Bills reminded they aren't good enough to compete even when Patriots aren't great - The Buffalo News

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Bills reminded they aren't good enough to compete even when Patriots aren't great

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Playoffs? Please. Let's not go there. Not now. Not at any point through the balance of the season, for that matter.

The math can offer all of the hope in the world for the Buffalo Bills, but Sunday's 23-3 loss against the New England Patriots was the sort of harsh reality check that speaks so much louder than any machinations the mediocre AFC could create to provide back-door entry into the postseason.

The 6-6 Bills and 10-2 Patriots spending three hours on the same field told you everything you needed to know about just how far the Bills continue to be not only from an elite franchise, but also from even the minimum requirement for a team that deserves to play after New Year's Eve.

They actually caught Tom Brady and the league's top-ranked offense on what, for them, was an off day. Brady only threw for 258 yards, had no touchdowns, and an interception.

And the Bills' offense, pathetic for most of the year, still couldn't get out of its own way.

"It's frustrating, yeah," running back LeSean McCoy said. "We had opportunities to capitalize on them earlier in the game. Not sure if that will make a difference between win or loss, but it will sure help out."

On this day, it could have helped quite a bit — especially when the Bills were getting virtually no playoff-related help from anyone else.

Tyrod Taylor's season, if not entire career three-season run with the Bills, might very well have been ended by a knee injury he suffered on the game's opening play but didn't cause him to exit on the back of a utility cart — his head and face covered with a towel — until early in the fourth quarter.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor leaves the field on a cart after he was tackled by New England Patriots defensive end Eric Lee in the fourth quarter at New Era Field on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Given how poorly he and the rest of Buffalo's offense performed before and after rookie Nathan Peterman took Taylor's place, that dismal scene of him riding toward and up the tunnel perfectly captured the sort of day it was for the Bills.

The game's defining moment came with 7:51 left in the first quarter. That was when, facing a first-and-goal from the New England 6, Taylor inexplicably threw a pass right to defensive lineman Eric Lee, whom the Patriots recently acquired from the Bills' practice squad.

Jerry Sullivan: Tyrod Taylor fails to rise to the moment

The turnover extended the seemingly endless self-destruction the Bills have done against the one team where mistakes are unforgiving.

"We were driving," said McCoy, who was the only member of the Bills' offense to have even a respectable showing with 93 rushing yards and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average. "Running, throwing, running, throwing. Then, we had a turnover that hurt us. We can't do that against the Patriots. Other team, yeah, you might get away with it, but not against the Patriots."

The Pats proceeded to drive for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

But the Bills' defense wasn't making anything easy for them. The Patriots relied more on a rushing attack that that produced 191 yards and the game's only touchdowns, both by Rex Burkhead, than they did on Brady's magic arm.

Rob Gronkowski was his usual dominant self against his hometown team, catching a game-high nine passes for 147 yards. However, he never got into the end zone and his lasting mark on the game was the blatant cheap shot he delivered to the back of the head of Tre'Davious White while the cornerback, having intercepted a throw intended for Gronk, was face down on the ground. White left the game with a concussion, and Gronkowski apologized after the game for doing something that was out of character for him, something he said resulted from "frustration."

But the only people with a legitimate reason to feel frustrated were the Bills, especially their offensive players and coaches.

Besides Taylor's interception on the doorstep of the end zone, there was the play from Wildcat formation that should have produced a touchdown, but Joe Webb's throw was too high for wide-open running back Travaris Cadet and the Bills had to settle for a field goal.

There also was the fourth-quarter drive that stalled on the Patriots' 1, after former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore swatted a Peterman pass for Zay Jones in the back of the end zone.

"In a 20-point game, when you have three scenarios like that, it's pretty frustrating," center Eric Wood said. "When the defense was holding them to three points, we needed to get seven on the board at some point and we couldn't get it done.

"Yeah, it was just the little stuff. Stalling out in the middle of drives. Penalties. Taking a sack on a naked bootleg. Just little stuff, but, man, extremely frustrating."

Demoralizing, too.

Put yourself in the shoes of the Bills' defenders. They were standing about as tall as a defense can stand against Brady.

"Yeah, our defense played pretty well today," Wood said. "They had a few long runs, but other than that, they made them earn everything, which is what you've got to do against a team like that."

The Bills' defense had Brady so perplexed about not finding open receivers as routinely as he does that after the first of three Stephen Gostkowski field goals, CBS' cameras caught Brady going ballistic on the sidelines on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Brady, who was sacked three times in the game and took five hits overall, wanted answers other than the one that was painfully obvious at that point: for the second week in a row, Bills coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier came up with a scheme that frustrated an opponent. Last week, it was the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I thought they played pretty good on defense and they did a good job," Brady said. "It's a new defense, a new scheme, new players and you just have to learn and adjust and try and get the win. Any time you win on the road against division opponents, it's a good win, so we have to keep it going."

Chances are, the Patriots will do exactly that. They're that good in all phases.

The Bills?

Their schedule suggests they could add more wins, especially the next two games, both at home, against Indianapolis and Miami. But Sunday's performance makes that seem almost unthinkable.

"We're going to have to get on a roll," Wood said. "I think that's pretty well known. I still have a lot of confidence in this team."

It's hard to say how much company he has in that sentiment.

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