The feeling wasn’t exactly dj vu in the Buffalo Bills locker room after Sunday’s final-seconds, 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots.
How about dj puke?
“Listen man, if I had a dollar for every tough one with those freaking guys … you know it makes me vomit,” said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
“It is what it is,” Williams said. “You come down to two or three plays. … That’s a reason they’ve been so successful, because when it comes down to it, he’s made those plays. We had an opportunity to make it and we didn’t do it.”
“He” – of course – is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who executed another dagger-in-the-heart ending for a crowd of 65,519 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, driving New England 49 yards in 12 plays to the winning field goal with 5 seconds left.
Brady improved to 21-2 against the Bills.
The Bills were a hurting bunch in the locker room afterward.
“We just gave them one,” safety Aaron Williams said.
“We gave it away,” said defensive end Alex Carrington.
“There’s no moral victories in this business,” said safety Jim Leonhard. “We had them on the ropes the majority of the day and didn’t get it done in the end.”
Leonhard is right. Moral victories are for losers.
However, if there is one takeaway from this game – besides the fact rookie quarterback EJ Manuel looked pretty good – it’s that the Bills’ defense bore little resemblance to last year’s sorry unit.
If the Bills’ defense plays over the next 15 games like it did Sunday, Buffalo will be a much improved team.
The Bills’ defense scored the team’s first touchdown on a 74-yard return of a fumble recovery by Da’Norris Searcy and set up the second on an interception by Justin Rogers deep in New England territory. In all, the Pats got 17 points off short fields, including a field-goal drive that started at midfield.
The Bills’ run defense looked a lot better than last year. The pass defense threw a myriad of personnel combinations at Brady. It was well coordinated by assistant coach Mike Pettine.
The statistics sheet tells a different story. The Patriots outgained the Bills, 431-286. Brady passed for 288 yards. New England had 158 yards rushing. The Bills’ dreadful defense of last season allowed 146 a game rushing.
However, it’s a team game. The Bills’ fast-paced offense – which hurried up off the field on five three and outs – made the defense look worse than it really performed.
The Bills ran only 61 plays and held the ball for 22:17. It couldn’t convert enough third downs to stay on the field and hold up its end of the bargain. The Pats ran 89 and held it for 37:43.
Keep in mind the Pats ranked No. 1 in the NFL on offense last year and averaged 34.8 points a game. New England led the league in third-down offense.
The Bills’ front seven looked much more effective than last year.
Marcell Dareus was a force at defensive tackle. He had big penetration to help stop two second-quarter drives. He fouled up three run plays in a seven-play stretch in a long third-quarter drive that ended in a goal-line stand.
Manny Lawson played a fine game at strong-side linebacker, using his long arms and leverage to set the edge and prevent the kind of outside sweeps the Bills were bulldozed on all the time last season.
The cornerbacks – Leodis McKelvin and Rogers on the outside and rookie Nickell Robey on the slot – played pretty well.
Buffalo played a lot more dime defense – six defensive backs – than Bills fans have seen the past decade. Usually it was three safeties – Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Leonhard – along with the three cornerbacks. On a handful of plays, Leonhard was off the field and Ron Brooks was on as a fourth cornerback.
The nickel defense had several variations, starting with Kiko Alonso and Moats.
“We run a lot of different packages all the time against everybody, and this week was no different,” Leonhard said. “You’ve got a lot of different bodies on the field, and it’s all about communication, guys going out and making plays.”
A few times, the Bills’ communication got burned. Brady found a wide open Julian Edelman for an 8-yard TD pass in the second quarter. Somebody on the back side wasn’t there.
“It’s always communication,” Leonhard said. “We’ll look at it. I’m not 100 percent sure. They scored a touchdown, and we messed up. We’ll take accountability on the back end.”
“We’ve got to get off on third downs,” said Aaron Williams. “That’s basically what our issue was this game.”
The Pats converted 11 of 20 third down situations. Seven of the conversions went to slot receiver Danny Amendola. The biggest was a third-and-8 pass over the middle for 10 yards to the Buffalo 29 on the final drive. Amendola got a free release off the line of scrimmage thanks to a good play design (a semi-pick by one of the receivers in a bunch). Aaron Williams read the play and spilled the receiver, but he held on.
“I’ve just got to make the play,” Williams said. “I knew it was coming. When you’re in that situation the coaches pay me to make that play. Unfortunately he got it.”
The Bills’ blitzed selectively. Four of their third-down stops, unofficially, came with the help of blitzes. In hindsight, they could have dialed up another one on the last Amendola catch.
“He’s definitely tough to pressure because he’s seen everything,” Leonhard said. ”You have to pick your moments.”
Whether the Bills’ defense can get enough help from the hurry-up offense could be a season-long concern.
But for one day, holding Brady to two gift-wrapped touchdowns and three field goals was a promising start.