In the NFL, where random results reign supreme, the Buffalo Bills did their best to defy the expectation of randomness. For the third week in a row, the Bills got next to nothing from the offensive side of the ball, on the way to their fourth blowout loss of 20 or more points in the first nine weeks.
The 41-9 loss to the Chicago Bears marks their fourth straight loss, and it brings them down to a 2-7 record for the 2018 season. How did it all happen, and what's to learn from this game?
Seven observations from the Bills' seventh loss of the season:
1) Oh, Peterman
- In all of his starts, Nathan Peterman is now at the point where he's thrown so many interceptions that it's just the new normal for Bills fans, almost to the point of reluctant acceptance and outright apathy. The first interception wasn't his fault, the second one was kinda-sorta his fault, and the third, well, he had to have a clean one in there. However, for some reason, these terrible results seem to follow him in every appearance. While he was able to do something that he hasn't before in his NFL career, which is a regular occurrence to most NFL quarterbacks, which was finishing the game that he started. Peterman was moving the ball a bit more effectively, but his performance was indicative of what he should have been all along, which is nothing more than a third-string quarterback on a lousy team. Peterman is in a spot where, given all the injuries to the quarterback position, the Bills haven't been able to move on from him just because of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type situation -- in which the Bills found themselves in with Matt Barkley as their backup. Once the Bills return to full health at the position, I still believe it's within the realm of possibilities for them to cut Peterman and bring him back to the practice squad, seeing as how there is a clear 'we just can't quit you yet' vibe coming from the Bills with the former fifth-round pick. However, it is very fair to wonder why the Bills didn't do more at the quarterback position once Josh Allen went down with his original injury. This is beyond the Derek Anderson should have been signed earlier point, even though that's a strong argument to be made in the grand scheme of their quarterback decisions. However, knowing what they've known about Peterman for some time now should have necessitated a move to bring on a third healthy quarterback, to start getting that player up to speed in the event of an emergency -- while still hanging on to Peterman in the interim just for his knowledge of the playbook and to get them by at the beginning of Anderson starting. However, their biggest mistake at the quarterback position, after being so aggressive in the offseason to put themselves in place to get their guy in Josh Allen in the Top 10 of the draft, they have become passive to a fault with every move past that. AJ McCarron was brutal in the fourth preseason game, and maybe he would have been more tolerable, but they were offered a fifth-round pick for someone they had no plans for in the grand scheme of things. Their mistake, though, was not to act right then and there to bring in a veteran player to start learning the playbook immediately. And then again, after Allen's injury, to not add another piece to the room. Instead, Peterman keeps getting trotted out into the game like a lamb to the slaughter when he has shown he is a turnover machine, whether some are his fault or not. Perhaps one day he can put that behind him and become a slightly below average quarterback, but that day is nowhere near to the present one. He's a hard worker that says all the right things, but the Bills continuing to have him in a position to get these opportunities is not on Peterman, it's on those in charge. I think in the grand scheme of things, GM Brandon Beane knows that was an error on him, but there's still time to fix it. Either get Matt Barkley up to speed or sign somebody and release Barkley right now that can be that below-average spot starter that would serve as an upgrade to what the Bills have right now. The only reason Peterman should continue to play, unfortunately for him, is if they're chasing a better draft pick. The darndest thing of it all is that this wasn't even his worst start, but he still turned the ball over three times. They have to do something, but at this point with the bye week around the corner, unless Derek Anderson gets better for next week, we might be on a crash course with Peterman's third start of the season.
2) Running game atrocious once more
- Once upon a time, the rushing attack was the calling card of the Buffalo Bills offense -- the one facet of their team that they could depend on without much concern for the matchup. Those days are long gone, as the Bills struggled for the third game in a row to establish much of anything with their most talented player on offense. LeSean McCoy, once again, had a day in which he was barely noticeable. And if he did get noticed, it was for how poorly he had played in the part of the game that has been so fruitful for him over much of the last decade. McCoy gained only 10 yards on 10 carries, just one week after gaining just 13 yards on 12 carries. Now, of course, it's not all his fault. The offensive line has been a nightmare over the last month of the season, which is undoubtedly a disappointment because they were performing at an acceptable level through the first month of the season. They aren't getting the necessary push in front of McCoy and the improvisational running back hasn't been able to allow his usual creativity to take over because defenders are in his face immediately. However, it extends past just the offensive line. Even when he has the time and space to move, he's not trusting what he's seeing. It almost feels as though that he puts so much pressure on himself to make a big play because of how poorly the offense is playing, that he doesn't take the clear lane and opts for a home run approach instead -- and the defense predictably thwarted McCoy every time he's tried it. That's why, when the end of game statistics have come through, Chris Ivory has gained more yards with higher yards per carry. Ivory, unlike McCoy recently, has taken what the offensive line has given him realizing that some yards are better than none. I don't think that McCoy has lost his speed just yet, but just as bad, he's lost his confidence in the offense around him and has tried to go into hero mode. It's no surprise that the Bills opted for Ivory in the second half ahead of McCoy in a lot of instances because he's been the better back recently. McCoy possesses the ability to turn it around, but he has to be willing to take the small gains to create the big ones down the line -- or maybe to make the small ones to maintain a certain level of production. The Bills need something, anything on offense, and McCoy hasn't had it for nearly a month now.
