As the Buffalo Bills approached their second game of the regular season, there was a general and lingering thought from fans.
“Hey, the defense played pretty well. If they play that well, and the offense plays like they did last year, they might be fine.”
Everything is not fine.
The Bills dropped their second straight contest, a 37-31 defensive beatdown from the New York Jets, and have now started the regular season with an 0-2 record.
Where did it all go wrong? Seven observations from yet another disappointing game day:
1) Where was Gilmore? Where was Darby? Where was anyone?
- With the way the Bills performed in Baltimore from a defensive perspective, you would have been foolish to not sit there and ponder, ‘Did Rex actually fix this defense?’ They stifled the Ravens down the stretch, and outside of a big play from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace, the Bills’ opponents were mostly held at bay by the defense. On Thursday? Yeah, not so much. The main problems all started with the cornerbacks. Both Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby have carved out a reputation as two of the better young cornerbacks in the league, but that reputation wasn’t held up in the least bit against the Jets. The worst offender of the duo was Gilmore, who was getting beat over and over again, missed tackles, and really didn’t make a discernible impact on the game. Darby, on the other hand, had some redeeming plays at times in the second half, but once again succumbed to the Thursday night affliction of the top two starting cornerbacks. Don’t get it twisted, both Gilmore (no matter what the #GilmoreMob will try to tell you on Twitter) and Darby are really good players, but they were two players that had just an awful night. They cost the Bills the game.
2) Tyrod turnover at the worst time
- On the flip side of it, the Bills did score 31 points in a loss, and some of that was due in part to the offense getting back on track….. kind of. To Tyrod Taylor’s credit, he took some chances down the field — something he didn’t do against Baltimore. He connected with Marquise Goodwin on a humongous 84-yard touchdown throw, and then again with Greg Salas on a 71-yard touchdown pass. That, outside of the garbage time touchdown drive, was basically it for the Bills on offense. Like last week, the running game struggled to get going once again due to the Jets loading the box, and then the passing offense continued to see the overall consistency evade them. Tyrod Taylor even had a chance late in the game to add to their slim one-point lead. The quarterback made the right read after seeing Sammy Watkins flat out beat Marcus Williams on a deep route with a safety slow to react. Taylor sent the pass his way, and undershot it by about two yards. Now, Marcus Williams has his struggles in coveragee, but when he is given an opportunity to pick off a pass, he has excellent ball skills — and guess what happened to Taylor? An interception is what happened, and that set up the Jets to take the lead and never look back. Even with how poorly they played on defense, they had a chance to win if the Bills could have capitalized on that drive. They couldn’t, and now the Bills are 0-2 to start the season.
3) Not the same Sammy
- It was a question throughout the shortened week: would the Buffalo Bills have their star wide receiver available to them against the Jets? Sammy Watkins seemed pretty hellbent on getting out on the field, but that wasn’t the same Sammy Watkins that we saw in the second half of the 2015 season. Heck, it wasn’t even the same one we saw in Week One with how well he moved against the Ravens. It’s pretty clear that his surgically repaired foot is still bothering him — whether it’s a pain tolerance thing, a mental one, or whatever else, Watkins was not the dynamic playmaker we’ve come to know. A couple of examples of this? Well, the obvious one that when the Bills were in total comeback mode late in the game, Watkins was nowhere to be seen. If he was his full self, you would have expected the most talented wide receiver on the roster to at lest be on the field. Another example, on that interception by Marcus Williams, he did a nice job of getting open — it was the right read. However, the ball was clearly short, and rather than fighting for it as he normally does, Watkins didn’t compete to not turn the ball over. Would he have been able to break up the play? Maybe, or maybe not — that’s not the point. The point is, a fully healthy Watkins would have done everything in his power to go over the top and get that ball, or at least knock it down. That’s just not what we saw from Watkins. He needs this 10-day break, because it’s clear his foot could use some rest.
