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Tim Graham's Report Card: Bills' 'D' carries day

» Grading the Bills


Buffalo’s backfield looked like a strength heading into the season, yet it has been mostly mediocre for the past couple months. Buffalo rushed for 106 yards but averaged 3.5 a carry. Fred Jackson had 21 attempts for 70 yards. Anthony Dixon ran six times for 25 yards. The longest run was 8 yards. Two first downs were on the ground.


Kyle Orton posted a 57.2 passer rating, his worst since December 2011 with the Chiefs and his worst as a starter since October 2011 before losing his job with the Broncos. Orton threw a pair of bad interceptions. Sammy Watkins made three catches for 11 yards and hasn’t topped 35 yards in a month. New tight end MarQueis Gray’s two receptions went for 30 yards and 41 yards.


Jerry Hughes stripped Terrance West on a sweep and recovered the fumble for a TD. The Bills allowed 74 yards, fewest since the Patriots ran for 50 yards in Week Six. And, really, the Browns weren’t even that effective. On the final snap, West ran 18 yards against a prevent defense. Starting back Isaiah Crowell ran 17 times for 29 yards. The Bills’ lone lapse was backup quarterback Johnny Manziel’s 10-yard TD scramble.


Buffalo sacked Brian Hoyer twice and was an iffy call away from strip-sacking Manziel for a late touchdown. Kyle Williams tallied three quarterback hits. Da’Norris Searcy snagged a pair of interceptions. Buffalo notched eight pass breakups. Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas, likely a Hall of Famer, was flagged for three holds and a false start.


New punt returner Marcus Thigpen looked fun, but the Bills still used Jackson once (he muffed it). On the final play of the first half, Dan Carpenter could have tied the game at 3, but his 53-yard kick was blocked. Still, Carpenter scored 14 points, including four field goals in the fourth quarter. Colton Schmidt executed a coffin-corner punt to the 5-yard line.


The Bills haven’t had a routine week since they played the Jets at home Oct. 26. Doug Marrone has kept his team focused through a minefield of potential distractions. Jim Schwartz’s defense enjoyed one of its finest games. But Nathaniel Hackett’s offense continues to struggle in the red zone and on third downs, converting only two Sunday.

» Grading the Browns


Cleveland’s best runner was Manziel, and he didn’t enter the game until there was 12 minutes left. Johnny Football ran twice for 13 whole yards. West was the leading rusher with 32 yards, but he lost a fumble that turned into seven Bills points. Crowell averaged 1.7 yards. I wasn’t reminded of Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner.


We might have witnessed history Sunday. After weeks of clinging to his job, Hoyer might have finally given way to Manziel for good. Manziel provided a nice spark, but it was way too late. Hoyer’s 51.0 passer rating was the second-lowest of 28 career games in which he completed a pass. Manziel, for the record, completed five of his eight throws for 63 yards and an 87.0 rating.


Cleveland acquitted itself for the most part. Buffalo’s 106 yards was inflated because of second-half scoring margin, allowing Jackson and Dixon to grind out the clock despite a meager average. Buffalo gained just 20 rushing yards in the first half, with 4 yards the longest carry.


Former Bills safety Jim Leonhard made a second-quarter interception in the end zone. At the start of the second half, Joe Haden snagged one at the Bills 30-yard line, a takeaway that should have produced points – but didn’t. The secondary also was flagged five times for interference, holding or illegal contact.


Haden made a fantastic play to block Carpenter’s kick at halftime, but that’s about it. Billy Cundiff’s 37-yard kick in the second quarter drifted wide right. Spencer Lanning netted 34.5 yards on six punts. The Browns were pedestrian in the return game and had trouble containing Thigpen.


Mike Pettine’s return to Orchard Park was an ugly game for 30 minutes, but at least his defense played well. Then the second half began. Pettine said after the game the Browns have contemplated inserting Manziel for weeks. Looks like they stuck with Hoyer one game too many.


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