3) Finally, some O-Line shuffling
- The offensive line has been brutal for a month now for the Buffalo Bills, and it's been begging for some movement with the starting five -- especially with how often head coach Sean McDermott has discussed needing to win at the line of scrimmage more than they have been. At long last, it happened -- albeit briefly. By my count, the Bills gave two series each to two backups. The first, backup swing tackle Jeremiah Sirles, who had been active for the last several games in a reserve role. The second, rookie and fifth-round selection Wyatt Teller, who has not been active for a game before the loss to the Bears. Sirles subbed in for the obvious candidate Jordan Mills, who has struggled at right tackle for several weeks in a row and is a free agent at the end of the season. Quite frankly, the fact that Mills has hung on to the job for years on end for only marginal play shows both the state of the offensive line in today's NFL, along with the Bills deeming him to be a 'we can get by for now' guy all that time. He's defied the odds in that respect. The 27-year-old Sirles is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season as well, which is why it makes sense to see if he can be a stopgap solution if they need him to be with all their needs in the offseason. At this point, with all the evidence they have, there isn't much reason to hang on to Mills past 2018. As for Teller, he's the more intriguing of the two sub-ins. He went in at left guard for Vladimir Ducasse, who has strung together a miserable month of performances after a solid start to his season in September. Teller has practiced more often than not at left guard, which is likely why he went in for Ducasse rather than right guard John Miller. To me, Miller has had the weaker season between the two guards, though the difference the last few weeks has been negligible. However, with Teller, the Bills must see if he has the potential to be a starter in 2019. They downright owe it to themselves now with a 2-7 record to see if Teller can play, because they'll have no better chance to evaluate him, without the concern of him costing him meaningful games, than in the here and now. I'd even argue the same for Ike Boettger in place of John Miller to see if there's any potential to hang on to for the coming year. The Bills seemingly have a never-ending list of needs on offense for the 2019 offseason -- which makes these final seven games so important to find out about the youth on the roster. That starts with Teller, which means he should get an increasing amount of time on the field next week.
4) Phillip Gaines is a problem without much of a solution
- The Chicago Bears, outside of a few intermediate throws, really didn't provide much of an attack through the air against the Buffalo Bills. Their best attack, however, was when they targeted starting cornerback Phillip Gaines deep down the field. Mitchell Trubisky didn't come close to completing either of his deep attempts to his receivers, but the Bears knew full well who they were throwing it against. Gaines already had a level of panic on those high pressure passes on tape from previous games, in which he took a defensive pass interference penalty deep down the field. As an excellent offensive game planner should, Bears head coach Matt Nagy dialed up plays to put Gaines in those situations again, and came out with two big-yardage defensive pass interference penalties. The Bears also got Gaines on a couple of busts in coverage as well today, giving the Bills their most significant weakness on defense -- as many believed it would be heading into the season. The Bills still prefer Gaines to Ryan Lewis, considering Lewis' youth and inexperience. Much like the Wyatt Teller situation, eventually, the Bills should just put Lewis in that full-time opportunity to see if he can either be a starter or at worst a dependable backup and replacement-level player. No matter what, cornerback is setting up to be a target in the offseason for GM Brandon Beane. A quality second starter, to take the pressure off of Tre'Davious White and the pass rush, is needed.
5) Pryor plays a ton of snaps but contributes negatively
- In his first few days on the job, the confidence of wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was easy to see. He felt underused by the New York Jets and made it known that he believes he is still an excellent player in the NFL. The trouble is, in a huge spot, Pryor let the Bills down in a big way early in the contest. Still only down 14-0 at that point in the game, Peterman made a completely catchable throw to Pryor, who booted the opportunity so badly that he tried to double catch it while simultaneously scooping it up in the air for an easy interception for the Bears. The newest Bills wide receiver didn't register a reception in his first game with the team until deep into the fourth quarter when the game was already long gone. It's good to have different personalities in a locker room, and Pryor is a bit different than anything the Bills have there right now. However, he also has to back up his words and claims, and Pryor failed to do so. If there's one thing I do know, given his comments about his time with the New York Jets, the wideout will be extra motivated to make an impact in next weekend's game on the road against the AFC East division rivals.
6) HEY! A TOUCHDOWN!
