INDIANAPOLIS – The game was still very much there for the taking Sunday when Charles Clay made a back-breaking mistake.
The Buffalo Bills’ tight end’s lost fumble in the red zone was a critical play in what turned into a blowout loss to the Colts. The Bills trailed, 6-0, at the time and had reached the Indianapolis 13-yard line when Clay had the ball knocked away from him after a catch by Colts safety Mike Mitchell. Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard recovered, and the Colts needed just three plays (and one defensive penalty) to go 74 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Given the state of the Bills’ offense these days, that’s an insurmountable deficit.
“I mean, it's huge. They count on me in that situation to make that play, and I didn't,” Clay said. “Just got to go back to work and prevent it from happening again.”
Clay’s fumble was reviewed, as all turnovers are, but the replay confirmed he made the catch before losing the ball.
“I mean, it really doesn't matter,” he said when asked if he agreed with the call. “It is what they called. I've got to do a better job holding onto the ball. That's pretty much all there is to it. … At this point, you want to go out there and put your best foot forward, and I feel like we haven't. Today, I take a huge part of the blame for that.”
It’s been a season-long issue for the Bills’ tight ends. Clay, Jason Croom, Logan Thomas and Khari Lee have combined for 29 catches for 247 yards and one touchdown this season. There are seven tight ends with more receptions than the Bills have as a team and 15 with more yardage. There are 19 tight ends in the league with more touchdowns than the Bills’ team total at the position.
“We've just got to keep playing hard, especially at the tight end group. We're a pretty tight-knit group,” Thomas said in the losing locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium. “We want to see each other succeed. We know what we're capable of. We've got to put our best product on the field, whether it's one of us or all three. We want to be the guy that they can trust in.”
The lack of production from Clay is most troubling. He’s the one with the $9 million cap hit, a number that demands more than 16 catches for 133 yards through seven games.
“We're capable of doing some really good things when we're all doing our job,” he said. “Like I said, in that situation, they count on me to make that play. I didn't. We've just got to go back to work, man. There's nothing I can do about it now, so I'll do all I can to prevent it from happening again and be there for my team next week.”
It looked early in the season like Croom might develop into a dangerous No. 2 option at the position. He had a 26-yard touchdown catch in the Week 3 win over Minnesota, but he has been limited to just four catches for 30 yards in the following four games.
“At the end of the day, we've got to execute for whoever is out there,” he said. “We don't want to be bad. We work hard, we have good practices. We want it to show when we come out here on Sundays.”
The sooner, the better for the reeling Buffalo offense.
Stat of the game: 18
That’s the number of quarters it’s been since the Bills scored a touchdown on a drive that started in their own territory, dating back to the second quarter of the win over the Vikings in Week 3. Since then, the Buffalo offense has produced just two touchdowns in four games, both of which came on short fields. That’s hard-to-believe offensive ineptitude.
Game ball: Marcus Murphy
He made the most of his 18 snaps, rushing four times for 53 yards and catching a team-high five passes, even though those went for just 17 yards. If LeSean McCoy is out for an extended amount of time, Murphy’s role will get bigger.
Quote of the day
“We’ve got to hit the reset button. … It’s got to hurt. The minute losing gets easy and easy to take, is not what we’re looking for. It’s got to hurt and that’s where it starts. And then you go look at the tape and make sure we’ve got the right personnel on the field. Fundamentally, we’re doing things right. I know we have some young players out there and they’ll learn from this. I think as a group, we’ve got to learn from this and continue to drive toward our goal here.” – coach Sean McDermott on his approach moving forward.
Snap count notes
1. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander played just 18 defensive snaps. That number feels low for a player who the week before had 1.5 sacks and an interception. Maybe limiting his snaps is how the Bills keep Alexander fresh, but the amount of plays he’s made when on the field makes you wonder if he should be out there more.
2. Wide receiver Cam Phillips played 16 offensive snaps in his professional debut, but he was not targeted in the passing game. Phillips was the fourth wide receiver behind Zay Jones (51), Kelvin Benjamin (44) and Andre Holmes (38) in snaps.
3. Fullback Patrick DiMarco continues to have a minimal role on offense, taking just seven snaps. It’s clear DiMarco has a leadership role on the team as evidenced by being a captain, but he has not played much of a role in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme.
4. Cornerback Dontae Johnson worked into the rotation at cornerback, playing 21 defensive snaps. No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White played 58 defensive snaps. He was not on the field at the end of the game, although that could have been because of the score.
5. Guard Vlad Ducasse took all 56 offensive snaps a week after leaving the loss to Houston because of a knee injury. The entire Bills’ offensive line took every offensive snap Sunday.
I’ll understand if you want to skip this part. The big, bad New England Patriots come to town for Monday Night Football. There’s never a good time to play New England, but that feels especially true right now for the Bills. Here are three things to know about the Patriots …
1. They had to hold on Sunday. New England improved to 5-2 Sunday and is back in its customary position atop the AFC East with a 38-31 victory over the Chicago Bears. The win wasn’t secured until Bears receiver Kevin White was tackled at the 1-yard line on the final play of the game after catching a Hail Mary. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady described the play as one “you just kind of hold your breath” on. Patriots defenders Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Jonathan Jones combined to keep White out of the end zone. A two-game losing streak to the Panthers and Jaguars earlier in the season is a distant memory now for New England.
2. Josh Gordon is playing a bigger role in the offense.The former Browns receiver is finding his way in New England. Gordon had four catches for 100 yards against the Bears on Sunday, including one that went for 55 yards in the fourth quarter and set up the Patriots’ final touchdown. Gordon played the second-most snaps of any New England receiver, behind only Julian Edelman. “He’s a threat. He goes down the field and makes plays. … It’s pretty cool to have a guy like him,” Edelman told ESPN.
3. They suffered a potentially big loss Sunday. Rookie running back Sony Michel, a first-round draft pick out of Georgia, was carted to the locker room with a knee injury in the second quarter against the Bears. Michel, who missed all of the preseason and the season opener after having fluid drained from his knee, has become the Patriots’ lead back in recent weeks. He had rushed for 204 yards in the two games before Week 7, and for the season has 95 carries for 422 yards and four touchdowns. With Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill on injured reserve, the Patriots have just two healthy running backs in James White and Kenjon Barner. "It's tough to see a guy like that go down,” White said of Michel. “He's been battling some injuries and been working hard and playing well.”
Story topics: Andre Holmes/ Brian Daboll/ Cam Phillips/ Charles Clay/ Dontae Johnson/ Jason Croom/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Khari Lee/ Logan Thomas/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Marcus Murphy/ Patrick DiMarco/ Sean McDermott/ Tre'davious White/ Vlad Ducasse/ Zay Jones