Same old Bills: offense comes up short when it matters most

It was another lonely, quiet walk back to the car for fans that attended the Buffalo Bills game on Sunday.

The New England Patriots squeaked out a 23-21 win in Buffalo with a last-second field goal. The defense played superb when they needed to be, creating turnovers and setting up the offense for a chance to win.

But that’s where the problems arose.

The Bills had the momentum coming out of halftime, but in reality they were simply outplayed. The statistics were all in favor of New England. The Patriots ran 28 more plays than the Bills, had the ball for over 14 minutes longer, and almost tripled the Bills’ number of third-down conversions.

EJ Manuel experienced ups and downs in his debut. He hit Robert Woods for his first career touchdown and he threw his best ball of the day to Stevie Johnson on an 18-yard touchdown that was perfectly placed over the shoulder of the receiver to give Buffalo a second-half lead.

One thing that was frustrating to watch from Manuel’s play was his ability — or lack thereof — to throw the ball downfield. Over time, he will need to not settle for the safe underneath throws and attempt more throws like the touchdown to Johnson.

Coming into the season, some NFL analysts said Buffalo would have the best rushing attack in the AFC this year. If Sunday was any indication of the rest of the season, they were certainly incorrect.

C.J. Spiller was practically useless in the loss. He had 17 carries and rushed for 41 yards. That is inexcusable for the feature back in this offense.

Penalties and mistakes in the fourth quarter also cost the Bills the 1-0 start they were hoping for, as they were unable to put the Patriots away.

In five games under Doug Marrone (including preseason), the Bills have committed 49 penalties, averaging 9.8 per game and 70.6 yards per game. On Sunday, the Bills were flagged 10 times for 75 yards. A pair of hands-to-the-face penalties stalled drives in which the Bills were moving down the field quite well. These penalties demonstrated the Bills’ lack of inexperience, especially on offense.

Key drops also came back to bite the Bills in the game.

The first was a perfect touch throw from Manuel to Scott Chandler that hit him right on the fingertips. If caught, Chandler would of had plenty of running room and could have brought the ball to at least the Patriots’ 35, but the ball fell through his hands and Buffalo turned it over the very next play, leading to a New England touchdown.

The other costly drop came in the fourth quarter with 8:50 left to play in the game, with the Bills leading, 21-20. It was 3rd and 3, and they were still rushing to the line despite needing to take time off the clock. Manuel dropped back and threw to a wide-open Stevie Johnson, who proceeded to stumble and drop the ball.

That was the turning point of the game, because the Bills went three and out on the rest of their offensive drives, putting major pressure on the defense.

When you’re as wide open as Johnson was, it doesn’t matter how much he was stumbling, he needed to make the catch in that situation. That’s what he gets paid to do and Johnson has been known to choke during clutch situations in games.

It was plays and mistakes like that drop that caused Buffalo a loss in Week One. The team is still young, and some growing pains are to be expected. Still, Buffalo fans deserve to see a better effort in Week Two from the Bills’ offense.

Joseph Sarro can be reached by email at [email protected]