Last week, while praising his running game, Rex Ryan was sure to remind the masses the Bills were 6-0 when Tyrod Taylor threw fewer than 30 passes. It was as if the Bills finally stumbled upon a winning formula three-quarters through the season while validating his offensive approach.
Ryan should have reminded offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who once again inexplicably departed from what made the Bills most effective. The Bills’ hopes for making the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century took another step backward after a 23-20 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
This is not to pin the loss on Roman, not by any means.
The Bills’ defense, which descended from elite to average this season, missed too many tackles and allowed the winning field goal in the third quarter. Buffalo had another turnover on special teams that led to a Philly touchdown. Added up, the Bills weren’t good enough in a game they needed against an Eagles team that was 5-7.
Once again, the Bills took too many penalties, 15 in all for 101 yards. They don't deserve a playoff spot given their lack of discipline this season under Ryan. Eric Wood was called for a critical holding penalty. Rookie John Miller was called for holding three times. Richie Incognito held Fletcher Cox, who dominated Sunday, that wiped out a first down with 3:18 remaining.
None helped, but the Bills also failed to find the proper balance they needed to beat most teams and the Eagles on Sunday. They threw too often in the first half, fell behind and were forced into obvious passing situations in the second. LeSean McCoy had 63 yards in the first half but had just 11 yards on eight carries in the second.
Taylor completed 19 of 36 passes for 268 yards, a touchdown to Sammy Watkins and an interception on their final desperate drive. There would come a time in which Taylor needed buck the trend and beat a team solely with his arm. He missed Watkins in the final drive just before throwing his first interception since Week Four.
Buffalo fell to 6-7 this season and 0-5 when Taylor throws more than 30 passes.
The Bills didn’t get much help in the AFC wild-card race. Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati after Andy Dalton suffered a hand injury in the first quarter. Kansas City and the Jets also won, which all but forces the Bills to win all three of their final games. They desperately needed a win Sunday.
Taylor threw 19 times in the first half Sunday while McCoy piled up 63 yards on 12 carries against his old team. It wasn’t a surprise the Eagles had a 17-10 advantage. Buffalo came back to tie the game, but the Bills never fully gained control.
Buffalo finished with 152 yards rushing, which they would take any day, but a third came from Taylor scrambling out of the passing game and picking up yards with his legs. McCoy never regained the rhythm he had in the first half. The Bills are a running team that turned too much to the passing game.
And then there was the punt-return game.
Fifteen years ago, former Bills head coach Wade Phillips infamously suggested Chris Watson was a “punt catcher” rather than a punt returner. Watson would be an upgrade over the collection the Bills have had back there this season. It was has been one blunder after another.
Denarius Moore called one fair catch at the 4-yard line, but at least he caught the ball. Leodis McKelvin turned punt returning into an adventure with two muffs in the same game. The Bills re-signed Marcus Thigpen after waiving Moore, and it was Thigpen who dropped a punt Sunday.
Thigpen’s gaffe started with a poor decision. He was surrounded by tackler after a high punt and had little chance of busting free if he didn’t get blasted. It was an obvious time for a fair catch. Instead, he tried running with the ball before catching it, was drilled by a tackler and fumbled the ball away.
Philly turned the miscue into a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. The Eagles’ defense forced the Bills into uncomfortable situations. They took Buffalo out of their ground game and forced Taylor to beat them with his arm. They made sure the Bills couldn’t stick to their formula.
The math doesn’t lie.