- Sunday, October 14. That was the last day that the Bills registered a touchdown in a regular season game, when Nathan Peterman found Zay Jones in the back corner of the end zone for a go-ahead score. That seems like such a long time ago now, doesn't it? Well, after 38 unsuccessful offensive possessions that spanned three whole games given when they scored against the Texans, the touchdown drought is over. And, fittingly, somehow it was Nathan Peterman that served as the bookend for both scores, punching in a 3rd-and-goal opportunity from the one-yard line. While they scored a touchdown, they needed a ton of help along the way. Penalties marred the Bears throughout the entire drive. A pair of penalties on 3rd-and-16 at the start of the drive -- including a pelvic thrust-induced unsportsmanlike conduct call on Aaron Lynch -- gave the Bills their first new life on the drive. Then again, on 2nd-and-30, linebacker Roquan Smith got dinged for a face mask penalty on a play that resulted in a sack. Another first down. The Bills, with the opportunities, got it down in a goal-to-go situation -- an outright rarity for them over the last five games -- and still, they needed yet another penalty to help extend the drive and to basically score the touchdown for them. Prince Amukamara took a pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-goal, and then the Bills needed three plays from the one-yard line to get the score. Nothing puts the offensive struggles, in a nutshell, more than that drive, where the Bills couldn't help but score with all the mistakes the Bears were making on the drive. The bad news? I don't know that there's any real help on the way for the Jets game on Sunday, November 11.
7) Josh Allen looming?
- That's not to say, however, that there was at least one silver lining from yet another horrific offensive performance on Sunday. After the game in my one-on-one with head coach Sean McDermott, we found out a brand new nugget of information on the team's rookie quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills' first-round pick snuck in a limited practice on Friday, the first time that's happened since he sustained an injury to his right elbow. During that practice, Allen threw the ball for the first time since the elbow sprain. And while he didn't do it in the confines of team drills as a standard practice participant, the important thing is that they have progressed to the point where he has resumed throwing. Better yet for fans of the team just biding their time until Allen can come back, the Bills had him do another rehabilitation session of throwing on Saturday -- which makes two consecutive days of throwing, meaning that there weren't any huge setbacks on Friday. I would assume that we'll see Allen on the practice field, and throwing once again on Wednesday, though I don't know that it's fair to expect him to get ready in time for the game against the New York Jets. While McDermott didn't rule out a return against the Jets just yet, that just feels a bit too sudden a return -- especially so soon after he resumed throwing. The likeliest return date, as long as everything remains on schedule and there aren't any setbacks for Allen, seems to be at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, November 25. The Bills have a bye week following their date with the Jets, which is an extra week of rest and recovery for the rookie quarterback, and at that point he'll have a full three-plus week of throwing under his belt. Even if it means he can't play this coming weekend, make no mistake about it, Allen getting back to throwing is a humongous development especially when there was at least a small degree of fear that surgery might be required for the rookie quarterback. Especially in what will go down as a rebuilding season, getting more experience to the rookie quarterback is paramount to their planning and coaching in the offseason for the most significant piece of the not-so-distant future of the franchise. He's getting close, and at this point, there's no point in rushing him back now. The Bills need to take their medicine and make sure he's all the way healthy before getting him back in the lineup.
Bills MVP: CB Tre'Davious White
- At long last, an interception for the incredibly impressive second-year player on a terrific defense.
Bills LVP: C Russell Bodine
- He has been one of the worst performers on the roster over the past month, and nothing changed against the Bears. His struggles with strength and getting pushed into the backfield are well-documented at this point. The trouble is, he's the best option they have at the position.
- For the fourth straight time, the Bills have lost which further pushes the rebuilding-in-2018 point forward. However, the more concerning part of the season has been the prevalence of games getting away from them. The Ravens loss, the first half of the Chargers loss, the Packers loss, the Colts loss, the Patriots loss, and now the loss to the Bears have been uncompetitive affairs. That means, in six of the Bills' nine games in the 2018 season, they were totally outclassed in one way or another. The offense has been the primary source of the frustrations, seeing as how they've scored less than 10 points in five of those nine games, and have only scored 20-plus points twice. Now, I'm a bit more understanding of the rebuilding year because of their long-term vision -- which is a roster-building principle that I, too, believe in when it comes to sports. The Bills are trying to take their lumps in 2018 while fixing the salary cap for the long-term, all while knowing they are building for some improvement in 2019 and substantial improvement in 2020. My only concern with the methodology as its currently playing out is simple. With them getting blown out as many times as they have, you have to wonder if there will be any long-term residual effects on the players that they want to extend into the years that matter in their building of the roster. Close losses are ones they can stomach, and even ones that get away near the end of the game that the team can see as progress because of how they played the rest of the matchup. However, getting blown out time after time can have a permeating effect within an organization. The treacherous waters that head coach Sean McDermott will have to navigate is how to keep those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness from becoming the norm. Getting Josh Allen back healthy, and having a competitive finish to the end of the 2018 season will do wonders for the long-term building process of the team. But for the here and now, with Allen still sidelined and the team getting blown out once again, fans can't help but feel both frustrated and a little concerned that this is spiraling a bit too far out of their control. Even though they don't have playoffs to play for after the bye week, getting the team's mental state in the right place heading into the 2019 offseason will be of utmost importance to McDermott and his coaching staff.