4) The most optimistic Bills takeaway from the game
- There weren’t many positives, even though the Bills put up 31 points in the game. However, for how talented a group that the Jets boast along their defensive line, the offensive line of the Bills had one hell of a night in pass protection. Tyrod Taylor stayed upright and wasn’t brought down once, giving him the time in the backfield to operate and find targets down the field. With a couple of exceptions, Taylor just couldn’t take advantage of it enough to get the Bills over the hump — even if it was a bit out of his control that the defense couldn’t stop a thing. At the end of the day, 31 points should have been enough to get a win… but the defense let them down.
5) Third down defense was brutal
- A perfect segue, because the third down defensive stats only further proves just how poorly the Bills defense played. Just how bad were they? The Bills allowed the Jets to convert on 8-of-13 third downs in the game, and making it even worse, the Jets were 7-of-10 to start the game. It didn’t matter if it was on the ground or through the air, the Bills just couldn’t get the stops they needed to, and drives just continued along as the Jets marched down the field. By the end of it, the Bills surrendered 493 total net yards, and the Jets held the ball for 39 minutes and 12 seconds. On those 13 opportunities, the Jets gained 115 yards — an average of 8.9 yards per third down attempt. And that, is without all the penalty yardage the Bills took on third downs on defense.
6) Individual efforts shine on defense
- For the Bills, there wasn’t much to write home about for the Bills in this game. In fact, only three players on that unit spring to mind as ones that had discernibly solid performances. Both the pass rushers, when they were actually allowed to get after the quarterback, showed well in the first half of the game. Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander each continued their solid play from the previous week, until Rex Ryan was afraid to send pressure at the quarterback because of how poor the coverage was doing (something that he actually admitted). Other than that duo, at first glance, I liked the performance from Preston Brown. Now, we have to wait to see the All-22 film to be sure that his play matched the 16-tackle stat-stuffing performance on Thursday, but it seemed like Brown was flying around all over the field. He’s had a great start to the 2016 season in Rex Ryan’s defense.
7) Bye, Reggie: Brandon Tate earning his keep
- Well, that didn’t take long. Just a little over one week since signing him to the active roster, the Buffalo Bills have totally entrusted wide receiver Brandon Tate with all their returning duties on special teams. The position was previously held by a combination of Walt Powell and Reggie Bush on kickoffs, and Bush on punt returns. Tate came in last week later in the game and brought one punt back for 21 yards, and that was all the evidence the Bills needed. This week, Tate showed he’s willing to take chances on kickoff returns, but also can break a big play, too. A long return of 45 upped his kickoff return average to 25 yards per attempt. He’s not going anywhere, anytime soon in that role.
Bills MVP: Bills Offensive Line
- Keeping Tyrod Taylor upright all game long with the defensive line they were up against is grounds for an MVP-worthy performance in my book.
Bills LVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- Busted coverages, crucial penalties, missed tackles… Gilmore hit the trifecta in one of his worst games of the past three seasons.
Up Next: Sunday, September 25 vs. Arizona (0-1) at New Era Field, 1:00 p.m.
Tweet of the Game:
— Karlos Williams Sr (@Karlos_29_SR) September 16, 2016
- We’re still only two weeks into the season, but there is a bit of desperation in the air at One Bills Drive. The Bills are now 0-2 to start the season — a place they never could have expected to be following the end of the preseason. Here’s the trouble, the Bills are actually a talented team, but the inconsistency is maddening. In Week One, the Bills offense could only muster 160 yards, and in one play against the Jets they got more than half of that yardage (84) on the Goodwin touchdown. On defense, the Bills shut down the Baltimore Ravens and limited them to 13 points. The next week, they surrender nearly 500 yards to an above average offense — not a great one by any stretch of the imagination. Rex Ryan truly can’t believe that his team has laid an egg on one side of the ball for two straight games, but perhaps it’s time to do some soul searching after such a poor start. It’s still early, but with the schedule they have coming up (home vs. Arizona, at New England), we could be looking at a potential 0-4 start to the season. The Bills are going to have to steal one, if not both of these two games if they want to continue their aspirations for the playoffs in 2016. At this point with how poorly they’ve played, using the word ‘playoff’ almost feels forced. They’ve got a lot of work to do to turn this thing around, and it has to be done in the next 10 days.