Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills’ 40-32 loss against the New England Patriots Sunday worked out:
1. Find a way to run the ball consistently well. Mostly a check. Despite being questionable for the game with a sore hamstring, LeSean McCoy performed better than he did in last Sunday’s season-opener against Indianapolis. He ran for 89 yards, 48 more than he had a week ago, and averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per rush. As a team, the Bills produced 160 yards on the ground, which was a slight improvement over last week, and a pair of rushing scores by Karlos Williams and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. But the Bills were forced to get away from their running game as they fell into a 24-point hole at the end of the third quarter. For much of the game, McCoy ran hard and looked explosive. He made good cuts and generally sound choices on where to run. That was a departure from the Indianapolis game, when McCoy and his blockers didn’t always seem to be on the same page.
2. Get physical with Gronk … even without Kong. Not so much. Whatever the Bills tried to do defensively against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn’t work. He finished with seven receptions for a game-high 113 yards and a touchdown. The Bills tried covering him with cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers, and even linemen. They switched up their coverage with man-to-man and zone looks. They didn’t appear to make all that much of a sincere effort to jam him at the line. And whenever they attempted to do so, he simply shook it off. It’s fair to say that Gronkowski pretty much had his typically strong day against the Bills … or any other opponent, for that matter.
3. Don’t become too familiar with Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount, for that matter. Check. I’m not sure what Lewis did to upset Rex Ryan, but the Bills’ coach seemingly had it in for the guy before and even after the game. Earlier in the week, Ryan refused to acknowledge that he even knew Lewis’ name, saying the only Patriot running back who would get his attention in game-planning was Blount. On a day when Tom Brady threw for 466 yards, the Patriots’ running game was an afterthought. Yet, even though they did only rush for 56 yards, Lewis had 40 of them, along with a touchdown and a solid yards-per-carry average of 5.7. He also caught six passes for 98 yards, including the game’s longest gain through the air of 40 yards. Any running the Patriots did was set up via the pass, but Lewis did do his share to contribute to the win. Not that any of that impressed Ryan, who after the game sarcastically said his verbal shot at Lewis was “the reason we lost … I still don’t know his name.”
4. Win the coaching battle again. Not even close. Ryan admitted up front that he was out-coached by Bill Belichick. Although Ryan had a 4-9 record against New England as head coach of the New York Jets, he did have a way of keeping Brady in check with his defensive strategy. The prevailing theory was, with all of the high-priced talent on the Bills’ defensive line, Ryan could again work wonders – and perhaps do even better – against the Patriots’ quarterback. So much for that. Brady sliced up Ryan’s defense, consistently getting rid of the ball before the Bills’ pass-rushers could get to him (he was sacked only twice) and finding open targets everywhere in a secondary that had no answers for Gronkowski, Julian Edelman or even Aaron Dobson. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman didn’t have a good day, either. The Patriots’ pass rush seemed to overwhelm and confuse the Bills on the way to sacking Taylor eight times for minus-53 yards while also causing him to frequently run for his life. Other than the opening drive and during a late rally, the offense stalled for long periods.
5. Taylor has to take another step. Nope. If anything, he might have regressed a little. Never mind the valiant work to help the Bills rally from a 24-point deficit to make the game interesting until the final seconds. This won’t be remembered as a good second NFL start for Taylor. He didn’t have the greatest help from his line, but he also didn’t help himself by hesitating in the pocket at times because he wasn’t sure of what he was seeing as he tried to read coverages. Whereas he was the picture of poise and confidence last week, Taylor was rattled on multiple occasions against the Patriots. Comeback efforts notwithstanding, he wasn’t ready for a game that required him to lead his team back largely on the strength of his passing game. And he certainly wasn’t ready to do so against one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.