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Upon Further Review

Poor tackling plagues Bills in loss to Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Lorenzo Alexander called the Buffalo Bills’ loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday the “same, old story.”

“We have to figure out how to make a play when we need to,” Alexander said after his team’s 24-17 loss at Gillette Stadium – a refrain that’s been echoed by too many Bills to count the last two decades. “I know I had a couple chances to do it, some other guys collectively” did as well. “We've got to make those plays to beat a team like this because the margin of error is so small, especially when you're playing against one of the all-time greats. It just comes down to making the plays when you need to. We didn't do that consistently throughout the entire game.”

Alexander lamented the Bills’ “lack of execution,” which was especially noticeable on the defense when it came to making tackles. On too many occasions, the Bills were in good position, but the first defender failed to make the play.

“When we tackle, we’ve just got to be a little bit more physical,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said. “Hopefully we get to see them again down the line and hopefully change that.”

The Bills have been great on defense all season, but they are not a great tackling team. Analytics website Pro Football Focus had the Bills ranked 29th in tackling efficiency heading into Week 16. After the game against New England, that ranking dropped to a tie with Jacksonville for last in the league.

The Bills’ last two games have been their lowest graded of the season in tackling efficiency, according to PFF. Against New England, Bills defenders were charged with 16 missed tackles, the same number they had against Pittsburgh. Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds had four missed tackles, cornerback Tre’Davious White had three, defensive end Shaq Lawson and safety Jordan Poyer had two each and the following players had one each: Taron Johnson, Matt Milano, Kevin Johnson, Star Lotulelei and Alexander.

Kevin Johnson showed how not to tackle in the open field in the second quarter, failing to bring down Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry along the left sideline. That allowed Harry to gain 12 yards on second and 14, setting up a manageable third down. The Patriots would go on to kick a field goal to increase their lead to 10-3 on the possession.

“The bigger the game, the more every single play you're in on is going to matter,” Kevin Johnson said. “Once we watch the tape, we'll be able to narrow down the things we need to do better at, but there were some missed tackles in the game we're going to want back.”

Johnson was far from the only culprit when it came to poor tackling. Milano blew a tackle that led to a 25-yard run by New England running back Sony Michel near the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, White missed a tackle that allowed Rex Burkhead to pick up a first down. On Burkhead's touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Alexander made contact with the Patriots' running back before the goal line, but Burkhead bounced off of it for the score.

“We need to be better. We can be better,” defensive end Trent Murphy said. “We can definitely limit some of those runs. Especially the yards after first contact needs to be better by us.”

There were times when the Bills executed well. Johnson made an excellent tackle in the open field late in the second quarter, flipping Harry upside down on a fourth-and-1 reverse, stopping the Patriots’ receiver for no gain. That gave the Bills the ball back with 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter. From there, they went on the drive that ended with Dion Dawkins’ touchdown catch.

For the most part, though, the Bills’ tackling left much to be desired.

Game ball: Cole Beasley

With No. 1 receiver John Brown drawing the coverage of Stephon Gilmore, it was clear the Bills were going to need Beasley to step up. He did just that, finishing with seven catches for 108 yards. Beasley was targeted 12 times by Allen, nearly half of the quarterback’s 26 passing attempts. On the Bills’ final drive, Beasley made catches of 13, 12, 7 and 25 yards. “One of us is going to be clicking, and he put the receivers on his back today and he executed the plays that were thrown to him,” Brown said of Beasley.

Playoff picture

The Bills are locked into the fifth seed in the AFC. That means they’ll play on the road in the wild-card round against the No. 4 seed.

Currently, that spot is occupied by the Houston Texans. The Kansas City Chiefs, who play on "Sunday Night Football" against the Chicago Bears, are a half game ahead of Houston for the third seed.

The Chiefs are still alive for the second seed in the AFC, which comes with a first-round bye. To get that, they have to win out and have the Patriots lose in Week 17 to Miami.

The Texans have a head-to-head win over the Chiefs, so that means Kansas City has to finish a game ahead of Houston for the third seed. That can happen if the Chiefs win out, or the Texans lose in Week 17 to the Titans and the Chiefs win one of their remaining two games.

Quotable

“If you look at the type of teams we’ve played the last three weeks, they’re all playoff-type teams. So getting that experience against these defenses, teams we might be able to see again, it’s all valuable experience because playing games in December that mean something – not many people are doing that right now and we’re one of those teams. So it feels good to be in the situation that we’re in and the position that we’re in. But again, we didn’t do a good enough job today, we’re trying to win a football game.” – Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

Snap count notes

1. Rookie running back Devin Singletary played a whopping 96% of the offensive snaps, 52 out of 54. That was tied for the most among skill players on the team with wide receiver John Brown.

2. With Singletary playing so much, it meant less playing time for veteran Frank Gore. He played just two snaps (4%), and did not log a carry for the first time in his 15-year career – 225 games.

3. Guard Spencer Long played six snaps (11%), coming into the game after center Mitch Morse suffered an injury in the fourth quarter. Morse played 48 snaps (89%).

4. Defensive end Trent Murphy led the playing time at his position. Murphy was on the field for 52 snaps (71%), which was more than Shaq Lawson (48 snaps, 66%) and Jerry Hughes (44 snaps, 60%). Fourth defensive end Daryl Johnson Jr. continues to be used sparingly, playing just two defensive snaps.

5. Blocking tight end Lee Smith joined Gore in playing just two snaps. Andre Roberts played 13 snaps (24%) at wide receiver, which was more than Robert Foster (eight snaps, 25%).

Coming attractions

The Bills don’t have anything to play for in Week 17, when they host the New York Jets at New Era Field. The Jets have long been out of the playoff picture. Here are three more things to know about Buffalo’s AFC East rivals:

1. Adam Gase watch is on. The Jets’ first-year head coach could be one and done – if fans have their way. A group of disgruntled Jets supporters bought billboards around MetLife Stadium with a message for ownership: “Fire Gase.” Jets owner Christopher Johnson said last month that Gase will not be fired, but since that time a steady stream of negative stories have come out of New Jersey. The most recent one said Gase does not have the respect of his players. It looks like only a matter of time before the Jets are looking for a new head coach.

2. Sam Darnold has been up and down. The Jets’ second-year quarterback flashes star potential at times, but he hasn’t taken a big step forward under Gase. Darnold, who missed time earlier this season with mononucleosis, has 17 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 84.3 passer rating. He’s been better recently, with 13 total touchdowns and four turnovers in his past six games, as opposed to six touchdowns and 10 turnovers in his first five games.

3. Le’Veon Bell’s first season in New York has been eventful. Bell was rumored to be on the trade block leading up to the trade deadline. He said after the deadline passed that he believed a deal was “close,” but that a new team would have wanted him to restructure his contract. After sitting out an entire season to get the deal he wanted, that’s not something Bell was interested in. He had just 676 rushing yards this season heading into a Week 16 game against the Steelers, his former team.

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