LONDON – Rex Ryan wants us to believe that he saw something good in his team’s 28-0 second-half run that turned one of the more humiliating first halves in Buffalo Bills history (right up with those first 30 minutes of the Houston comeback) into a somewhat less embarrassing, 34-31 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
“I’m proud of the effort, there’s no question about that,” the Bills’ coach said.
Well, there is a question. There are plenty of big questions after the Bills suffered their second loss in a row and reeled into their bye with a 3-4 record.
That was the Jaguars, who began the day 1-5, running them off the Wembley Stadium pitch on the way to building a 27-3 second-quarter lead. Of course the Bills, as Ryan was so quick to point out, “found a way to get out” of that 24-point hole. The Jaguars weren’t good enough to keep them in it. The Jaguars shouldn’t have been good enough to beat them on any field, in any time zone.
If you want to give EJ Manuel a pat on the back for recovering from a second quarter that saw him have a fumble returned for a touchdown and throw a pick-six on consecutive plays, go right ahead. Yes, he did connect for a pair of touchdown passes in the second half. Yes, Corey Graham did have a pick-six of his own give the Bills a 31-27 lead with 5:21 left. Yes, the Bills were missing starters, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor, due to injuries and other reasons.
But this rally that fell just short was no accomplishment, certainly no source of pride. This loss was inexcusable. Even with key players missing, the Bills easily had the more talented (and definitely the more expensive) roster.
They just didn’t play that way.
Let’s put a stop to the narrative that the Bills are a playoff contender. Legitimate playoff contenders don’t sink beneath the level of a bad opponent.
Let’s also put a stop to the discussion that the Bills have an elite defense. Truly elite defenses don’t let the other team hold the ball forever, as was the case before a goal-line stand kept the Jaguars out of the end zone. They don’t let a decent, but far from great, quarterback make the plays Blake Bortles made on a 31-yard touchdown throw to Allen Hurns for the winning points with 2:16 left.
“It was good that we didn’t give up, but we both had our chances, offense and defense, to finish the game and we both didn’t do it,” linebacker Preston Brown said.
To his credit, he refused to give into a popular postgame social-media fan rant that officiating cost the Bills the game after a highly questionable pass- interference call on cornerback Nickell Robey turned a Jaguars third-and-15 from their own 47 into a first down at the Buffalo 36.
The fact is, the Bills gave up the long scoring throw to Hurns two plays later. The fact also is that the Bills were penalized nine other times in the game, pushing their season total to 72 for nearly 700 yards.
This continues to be a team with a severe lack of discipline. And it’s a team that shouldn’t be making any excuses, especially after a loss like Sunday’s.
“They got a couple of calls, but they made the plays when they needed to be made,” Brown said. “I mean, we couldn’t get off the field. That’s when the team leans on us to get off the field, and we couldn’t do that.”
“I mean, they weren’t doing anything crazy,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said of the Jaguars’ offense. “You’re watching film” before the game, “their receivers couldn’t get off the line of scrimmage.”
They did just enough, such as when Gilmore gave up a touchdown against Allen Robinson, to allow the lesser team to come out on top.
Before Graham’s pick-six, the Bills had gone more than seven quarters without a takeaway. They sacked Bortles only twice and hit him a mere three times, with only one coming on his 11 drop-backs in the first half. For the season, they have only 11 sacks for 42 yards, putting them on pace to finish the season with 25 – a total that would be 29 fewer than their NFL-leading total in 2014.
After spending the better part of their first six games taking a conservative approach with their defensive front, leading to players openly criticizing Ryan’s scheme, the Bills incorporated more blitzing into the game plan against the Jaguars. Early in the second quarter, they sent seven pass-rushers after Bortles – and he responded by throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Robinson just before taking a hit.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said of the loss. “You’re just sitting around thinking it’s a long ride home. Nobody wants to go back with that on their mind.”
As Gilmore said, the fact Manuel put the Bills in a serious hole in the first half is no reason for the defense to feel it should have been off the hook for the outcome. The team allegedly has a defense that can carry the day regardless of what the offense does – or doesn’t do.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gilmore said. “It’s the defense we’ve got, that we’re built for. I can say I’ve got to play a perfect game for our team to win. I want to allow no catches; that’s what you’ve got to do. When the offense is down, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Said Brown, “This one hurts, because that’s a game, when people step out there, we’ve got to make the play to get off the field. That just has to happen. And we didn’t do it today, so it really hurts.”