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Tim Graham: Despite pop-gun offense, Bills not ready to go away from Rick Dennison

Tim Graham

Audie Murphy was as triggered in Ramatuelle as Buffalo sports fans are these days.

Sorry if you need to research that reference. I've spent the past four weeks looking up when stats were this bad for the Buffalo Bills. You can take a few seconds out of your postgame hangover to humor me.

What doesn't take a Google search to understand is that Buffalo's offense has been beige. The defense has been submissive. The scoring differential has been knee-buckling.

The Bills kept Sunday's game close by recent standards, losing 23-3 to the New England Patriots at New Era Field.

On the sidelines for the game were Buffalo Sabres forwards Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart. Even they were disgusted by the lack of scoring.

Buffalo's defense played reasonably well, sacking Tom Brady three times and frustrating him enough to spark a shouting match with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. New England needed 36 minutes to score a touchdown.

Buffalo's offense, though, left many of you twitchy again.

Increasingly, the name Rick Dennison is being spat in conversation around town.

The offensive coordintor has Bills fans triggered without a doubt.

Finger gun: Pyew! Pyew! Pyew!

For only the 14th time in club history, the Bills' offense failed to cross the goal line, scored three or fewer points and netted 90 or fewer passing yards.

Add their Week 2 defeat to the Carolina Panthers and the Bills have multiple games of zero touchdowns, no more than three points and no more than 115 net passing yards for the first time since 1979.

They're firing a lot of blanks.

Buffalo was down two scores with 9:02 left in the third quarter and trailed by 20 points entering the fourth quarter.

Yet Tyrod Taylor, Joe Webb and Nathan Peterman grossed 115 throwing yards against a Patriots defense that ranked 30th overall and 31st against the pass. The net total dropped to 85 yards with Taylor's three sacks and Peterman's one.

You can't rally from behind that way.

Taylor injured his left knee on the first play of the game and, with a towel draped over his head, was carted to the locker room early in the fourth quarter.

How much the knee held him back is hard to know. He scrambled dramatically throughout the first half. He ran for 18 yards on one first-quarter play and would have picked up another acre if not for being a toenail out of bounds.

If the severity of the knee injury is reflective of how dejected Taylor looked as the cart whisked him up the tunnel, the Peterman sect will get its wish and see him start again next Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

Perhaps we've seen the end of Taylor in a Bills uniform.

But Bills fans will be disappointed to learn Dennison isn't going anywhere yet.

Unless Sean McDermott has everybody around One Bills Drive fooled, there has been no falling out between him and Dennison.

Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman's first outing after five-interception meltdown is nondescript

Granted, Dennison wasn't McDermott's first choice for offensive coordinator.

Mike McCoy, Greg Olson and Brad Childress were on McDermott's radar. McCoy signed with the Denver Broncos, but was fired last month. Olson wanted to stay out West for family reasons and remained the Los Angeles Rams' quarterbacks coach. Childress essentially is retired.

I asked McDermott after the game if he would consider adjusting how he and Dennison prepare future game plans.

McDermott didn't reply with a flat rebuke, guffaw or kick over the lectern and storm off. But he didn't express dismay with the current process either.

"Not trying to get away from your question, but we look at everything in all three phases," McDermott replied. "Obviously, we've got to score more than three points, and I expect that we'll go back, take a hard look at it as a staff and work at getting it corrected."

McDermott also suggested an open exchange of ideas exists between Dennison and him.

"There's good communication, healthy communication there on a weekly basis," McDermott said.

Buffalo's coaching staff recently has shown a willingness to tinker with its approach. Dennison moved from the sideline to the press box for a different view when Peterman made that disastrous, five-interception debut as an NFL starter Nov. 19 in Los Angeles.

But it doesn't look like McDermott is ready to make a radical change in his play-caller like his mentor, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, did Sunday. Reid gave up the job to "offensive coordinator" Matt Nagy. The Chiefs lost for the sixth time in seven games anyway.

That's not to say McDermott won't replace Dennison eventually.

Much of being a first-time head coach is trying to find the proper fits within your staff. McDermott never had assembled one before last winter.

Watch: Our Team's Takeaway from Bills' loss to Patriots

Dennison has had the title of offensive coordinator nine seasons, but this is the first time in his coaching career he's under a head coach who is defensive-oriented and didn't have oversight of the play calls.

McDermott's staff also can use a quarterback mentor. Is Dennison who they want to groom their next quarterback, whether it's Peterman or Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold or whoever?

Quarterbacks coach David Culley's background is with wide receivers, having coached that position for 23 years in the NFL. He last coached quarterbacks at Southwestern Louisiana in the 1980s.

But before you look at the heavens and groan, let's also keep in mind Dennison doesn't have the most talent to work with.

Buffalo is so thin at receiver, and LeSean McCoy can't pound out carries an entire game anymore. The offensive line is getting older, with leaders Eric Wood and Richie Incognito approaching the twilight of their careers. Left tackle and supposed "franchise player" Cordy Glenn is MIA with a foot/ankle injury that had been day-to-day for months and is now week-to-week.

And quarterback, well, to steal a Bill Belichick phrase, "It is what it is."

Despite all that, Dennison called an encouraging first half Sunday. Buffalo was creative -- if not desperate -- by unveiling receiver/quarterback Webb in an entertaining wildcat package.

Buffalo should've had two touchdowns by halftime, but Taylor threw an interception on New England's 1-yard line after 13 wonderfully scripted plays that traveled 66 yards to open the game. Out of the wildcat, Webb slightly overthrew a wide-open Travaris Cadet up the seam deep in Patriots territory.

So good luck convincing McDermott, the same coach who benched Taylor to give Peterman a chance three games ago, that his offensive players are good enough to be underachieving for Dennison.

That's a trigger McDermott doesn't appear ready to pull.

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