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Bills notebook: Penalty problems won’t go away

PHILADELPHIA – Into the tunnel, the head coach ducked underneath a rope that broke off as the defensive coordinator screamed at the officials.

“That’s a disgrace to the NFL!” Dennis Thurman appears to shout in a video captured by WKBW.

That was their reaction to 15 penalties that totaled 101 yards in another undisciplined performance.

Inside the locker room, most players didn’t blame the officials. Instead, they pointed the finger back at themselves. A rash of penalties plagued the Bills through September, into October and they seemed to be stemming the tide back to respectability in evening their record to .500. Then in a 23-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the flags flew yet again. This time, it probably cost Buffalo its season.

Cornerback Nickell Robey, flagged for defensive pass interference, is tired of talk.

The Bills have done push-ups at practice, they’ve been outfitted in “Yes Sir!” wristbands, they’ve talked about flags internally and externally ad nauseam.

“In your mind, you’re like ‘Yo, it has to stop one day. It has to stop one day.’ You see us at practice every day,” Robey said. “The push-ups. The wristbands. We have to wake up one day and it just has to stop. We can’t talk about it anymore. The talking is over, the talking is over. We have to just do it.”

Time has probably run out.

Pick your penalty. So many stung on Sunday.

On third and 7, Mario Williams was flagged for a neutral zone infraction. Philadelphia converted the ensuing third and 2 and eventually scored its first touchdown of the game to go ahead, 7-0.

Linebacker Jerry Hughes was flagged twice for neutral zone infractions, both on third downs. He now has more than 100 yards in penalties on the season.

On second and 2 from the Eagles’ 21, Marcus Thigpen was penalized for illegal motion, the Bills didn’t gain another yard and settled for a field goal.

Deep into the fourth quarter, guard Richie Incognito was beat by Fletcher Cox and forced to hold the Eagles defensive tackle. The Bills were forced to punt with 2 minutes and 26 seconds left.

Fullback Jerome Felton had two false-start penalties.

The play that probably had Rex Ryan and Thurman so upset was a no-call. Receiver Josh Huff appeared to pick safety Corey Graham on a short catch by Zach Ertz that ruptured into a 41-yarder when Leodis McKelvin missed a tackle.

Even then, one could argue that Huff was running a slant route on the collision. It’s up for interpretation.

Big picture, how are penalties still a problem for the Bills? After the constant emphasis?

“No clue, man. No clue,” Robey said. “You know how you have that spark, that one thing that makes a team jell but you have no idea what it is? That’s what’s going to have to happen to this team. We’re going to have to wake up one morning, click into a mode and be like, ‘No more penalties.’ It just has to happen.

“In order to be a great team, in order to be that championship team, we can’t have penalties. We can’t let that get in the way.”

Suffice to say, this is not a championship team yet.

The common denominator may be Rex Ryan himself. From Day One, he vowed to “build a bully” that’d strike fear in the rest of the NFL. That approach amps up players. They’ve all raved about Ryan’s pregame speeches, his motivational tactics. But here they are in December discussing a September problem. Buffalo now has 123 accepted penalties on the season, which ranks second behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Buffalo’s 147 total penalties rank first.

Whereas defensive personal fouls were the problem early, on Sunday Buffalo’s offensive line had seven flags. Cox and co. overwhelmed the Bills.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow because we had the struggles with it early and we addressed it and we were getting better,” Incognito said. “Week by week, we were dropping down that list of the most penalized teams. To have it come back and bite us in the butt in such a big game – with the whole season on the line – is a tough pill to swallow.”

Hughes is the ultimate double-edged sword on this team. Many times this season, he’s justified his five-year, $45 million contract. He’s easily the best pass rusher on the team, a player who does seem to fit in a 4-3 or a 3-4. Yet, his penalty count has also gotten out of control.

His 13 penalties and 109 penalty yards both are the second-most in the NFL, behind New Orleans cornerback Brandon Browner.

“People talk about the penalties – and penalties play a huge factor – but we’ve got to look at everything,” Hughes said, “because penalties are out there but you’re still giving up points.”

The Bills will have a chance to look at everything soon. Barring a miracle, their season is over in three weeks.

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The Bills only had one injury out of Sunday’s loss. Tight end Charles Clay left with a back injury and did not return. But in addition to this, cornerback Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), inside linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle) and right tackle Seantrel Henderson (illness) all did not play and the Bills felt their losses at various points.

Henderson was the surprise scratch, while Bradham insisted he’ll be back this season.

“We’re going to fight,” Ryan said. “We’re going to fight to the end. There’s no question about that.”

email: tdunne@buffnews.com