ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills looks to pass against the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 34-31. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Well, that was certainly a different way to end a game with the New England Patriots. Count me as one of those who left the Buffalo Bills for dead when the score was 21-0. Clearly, these are not the same Bills who had lost 15 straight games to New England. Instead, we all saw the Bills retain a belief that a comeback was possible.
Less noticeable was the fact that the Bills' offensive line limited mistakes after the initial three drives (two interceptions and a punt). It was interesting to note that 6-of-11 bad pass plays (and 1-of-4 bad run plays) came on those opening three drives. Seven offensive line mistakes on the first 16 plays certainly help account for Buffalo's slow offensive start on Sunday. Add in the interception off of Donald Jones' hands, Brad Smith's drop, and Steve Johnson not setting himself up beyond the marker on a third down reception, and it's easy to understand why Buffalo was so offensively offensive at the start of the game.
|Individual Run Grades - Week 3|
The left side of the line (Demetrius Bell, Andy Levitre and Eric Wood) averaged about 80% on run plays. While guys tend to move around on run plays - Levitre and Chad Rinehart are prime candidates to pull - this week those grades translated into the Bills averaging gaudy numbers in the Left C, Left B and A gaps. Due to the aforementioned slow start, the Bills weren't in position to pound the ball, with just 17 rushes before all of those kneel downs in the red zone.
|Run Direction Success, Week 3|
Had the Bills not been trailing so badly for so much of the game, it's easy to imagine Jackson putting up well over 100 yards. The reason? New England's defensive line came into Buffalo hurting, and three of their defenders didn't play. The upshot was that the Patriots didn't have much of a defensive line rotation. This doubtlessly played a role in Buffalo's linemen limiting mistakes as the game wore on, though you could make the case that guys who had never beaten the Patriots - like Bell - had the butterflies settle a few drives into the game.
|Individual Pass Grades, Week 3|
Bell easily had the worst game on passing downs, but it's important to note that four of his six bad pass plays came on those opening three drives. After that, he had just two more bad passes on the 33 remaining throws. Everyone except Levitre killed one pass play, though Rinehart's killed pass play was redeemed (sort of) by a roughing the passer penalty. Again, the Bills didn't often help the tackles with chips from backs or tight ends. Instead, Jackson was often left in the backfield and expected to block a LB one-on-one. He did a great job - and his ability to block consistently seems the most likely reason for Spiller's negligible role.
The Patriots only blitzed on six of Buffalo's 44 pass plays. The lack of defensive line rotation possibly contributed. More likely, however, the cause for the limited pressure is to be found in how well Ryan Fitzpatrick did against the blitz last week. Indeed, he put up 115 yards and three first downs (would have been about 125 yards and four first downs if not for a Jones drop), so Bill Belichick wasn't wrong to sit back in coverage.
While the line has performed well enough, the Patriots aren't a gauge in terms of pressure defense. The Bills will see some more exotic looks when the Eagles come to town, and an above average front seven when playing the Giants the week after that. Perhaps the biggest test for the offensive line will come against the Jets.
The Patriots streak is over. The more important playoff streak remains...