FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bum shoulder and all, Tyrod Taylor finally connected on the deep ball. The Buffalo Bills quarterback hit wide receiver Chris Hogan in stride for 42 yards deep into the fourth quarter.
Trotting upfield, Taylor grabbed his shoulder in pain. Unfortunately for the Bills, it was too little, too late and major questions remain at the position.
The Bills left too many points on the board the three hours beforehand and lost, 20-13.
“You’re not going to make every single play out there,” Hogan said. “Guys are going to be open. But a lot of that is game plan, stuff tailored to go to specific guys. Guys are going to be open some plays. But we’ll go back, we’ll review the film, we’ll learn from it.”
With each pass that fell 2 or 3 yards shy of a receiver, somewhere high above General Manager Doug Whaley had to wonder if this truly is his long-term answer at quarterback.
Forced to be a passer in the pocket again by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Taylor misfired downfield in finishing 20 of 36 for 233 yards. Now that Taylor has played more than 50 percent of the snaps this season, the third year of his contract is voided, as noted by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That means 2016 will be a contract year.
This day, the underthrows came back to bite Buffalo.
•On third and 4 in the first half, Taylor missed Hogan wide open deep on what would’ve been a 34-yard touchdown. Hogan got two, three steps on Patrick Chung to no avail as Buffalo was forced to settle for a Dan Carpenter field goal. It was the kind of throw that probably gives the Bills brass pause, hesitation.
•To open the third quarter, offensive coordinator Greg Roman dialed up a deep shot to Sammy Watkins — the receiver wasn’t targeted in the first half. Watkins got a step on Malcolm Butler but the ball was underthrown.
•Buffalo’s next drive in the third quarter, Taylor tried sticking a throw deep to Watkins again before the single-high safety could slide over. Granted, it was a small window, but there was a window. Taylor’s pass fell short of Watkins’ stride.
•Once the Patriots took a 17-10 lead — Buffalo in need of a response — Taylor woefully missed tight end Charles Clay open in the middle of the field on second down.
•And on Buffalo’s final offensive drive, Taylor telegraphed a pass that Chung nearly returned for a pick-six.
Watkins wasn’t targeted the entire first half. When he was in the second, the ball fluttered short. Still, he looked at his own play afterward.
“Some plays, we just didn’t make the plays,” Watkins said. “We’ve got to make them. We’ve got to hit those throws and we’ve got to catch the ball. I don’t think we executed those plays.
“I didn’t make the play. I was supposed to come back for one ball and get the pass interference and I didn’t. And then, I got coached up, and the second time I came back and got the pass interference. So it’s little plays like that, that are hidden. I should’ve done it the first time, gotten that P.I., and we would’ve been on the 20- or 30-yard line going in.”
Taylor is obviously Buffalo’s best option this year. But this run-first operation in Western New York, Rex Ryan’s latest installment of ground and pound still needs more consistency at quarterback.
Even though this is his fifth season, Taylor is a first-year starter and played like a rookie Monday night in locking into his first read. Defenses will continue to play Buffalo this way, loading the box with defenders and paying extra attention to Watkins.
Buffalo had one-on-one coverage across the board, but couldn’t score more than 13 points.
“There’s always going to be plays you want back. It’s football,” Hogan said. “We made a lot of plays out there too, so we’ll go back, learn from it.”
Defensively, missed tackles continue to haunt the Bills. Safety Corey Graham was stiff-armed by James White on a 20-yard touchdown. Stephon Gilmore couldn’t corral Danny Amendola on an 18-yarder at the end of the first half. And then Duke Williams — after replacing an injured Bacarri Rambo at safety — missed Amendola on a 41-yard gain.
Is this problem correctable in the middle of the season? They’ll need to fix it with a pivotal game coming up at Kansas City on a short week.
“Those space tackles, you’ve got to make the tackle,” Gilmore said. “You’ve got to just wrap up.”
Added linebacker Nigel Bradham, “That’s how their game plan is. They want to make a guy miss and get upfield. That’s their scheme.”
Making matters worse were the injuries. Mario Williams (foot) and Rambo (shoulder) both left the game, while Marcell Dareus was temporarily sidelined. On offense, guard John Miller was carted off with an ankle injury. Clay left with a neck injury, and left the locker room with an ice pack around the injury.
If the Bills would’ve won this game, the national narrative all Tuesday would’ve been a bizarre inadvertent whistle in the second half that prevented a potential Patriots touchdown. Amendola caught a Brady pass and had nothing but green acreage in front of him when the line judge blew the whistle.
The NFL’s VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said the official lost track of the football on the play. It was ruled a 14-yard gain for the Patriots.
“That’s a mistake and we shouldn’t have blown the whistle,” Blandino said. “So by rule they are going to look as to where was the football when the whistle was blown and they determined that Amendola had the football when the whistle was blown. So then the team with possession gets an option: they can either take the ball at that spot or they can replay the down. So New England decided to take the ball at the spot, which was more beneficial to them.”
The Patriots then got an extra 15 yards when Rex Ryan was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.