Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: A
Shady loves the snow. LeSean McCoy plowed his way to 156 yards on 32 carries, including the game-winning, 21-yard run in overtime. On a day when the conditions were likely the worst they have ever been for a home game, he gave the Bills exactly what they needed. Backup Mike Tolbert returned from a three-game absence to rush six times for 32 yards. Tolbert, though, lost a fumble in the second half – the type of mistake in a close game he simply can’t make.
PASSING GAME: C-
It wouldn’t be fair to give a failing grade here based on the conditions. Rookie Nathan Peterman connected with receiver Kelvin Benjamin on a 21-yard reception and then an 8-yard fade pass for a touchdown in the second quarter, plays that looked for most of the afternoon like they would provide the winning margin. After Peterman left the game with a head injury, third-stringer Joe Webb threw a horrid interception that almost cost the Bills in regulation before redeeming himself with a 34-yard completion to Deonte Thompson in overtime, setting up the winning points. That was just enough.
RUN DEFENSE: B
The total yards allowed – 163 – looks bad, but that came on a whopping 46 attempts. Buffalo held Indianapolis to just 3.5 yards per rush, which is a respectable number. Rookie Matt Milano, finally getting more playing time, responded with a team-high 11 tackles. Preston Brown made two tackles for loss among his seven stops. On a day when tackling was at a premium, the Bills allowed just one play of longer than 11 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: B
Rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White’s dancing in the snow will be one of the lasting images of this game. The pass defense was great the first 50 minutes of the game, but there were too many breakdowns on the Colts’ final drive. Safety Micah Hyde was the only member of the secondary to get a pass defended. The referees got the right call on the pick play to erase Indianapolis’ two-point conversion, as Hyde got held up. On the Colts’ only possession in overtime, defensive tackle Kyle Williams tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage on second down, and Hyde made the crucial third-down tackle to force a punt.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Colton Schmidt was the man. He punted six times for 230 yards, a net average of 38.0 that included a long punt of 48 yards. The punt from his own end zone in the second quarter was one of the best you’ll see. Stephen Hauschka made an extra point, which deserves a parade in those conditions, while the coverage units were both excellent. Brandon Tate smartly did not try to be a hero on punt returns, and was adequate on kick returns, gaining 52 yards on three attempts.
Sean McDermott’s decision to punt on fourth and 1 at the Colts’ 41-yard with 4:13 left in overtime was an abomination. Yes, the defense got a stop and the Bills were able to get the winning points, but the amount of things that had to go right for that to happen is a lot more difficult than getting 3 feet. A tie would have basically eliminated the Bills from the playoff race, and that looked like what McDermott was coaching for. Think back to the Week 4 win in Atlanta, when the defense had 10 guys on the field for a crucial play at the end of the game, and McDermott has been extremely lucky to have had things go his way in those games. He would be taking an avalanche of criticism if those plays turned out differently. Having Webb throw as much as he did in regulation also is easy to second guess.
* * *
Grading the Colts
RUNNING GAME: B
Frank Gore is a tough customer. The 34-year-old who last week moved to fifth in all-time rushing yardage logged a career-high 36 carries, producing 130 yards. On a team with nothing to play for, Gore’s effort deserves respect. Backup Marlon Mack gained 23 yards on seven attempts. He had a 20-yard gain, but managed just 3 yards on his other six attempts. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett chipped in 10 yards on the ground, including an 8-yard scramble on the Colts’ 19-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that picked up a first down on fourth and 6.
PASSING GAME: C
Brissett and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton made some big plays on the Colts’ touchdown drive that tied the game late in regulation. Two 10-yard completions between the two moved the chains each time, one coming on a third-and-10 play and the other on a fourth-and-3 play. They also had a 9-yard completion on the drive. Brissett was in command on that drive, and was a flag away from winning the game with a two-point conversion that got erased by a penalty. He played a respectable game, even if his stat line is average — 11 of 22, 69 yards, one touchdown.
RUN DEFENSE: D
Trying to tackle McCoy in a blizzard is not an enviable task. The Colts, who came into the game ranked 14th against the run, recorded seven tackles for loss, but that good was undone by five rushes allowed that went for 10-plus yards. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins had eight tackles, including one for a loss, and was in on the hit that knocked Peterman out of the game. Defensive end Marcus Hunt had two tackles for loss among seven stops.
PASS DEFENSE: B
Safety Matthias Farley almost made a huge play with an interception of Webb with less than a minute left. Cornerback Chris Milton was victimized by Benjamin on the Bills’ touchdown pass. Cornerback Quincy Wilson led Indianapolis with three of the Colts’ six passes defended.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Ageless kicker Adam Vinatieri hit a 43-yard extra point to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t pull the same kick off a few minutes later for a game-winning field goal. He also missed a 33-yard attempt wide right in the first half. Punter Rigoberto Sanchez — who was as far away as possible from his college home of Hawaii — had a pretty good day, with a net average of 35.6 yards on seven punts. Punt returner Chester Rogers and kick returner Josh Ferguson made good decisions.
What was Chuck Pagano thinking at the end of the game? After Farley’s interception, Indianapolis had the ball at the Bills’ 28-yard line with 52 seconds left. After running one play to the Buffalo 25, Pagano was content to just stay there instead of trying to get closer for Vinatieri. It seemed he was content to kick from a spot where the field was somewhat cleared, but he absolutely should have tried to get closer. Running back-to-back plays that involved a pick in the fourth quarter was a calculated risk by offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Sometimes those are called, like on the two-point conversion, and sometimes they’re not, like on the touchdown.
Story topics: Brandon Tate/ Colton Schmidt/ Joe Webb/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Kyle Williams/ LeSean McCoy/ Matt Milano/ Micah Hyde/ Mike Tolbert/ Nathan Peterman/ Preston Brown/ Sean McDermott/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tre'davious White