Plenty went wrong for the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, particularly offensively and on special teams. Ryan Fitzpatrick had perhaps his worst performance of the season, and the Bills allowed a return touchdown for a second straight game in defeat.
The poor work in those two phases undid solid work from the team's defense; they held the Colts to just 13 points on offense, sacked Andrew Luck four times (three of those provided by Mario Williams), and did more than enough to keep the team within striking distance despite the other issues present. Yet when push came to shove, the defense couldn't overcome one issue that helped Indianapolis seal a win: they were terrible on third down.
Buffalo was especially bad in third and long (i.e. eight or more yards to gain) situations, allowing the Colts to convert 6-of-10 opportunities. Luck completed 4-of-7 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown on 3rd & 8 or longer, and also had a 14-yard scramble to convert another such play. Indianapolis also converted a third and long late in the game when rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore was flagged for pass interference; that play effectively put the game on ice.
Indianapolis got first downs on the following third and long distances: 11, 11, 8, 17, 8 and 10 yards. They were 4-of-7 on 3rd & 10 or longer. Unless Mario Williams was making a play (two of his three sacks came on third and long), the Bills were pretty close to a sure bet to give up a first down on a down and distance where it's completely imperative that they get off the field.
It's easy to point at Buffalo's recent successes on defense and point out that there has been substantial improvement from a unit that was historically bad during the first half of the season. Buffalo held Houston, Miami and Indianapolis to a combined 41 points, and even a 37-point outburst by New England in Week 10 was the lowest yardage total of the season for the league's top-rated offense.
But clearly, the defense is still springing leaks at the most inopportune times. Dave Wannstedt and company still have plenty to clean up (and more consistency to achieve) before the resurgent unit can truly be considered good.