At the end of the first half of the Buffalo’s latest loss to New England, ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico undoubtedly channeled the feelings of Bills fans as the Pats diminished the efforts of the Bills defense on a quick scoring drive to take a 10-3 halftime lead.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Tirico.
By the predictable end of the Pats’ 20-13 victory on ESPN's Monday Night Football, Tirico concluded: “What a screwed-up night of plays and officiating this was tonight.”
Who could argue?
The game -- or movie -- was as strangely entertaining as any Wes Anderson film, including “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Tirico was his usual strong leading man, seeing things quickly and illustrating a memory as sharp as his eyes.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was annoyingly as positive as usual, spotting many heroes in a strange lengthy film that made the league's No. 1 villain, New England, appear to be vulnerable even if the Bills couldn't beat them.
The strangest bit of Gruden’s analysis concerned his early praise of Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who held the ball too long at times, had a reluctance to throw the ball down the field, and missed on the rare occasions when he tried to hit a wide open Sammy Watkins.
“He’s played well tonight,” said Gruden of Taylor in the third quarter. “He’s going to have to play his best football of the year down the stretch.”
I bet Watkins disagreed with the first part of the above quote. In any event, Taylor didn’t come up with his best football down the stretch, either. By game’s end, Gruden backed away from his praise of Taylor, noting some of the negatives above.
To his credit, Gruden also was more critical than usual. He lit into Bills lineman Seantrel Henderson for lining up wrong and negating a first down and reserve safety Duke Williams for seemingly blowing a coverage after replacing an injured Bacarri Rambo.
Gruden questioned whether Bills’ defensive end Mario Williams or safety Corey Graham was the culprit on a Pats’ touchdown pass play to running back James White. In ESPN’s post-game, Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who played for Ryan and knows his defensive schemes, blamed it on Williams, saying he was supposed to drop in coverage rather than rush the passer.
Here are more highs and lows from the Bills’ latest movie flop.
Bills, 42, Sabres 5: That is the results, rounded off, of the local ratings for the two games. The Bills game had a combined rating of 42.2 on Channel 7 and ESPN. The Sabres game, which started 90 minutes early and ended two hours earlier than the Bills game ended, had a 5.1 rating on MSG. Nationally, the Bills-Pats game had a 10.0 rating, which was the highest this season on MNF.
Promises, Promises: In a pregame interview, ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters reminded Bills Coach Rex Ryan about how Pats quarterback Tom Brady threw for 466 yards against the Bills in the first game this season: “I promise you he’s not going to do that tonight,” said Ryan. He kept his promise and his defensive strategy was repeatedly praised by Gruden. The Bills may have lost, but Ryan got his defensive reputation back.
Best Line: Tirico, before the kickoff: “Buffalo, it is good to have you back on Monday Night Football.” Then he noted the last time was in 2009.
Best Audible Sound: Who didn’t love hearing Pats quarterback Tom Brady yell “Rex Ryan” as an audible? It already has gone viral.
Best Stat: ESPN noted near the end of the game that Brady had been hit by the Bills 15 times, not including the time he was sacked.
Best Animation: ESPN caught a shot of a frustrated Ryan after the Patriots scored the touchdown with eight seconds left in the first half after either Graham or Williams blew an assignment. Before the start of the second half, Salters told viewers she was “nervous” running to the sideline to talk to Rex.
Runnerup: Brady slamming his helmet in frustration minutes before he led the drive to frustrate Ryan.
Best Tweet: It came from Luke Russert, the son of the late Buffalo media hero Tim Russert, after Bills General Manager Doug Whaley was praised for his drafting of Ronald Darby, Karlos Williams and John Miller: “Thanks Coach Gruden for complimenting Bills draft. Your colleague Mr. Kiper, graded it worst in the NFL.”
C’mon Man: To use one of ESPN’s signature expressions, ESPN didn’t show a replay of the holding penalty against the Bills’ Graham that negated an interception by Rambo.
Best Memory: After Bills returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled a punt, Tirico quickly referenced the McKelvin fumble that has been blamed for the Bills loss to New England in 2009. Of course, everyone in Buffalo didn’t need to be reminded. Nor did McKelvin, no doubt.
C’mon Man, 2: After McKelvin recovered another punt he fumbled, Gruden said he doubted he would be back returning any more kicks.
Delayed Replay: It took awhile, but ESPN eventually showed the replay that explained the Bills had to waste a key second-half timeout because linebacker Jerry Hughes saw that Marcell Dareus was missing and the Bills only had 10 men on the field.
Best Quote: It came from Gruden: “I don’t believe there’s been a defensive coach who has caused more chaos and confusion than Rex Ryan.” Unfortunately, at times Ryan's defense confuses the Bills as well as their opponents.
Best Official: Gerry Austin, ESPN’s much-better version of CBS’ Mike Carey, might have been the only official to have had a good night. After the bizarre sequence in which an official's whistle prematurely stopped a long pass play to New England’s Danny Amendola, Austin noted the officials on the field got it wrong when they let the catch stand and added a 15-yard penalty on Ryan for going too close to the field. Austin said the play shouldn’t have counted because the ball was in the air when the whistle blew and added that should have negated the 15-yard penalty on Ryan. In other words, the officials made three mistakes on one play. Austin also was quick to note that what was called a fourth-down incompletion to Watkins on the sideline that would have ended the game would be reversed. Unfortunately, Austin wasn’t on the field when the officials ruled the game over when Watkins went out of bounds by himself with two seconds left. After the game was declared over, Tirico noted the Bills should have been given an extra play.
Missing Debate: Gruden was notably silent when Twitter blew up after Ryan decided to punt on a short fourth down near midfield with about 10 minutes left with the Bills down, 20-10. It was worthy of a debate.
Debatable Conclusion: Tirico seemed to think that Amendola might have scored a touchdown if the whistle hadn’t been blown. He might have been right since there didn't appear to be many Bills capable of catching him. However, a Bill near Amendola stopped playing after hearing the whistle. “The Patriots were wronged, no doubt about that,” concluded Tirico. Agreed.
Best Replays: Gruden noted that the Bills put several different players at different times in a successful attempt to keep Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in check before some replays showed viewers the successful coverages against Gronk.
Gronk’s Best Moment: It came during a clever commercial with his family members for a video game.
Missing Replays: It would have been nice to see if Watkins was open more often or if Patriot cornerback Malcolm Butler was keeping him in check and made Taylor’s reluctance to go downfield understandable.
Best Suggestion: Gruden was almost apologetic about repeatedly reminding the Bills to target Watkins. “I’m going to keep saying it;” said Gruden, late in the fourth quarter. It would be a good idea for the Bills to keep saying it to Taylor Sunday if his shoulder is okay and he is able to play against Kansas City.