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Upon further review: Penalty problems show no signs of letting up for Bills

Here’s what Sean McDermott had to say a week ago, after his team was penalized 13 times for 80 yards in a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“We can’t ignore those. Whether they’re accurate or not accurate, that’s for another time, but we can’t ignore that and expect to win games going forward. Good football teams don’t beat themselves, and we had opportunities to continue to move the chains. A couple of those were penalties on ensuing first downs there, and we shot ourselves in the foot. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and make sure we get those corrected.”

That didn’t happen Sunday. The Bills were once again flagged 13 times, this time costing them 120 yards in a 21-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

“We had opportunities, opportunities where we shot ourselves in the foot at times with some penalties,” McDermott said after the game. “We've got to learn from it. This is a young football team. You learn from it and move forward.”

That opportunity came Monday as the team reviewed tape of the loss.

"We always take ownership of all of it. That’s where we start. You try and peel back the layers and say, 'OK, if it’s pre-snap or post-whistle – those are the ones you’ve heard me talk about before – they’re non-negotiable.' Those are the ones that hurt," McDermott said. "The ones that happen during the course of the play – which ones were the aggressive penalties and which ones were technique-based where we were out of position or used the wrong technique, or could’ve used better technique – you try to put them in the bucket so that we can improve on that. Certainly, that’s an area that we must improve moving forward."

The costliest penalties Sunday came in the game’s most decisive moments. On the Dolphins’ go-ahead touchdown drive, linebacker Matt Milano was called for a 25-yard pass interference. A few plays later, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips cost the team 11 yards with a taunting penalty.

Plays that Shaped the Game: Bills penalties overshadow elite plays

The call against Milano didn’t sit well with the Bills.

“Obviously Matt Milano had great coverage,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I mean that’s a call, but you have to be able to play through those. We still could have defended the dirt there and been better in the red zone.”

There was also a sense of frustration in the losing locker room about the consistency of the calls. What was called Sunday might not always have been called in previous weeks.

“Some holding calls. Some of them are just 50/50 calls whether to call it or not call it, and that’s just the nature of the game sometimes,” Alexander said. “So you want to almost take it out of their hands and be better in your technique and fundamentals where they don’t have a choice to call it.”

Other flags, however, were self-inflicted. On the Bills’ final drive, left tackle Dion Dawkins committed a false start, turning a second and 6 from the Miami 25-yard line into a second and 11 – a much tougher down and distance.

“A lot of dumb penalties,” receiver Zay Jones said, not referring to Dawkins’ false start specifically. “There’s just a lot of things you want back. It’s hard to process right now.”

The Bills have now been called for 115 penalties this season, 100 of which have been accepted. Their 22 offensive holding penalties are fourth most in the league, according to data tracked by Other frequent flags have come for false starts (18, tied for fourth most), defensive holding (8, tied for third most) and unnecessary roughness (7, tied for fourth most).

"When you look at false starts and holdings up front with our offensive line, it’s gone way past the point of where we need to have it to win games," McDermott said. "We’ve got to get that corrected. You make it hard to win when you do that -- when you false start and you try to use cadence or you get called for holding."

The Bills’ 100 accepted penalties are the second-most in the NFL, behind Kansas City’s 108. The difference is, the Chiefs have a high-powered offense that can overcome those setbacks. The Bills aren’t there yet.

“It’s tough coming into a hostile environment and shooting yourself in the foot with all of those penalties that we had,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “Coach McDermott always talks about being a smart team, playing complementary football and we obviously didn’t execute on that level, so it’s something that we have to be smarter coming into a hostile environment.”

Draft watch

The Bills are currently eighth in the draft order at 4-8. They are behind San Francisco, Oakland, the New York Jets, Detroit, Atlanta and the New York Giants.

Stat of the game: 3 for 3

That’s what the Dolphins finished in the red zone. Turn one of those Miami touchdowns into a field goal, and it’s a tie game. The red zone has been an issue defensively all year for the Bills. Opponents are converting touchdowns 71.5 percent of the time, which ranks 28th in the NFL.

Game ball: Josh Allen

The rookie quarterback wasn’t perfect, but there were unmistakable signs of progress. Allen accounted for 366 total yards of offense, including a franchise-record 135 rushing by a quarterback. He battled all game. Would he like the throws intended for Zay Jones in the end zone and Charles Clay on the last offensive play back? Absolutely. But there was a lot to like about Allen’s game Sunday.

Vic Carucci: Plenty of blame for Bills' loss, but Josh Allen's progress unmistakable

Quote of the day

“A little Ben Roethlisberger. He’s got a similar game. A big guy. He can run. Probably one of the strongest arms in the NFL. I think that guy’s going to be good.” – Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, on Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen

Snap count notes

1. Shaq Lawson took 33 defensive snaps (60 percent) compared to just 20 for Trent Murphy (36 percent).

2. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin played the second-most snaps at his position, with 43 (60 percent). Zay Jones led the way with 66 offensive snaps (92 percent), then Benjamin. Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie were next, each with 35.

3. Starting center Russell Bodine played just three snaps before leaving the game with a leg injury. Ryan Groy played the remaining 69 offensive snaps.

4. Rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds missed just one play after suffering a scary-looking right leg injury that had teammates taking a knee around. Edmunds played 54 of 55 defensive snaps. Fellow linebacker Matt Milano had 100 percent participation, as did the secondary of Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White.

5. Wide receiver Andre Holmes got just two snaps on offense, but did tie for the team lead with 18 snaps on special teams. That number was matched by linebackers Julian Stanford, Deon Lacey and Corey Thompson, as well as cornerback Lafayette Pitts.

Coming attractions

The Bills start a busy stretch of December home games when they welcome the New York Jets to New Era Field at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Bills dominated the Jets, 41-10, in Week 10. Here are three things to know about the Jets …

1. Sam Darnold is ready to return. The Jets’ rookie quarterback has sat out New York’s last three games, starting against Buffalo and continuing Sunday against Tennessee, because of a sprained foot.

“He could have played. He just needed more reps,” Jets coach Todd Bowles told New York reporters Sunday. “You just can’t bring him back after 14-17 days (off). Even if he’s healthy, to not have timing and everything else and put him out there today in a game like this.”

Given a full week of practice, Darnold should start, which means he’ll go up against Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen in a matchup of top-seven quarterback picks.

2. They are a mess in the red zone. New York went 0 for 3 Sunday in the red zone against the Titans, and for the season are converting touchdowns just 36.7 percent of the time when they make it inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Their failures Sunday included a drive that started at the Tennessee 18-yard line after a blocked punt.

““When you get the ball in advantageous positions, you got to score and get seven,” quarterback Josh McCown told the New York Daily News. “You can’t stack three’s up all day. It’s going to come back and get you. And it got us.”

3. Penalties are also a problem for the Jets. New York coach Todd Bowles watched as his team gave up a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in losing to Tennessee. On the Titans' game-winning drive, New York committed three of their 11 penalties for the game.

"I don't know how many we had, but it felt like we had one every play," Bowles told reporters of the penalties. "It cost us, and it's disgusting."

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