The postgame reaction was a tad different at Gillette Stadium than MetLife Stadium. Once it was over, Rex Ryan pulled off his headset, tossed it to the ground in sadness and met old pal Bill Belichick on the field.
No spirited fist bumps, no fire-breathing vulgarities. Only dejection as cannons blasted in the background.
This game, Ryan’s plan for Tom Brady worked. He disrupted the MVP front-runner, confusing him with a blend of pressure and simulated pressure. And yet, it didn’t matter. Brady found a way to beat the Bills for an insane 25th time.
“We were playing our defense,” a subdued Ryan said afterward.
We still don’t know if Tyrod Taylor is a playoff quarterback, an NFL quarterback. The highs and lows will probably continue. He underthrew receivers throughout the loss and is now dealing with a bum shoulder.
But this defense — one that tells us it has now grasped Rex’s intricate scheme — must rip through the rest of the schedule with ruthless abandon. They hit Brady 13 total times, forced eight throwaways and rendered him an ornery, irritated man on the sideline much of the first half. Now comes a stretch of mediocrity at quarterback, a list that should turn Ryan’s frown upside down.
Alex Smith (Kansas City), Brian Hoyer (Houston), Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez (Philadelphia), Kirk Cousins (Washington) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (New York Jets) are all on tap with one All-Pro, Dallas’ Tony Romo, along the way.
If any of those first five shred the Bills, they probably don’t deserve to play football in January. And there were enough promising signs in Foxborough to suggest Buffalo can indeed turn that corner, can start turning games into a mash-up of sacks and interceptions and overall chaos.
“I think we have a better understanding of each other,” Ryan said. “I think now, I know what this team has, what we are capable of doing and quite honestly, it was more true to playing Bills defense, to playing our defense and I think we understand that a little bit better than Week Two.”
Up to the 14-point swing — LeSean McCoy couldn’t hang onto a touchdown, and the Patriots marched down to score — Ryan went full-on Bobby Fischer against Brady. As Preston Brown said beforehand, it’s difficult to disguise your intentions against Brady because of his 16 years of experience, shrewd signals/audibles and manipulation of the play clock.
But for this stretch, the Bills effectively pressed multiple players up to the line of scrimmage before darting them in all directions off the snap. Blitzing. Dropping. Brady couldn’t decipher who was going where.
On a third and 9, Brady called Ryan’s bluff. The coach showed seven rushers pre-snap and Brady refused to check to extra protection. The ball was snapped, all seven rushed and Brown bee-lined untouched to force the errant throwaway.
Soon after, Ryan exaggerated a similar look. This time, all seven were lined up right on the line of scrimmage. Brown and inside linebacker Nigel Bradham sold their blitz well, in an eager stance inches away from both sides of the center. And off the snap, both instantly dropped back and Brady faded to the right where Mario Williams hurried him into a throwaway.
Spooked, the Patriots then called a run play on third and 10. Punted. Brady, often stoic, cracked on the sideline.
And then with four minutes to go in the half, the Bills sold another all-out blitz, Brown and Bradham backed off and Manny Lawson bulled Sebastian Vollmer onto his heels and into Brady for a sack. The simple four-man rush even worked. Defensive end Alex Carrington, a player Buffalo may need if Williams (foot) misses time, put Brady on his back.
This should’ve all led to a comfortable halftime lead. Instead, the Patriots took a 10-3 lead and an embarrassing string of incompetence by Gene Steratore’s officiating crew became the story.
Buffalo’s offense didn’t capitalize and, frankly, it might not against the Kansas City Chiefs next week, either. The Chiefs have allowed only three touchdowns total in four straight wins. This could be a schoolyard slugfest. Nobody should be holding their breath with the offense. Buffalo probably will be laboring to score points on Sunday and beyond.
“We have to come together and play better in all three phases of the game,” Bradham said. “Then, we’ll dominate. We’ll blow people out. You can see, we’ve got the potential, the talent.”
Three months into the season, the Bills aren’t fully capitalizing on their high-priced offensive additions.
Where are the throws to Charles Clay in the middle of the field? That’s been treated like a Bermuda Triangle. The targets to Sammy Watkins? Ryan has even admitted the lack of throws to Watkins is troublesome. The Bills’ sweep play out of the shotgun, so effective in back-to-back wins, was shut down by Belichick.
Dominant — not good, dominant — performances against average-to-poor quarterbacks on the schedule are likely needed.
Buffalo has only 15 sacks this season, but the opposing passer rating of 81.4 ranks sixth in the NFL.
Even in a loss to the Pats, there were glimmers of an elite unit. Stephon Gilmore again said the Bills knew all the routes the opposition was going to run. The fourth-year pro with 20 passes defensed this year and his own projector screen at home to study film continues to assert himself as one of the game’s best cornerbacks, ending three drives three different ways. Jerry Hughes is clearly the team’s best pass rusher. Look for Ryan to scheme him against teams’ worst tackle. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus anchored versus the run and Bacarri Rambo had another turnover wiped out by a penalty.
The Bills haven’t put it all together yet.
Now, at 5-5, they must.
There was no press conference held on Tuesday at One Bills Drive, but Rex Ryan did speak to WGR 550 and the Bills coach said that he expects quarterback Tyrod Taylor to play at Kansas City this week. Taylor suffered an apparent shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of Buffalo’s 20-13 loss to New England but should be good to go for this critical AFC match-up.
Guard John Miller (high ankle sprain) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (concussion) are not expected to play against the Chiefs. Defensive end Mario Williams suffered a foot injury in the loss and Ryan said it is “too early to tell” if he will be able to play.
The coach also would like to see Taylor take more shots to Watkins downfield, saying it’s OK to “force the issue.”
“He’s too good of a playmaker not to get more looks. We have a great talent there. We got to try to utilize him a little more than we have.”
The Bills also made one roster move Tuesday, adding former 2012 second-round pick, defensive end Jerel Worthy, to the practice squad. Linebacker Kevin Reddick was released.