin also likely figures into the plans for 2018, which means Matthews will likely be the odd man out and they’ll look to replenish the spot through the draft. In his past three active games, Matthews has made four catches for 43 yards on eight targets, which would be a mediocre total for one game. In fact, in the 10 games he’s been active, only once has he had more than three catches in one day. He just hasn’t made the type of impact that they had been hoping for, and it’s likely best they move on this offseason.

7) Gronkowski’s dominance over the Bills continues
- His atrocious decision in the fourth quarter notwithstanding, the Gronkowski dominance over the Bills throughout his career continued in a large sense on Sunday. He brought in nine catches for 147 yards — which, by the way, was more receiving yards than the entire Bills roster combined — and was a nuisance in the second half of the game. In the preview column, I wrote that Brady would find Gronkowski in the areas that Alex Smith didn’t find the always open Travis Kelce last week — and he did, in droves. His career numbers against the Bills are simply astounding. He now has 61 receptions for 960 yards in just 12 appearances. Those 960 yards are 234 yards more than the most a Bills tight end has gained in a single season. Those honors belong to Paul Costa in the 1967 season, who gained 726 yards in 14 games. In Buffalo, his dominance has been even more impressive. In seven games in Orchard Park, Gronkowski has 44 receptions for 730 yards and 7 touchdowns — which puts him four yards ahead of Costa’s mark in 1967 — and that’s in half of the games. That is incomparable dominance, and he set his single-game career Buffalo high in both receptions and yards today. His play on Tre’Davious White was as dirty as it gets, but he was one of the biggest reasons that this game was never in doubt in the second half.

Bills MVP: CB Tre’Davious White
- His interception highlighted solid coverage all day long against the Patriots wide receivers. New England had to focus only on their running backs and tight ends

Bills LVP: QB Tyrod Taylor
- The passing offense just never really clicked on Sunday, and when they needed it to start going once the Patriots had figured it out in the second half, they couldn’t do anything. A total of 40 net passing yards in 45 minutes of play just will not cut it.

The 'In the Hunt' Update: The Bills are now officially one game back in the Wild Card standings. As of Sunday, they are in eighth place in the conference, and now behind Baltimore (7-5) and the Los Angeles Chargers (6-6) in the race for the final spot. The Ravens currently hold the final spot.

Draft Order Update: The Bills, through 12 games, would hold the No. 16 (Kansas City's) and No. 19 selections of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Up Next: The Bills (6-6) will take on the Indianapolis Colts (3-9) on Sunday, December 10 at New Era Field.

Final Thoughts:
- This is a game that brought on some conflicting thoughts based on the performance of the team. There was a lot to like, especially from the defense in the first half, to think that the Bills could stand more of a chance against a really good Patriots team in the future, once they start to build the depth and the defense in the way that they want it. You really can’t take what that group did in the first half away from them, against the most prolific quarterback in the NFL today. Now, the offense, on the other hand, it couldn’t have gotten much worse. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison teased an innovative and different attack as the game opened but then turtled back to his normal, predictable play-calling once the Bills needed to put some points on the board. Furthermore, Tyrod Taylor didn’t give much from the quarterback position, which has now opened the ‘Will the Bills start Peterman’ vortex once again. Sean McDermott has a lot of decisions to make ahead of a basically must-win game at home against the Indianapolis Colts — and one of them just might be to go back to the rookie — Taylor injury or not.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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