The rally made it interesting, made a whole lot of people who headed for the exits early at Ralph Wilson Stadium a bit nervous, but it couldn’t erase this undeniable fact: The Buffalo Bills aren’t ready to be the contender that they’ve been insisting they are.
True contenders step up to the massive challenge they faced Sunday with far greater authority than the Bills displayed.
They don’t allow themselves to fall into 24-point holes with sloppy, chaotic and confused play. They don’t claim to have the NFL’s best defense and then be subjected to a historic shredding by the opposing quarterback.
True contenders stay in control. They don’t get so caught up in emotion, as coach Rex Ryan and many Bills players said was the case, that they unravel with blunders and mindless penalties.
So the Bills managed to get something going with three fourth-quarter touchdowns. So what? The 40-32 loss says the Patriots still own the Bills. Tom Brady still owns the Bills and now he also owns a record 466 passing yards against them. Bill Belichick still owns the Bills – and Rex Ryan.
“Belichick out-coached me,” Ryan said, making no effort to hide his frustration and disgust. “You know, we did a horse---- job and it’s my responsibility.”
Nice of the coach to take ownership of his team’s mostly woeful performance, but he also was mainly responsible for the hype that created a sense that this was something larger than a second regular-season game. Ryan talked trash about the Patriots and some of his players followed suit, providing motivation for a team that has long fed off the words of the opposition. They did it many times when Ryan coached the New York Jets.
There was a clear playoff-like atmosphere surrounding The Ralph that attracted more national media attention than the Bills have received in a long time. And when the Bills got on this big stage Ryan helped build, they became wide-eyed and overwhelmed and generally unprepared to handle it.
Brady was ready for everything Ryan’s defense threw at him in the way of a pass rush that produced only two sacks and generated minimal pressure and coverage that left large patches of green to exploit. The Patriots’ defense was ready for everything offensive coordinator Greg Roman cooked up in his game plan. It made Tyrod Taylor look very much like a quarterback making only his second NFL start, sacking him eight times and intercepting three of his passes. The third interception killed a valiant effort to pull out a victory in the final minutes.
The Bills were a mess for most of the day, beginning with the fact they had 14 penalties for 140 yards. Before leaving the game in an ambulance with a neck injury, safety Aaron Williams drew two personal fouls and was benched for a series. Even Ryan drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, although he tried to dismiss it by accusing the official of having “rabbit ears.”
“That was a football field and a half that we gave up off of penalties alone,” defensive end Mario Williams said. “It extended drives and kept us out there.”
“We just came out too fired up, I believe,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “That’s what caused the penalties.”
“Guys couldn’t control their emotions at the beginning of the game, which put us in a hole,” safety Duke Williams added.
Not exactly contender-like behavior, is it?
To a man, members of the Bills’ defensive front blamed its inability to get to Brady on his ultra-quick release.
“As a D-lineman, there’s nothing you can do if they’re getting the ball out,” Dareus said. “You can put your hands up, try to put an O-lineman in their face, but there’s not really much you can do if the quarterback’s just getting the ball out.”
The problem with the explanation is that Brady has always gotten rid of the ball quickly. The Bills have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on players such as Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes to get to Brady before he gets rid of the ball.
In completing 38 of 59 pass attempts, Brady was able to stand tall in the pocket, pick out open receivers and deliver throws. He had enough time to connect on three touchdown passes, two to wide receiver Julian Edelman and one to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Bills never came up with a plan to handle either of the Patriots’ most dangerous targets. Edelman beat double coverage on his first score. Gronkowski was able to beat cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers with regularity.
Among the ways Belichick got the better of Ryan and the Bills’ defense was through the frequent changing of the Patriots’ offensive players.
“They caught us a couple of times, changing their personnel and we tried to change at the same time,” Bradham said. “The difference was that their guys knew the play coming on the field and we had to try to tell” other defenders “the play when they were coming on the field trying to sub. … Next time we play them, we’ll definitely be ready for that.”
Next time won’t be until Nov. 23 at Foxborough, Mass. Who knows what the Bills’ record will be by then? That game, on a Monday night, will be the fifth on the road in a six-game stretch.
Taylor didn’t look nearly as poised and wasn’t nearly as efficient as in last week’s season-opening victory against Indianapolis. He attempted only 19 passes in that game. He threw 30 times against the Patriots.