INDIANAPOLIS – Frank Reich had such disregard for the Buffalo Bills’ popgun offense that the Indianapolis Colts’ coach decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 47-yard line late in the first quarter of a scoreless game.
He gambled that the risk of turning the ball over on downs on his own side of the field was negligible, and worth the potential reward of picking up the Colts’ initial first down of the game, after the Bills’ defense had forced three-and-outs on Indy’s first two possessions.
Buffalo’s offensive ineptitude was no secret. The Bills were starting quarterback Derek Anderson less than two weeks after plucking the longtime backup out of semiretirement. And they had lost running back LeSean McCoy to a concussion just minutes into the game.
But the Bills’ stout defense – ranked third in the NFL entering the game – was supposed to pose a challenge.
Instead, they rolled over like a dog.
Colts running back Marlon Mack easily picked up the first down with a 10-yard run off left tackle, far from his longest on a career day, and Indy went on to score on four consecutive possessions before halftime, including three long touchdown drives, while stomping the Bills 37-5 on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This horrific loss was not a product of the Bills’ offense committing turnovers and giving the opponent a short field, like in the season-opening debacle at Baltimore, though that part would come.
This game was decided long before that, and because the Bills’ defense was out-schemed and manhandled by a mediocre offense.
“You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to compete,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “You’ve got to beat the guy in front of you, you’ve got to stop the run, make plays and force them to kick field goals and turn the ball over. And unfortunately we weren’t able to do that today …
“They ran the ball all over us, passed the ball on us when they needed to. We weren’t able to stop anything.”
Those first three scoring drives covered 75, 74 and 82 yards. The scoreboard read 21-0, and the game was essentially over with five and a half minutes remaining in the first half.
The Bills lost the battle in the trenches. They were often out of position, repeatedly giving up yardage in chunks. They forced no turnovers. They did not record a sack a week after posting seven against the Texans, and they managed just two quarterback hits. Tremaine Edmunds recorded the only pass breakup. And they didn’t swarm to the ball, being credited with just four assisted tackles.
They did manage a safety, but only because a snap squirted through Andrew Luck’s hands and out the back of the end zone. Lorenzo Alexander had a chance to recover the ball for a touchdown, but it slipped from his grasp.
“They came out with a couple of different schemes that we weren’t necessarily prepared for,” Alexander said. “As a team, we have to be able to adjust. Maybe they get you that first drive and you come back out and adjust, but like I said, they switched it up.”
What makes matters even worse is the caliber of the opponent:
The Colts entered the game with a 1-5 record, a four-game losing streak and the 30th-ranked rushing attack in the league, one averaging 83 yards per game.
They gashed the Bills for 220 yards on the ground.
“It just gives you a feeling of physical power and dominance,” Reich said. “They certainly showed that today against a really, really good defense. This defense was ranked top-10 in every category. A hard defense to run the ball against, so the O-line did a great job.”
Bills coach Sean McDermott essentially said his players weren’t overpowered but fooled by what the Colts were doing and slow to react, which reflects poorly on him and his staff.
“Run defense comes down to gap integrity and recognizing schemes going on inside and we didn’t do a good enough job with that,” McDermott said. “And then, when they do run the ball outside, we’ve got to get support from the linebacker level on the secondary and we didn’t get that.”
Luck, who had been on pace to break the single-season NFL record for pass attempts, capped the first scoring drive with a 17-yard strike to tight end Erik Swoope, his first of four touchdown passes. His second came on a short toss to Mack, who breezed 29 yards to the end zone. Two more short scores were snatched by T.Y. Hilton, one in the fourth quarter after the Bills’ wheels had long fallen off.
But Luck finished just 17 of 23 for only 156 passing yards, 26 of them in the second half.
He was replaced by Jacoby Brissett with about five and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, after one of the Bills’ five turnovers.
Mack ran for a 20-yard touchdown on the very next play.
There was plenty of talk about professionalism and anger in the postgame locker room, and the Bills dispute this to a man, but it looked like they had given up.