HOUSTON – Something wasn’t right. There was Lorenzo Alexander, standing in front of his cubicle in the visitor’s dressing room at NRG Stadium and lamenting how the Buffalo Bills’ defense had come up short Sunday. There was Kyle Williams, doing the same a few feet away. Micah Hyde followed a similar script across the room.
That wasn’t how it should have been.
Buffalo’s defenders were supposed to have been celebrating a victory and their massive contributions to it. This had been set up as a game for them to savor, as a shining example of just how far a unit on the wrong side of three blowouts in the first four weeks had come.
Thanks to the Bills’ considerable ineptitude elsewhere, and especially at quarterback, the defense could only think about what might have been after a 20-13 loss against the Houston Texans. Having largely gone unscathed for the better part of nearly three hours, it was left to beat itself up after the team fell to 2-4.
Alexander and Williams had played some of the best football of their lives. Yet, they fixated on the fact the Bills couldn’t prevent an 84-yard field-goal drive that tied the game at 13-13 with 1:34 remaining, on how close they had come to getting a crucial turnover when Jerry Hughes forced Deshaun Watson to fumble with just less than three minutes left only to have the Texans recover.
“We just have to figure out a way to get off the field for that last drive defensively,” Alexander said. “We expect that and it’s just hard to let our team down in that fashion at the end of the game since we had played so well for three and a half quarters.”
“Yeah, we played well enough to get in position, we were in position, and had an opportunity there to finish the game, and we weren’t able to do it,” said Williams. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to finish the football game. We (needed to) get a sack and a fumble there.”
While that might have been accurate, the analysis had one glaring oversight. Allowing the Texans to knot the score wasn’t anywhere near as egregious as what happened two plays later. Nathan Peterman, facing a blitz, carelessly threw a pass intended for Kelvin Benjamin that Johnathan Joseph easily intercepted and returned 28 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:23 left. Three plays later, Peterman, while trying to connect with LeSean McCoy, put the ball in the hands of safety Kareem Jackson to kill the Bills’ last gasp.
Sure, Peterman threw that perfect touchdown strike to Zay Jones to give the Bills a 13-10 lead. But his turnovers exemplified the serious problem the Bills continue to have at quarterback, an issue that rang true earlier in the game when Josh Allen mostly looked like a clueless rookie before exiting late in the third quarter with an elbow injury. Allen finished 10 of 17 for 84 yards.
Special-teams gaffes gave the Texans a 10-0 halftime advantage, but the major issue for the Bills was that they didn’t have an answer at their most important position and could very well go a long time before finding one. Derek Anderson, the 14-year veteran signed last Tuesday to be Allen’s mentor, could very well be pressed into a much larger role as the Bills prepare to face Indianapolis next Sunday.
How big of a concern is that, coach?
“We still continue to develop this football team,” Sean McDermott said. “I mean, you saw out there (Sunday), those guys battled and to do that in this type of environment, down 10 at half, to come back, I thought, was was a heck of a job by those guys.”
Those guys play defense. They overwhelmed the Texans’ offensive line, which had virtually no answers to stop – let alone slow down – a pass rush that took control from the outset.
The Bills sacked Watson seven times. Williams had two, while Alexander and Hughes each had 1.5. The Bills also forced Watson to fumble three times, losing one, and intercepted him twice.
“I think we felt like we were better than them up front,” Alexander said. “Obviously, Watson makes it special with his ability to run and stuff, (and) with him being a little nicked up (with a chest injury), I think he was staying inside of the pocket a little bit more and a little bit more hesitant as far as getting out. He still made some plays, but we were able to get him down, create some forced fumbles, get a couple (of interceptions), but we have to be able to finish games.”
Still, Watson’s one TD pass, 13 yards to DeAndre Hopkins, and a pair of field goals were all the offensive production the Texans needed with Allen, Peterman and the rest of the offense offering almost nothing to prevent a tremendous defensive showing from being wasted.
Williams and Alexander refused to be drawn into any discussion about how offense and special teams let them down, pushing a team-first message in the face of increasing potential for division within the ranks.
“We’re not always going to be at our best, and we’re going to need those special teams and the offense,” Williams said.
“We don’t make excuses,” Alexander said. “We have to go out there and put our team in a position to win games regardless of what’s going on the other side of the ball. If that means only allowing three points every week, if that’s what it takes to win, then we expect ourselves to do it.”
Based on what happened Sunday, that had better be the defense's mission through the balance of the season.