The Buffalo Bills lost a Week 3 home contest to the New Orleans Saints 27-7 yesterday. Pre-game, if any Bills fan had been asked to predict how the Bills would lose the game, the crowd predicting "shut down Drew Brees and put forth an offensive attack as ugly any single-game performance in team history" would have been small.
I generally dive right into deeper, more meaningful analysis right away, but I couldn't bring myself to do it this morning. This most recent loss was perhaps the most irritating I've witnessed as a fan of this team, because we played toe-to-toe with a legitimate Super Bowl contender and left countless opportunities on the field to win the darned thing. So I'm doing a krytime-style mind dump this morning - it's all the rage - just to do a little venting. Hope y'all don't mind.
Buffalo beat themselves. That's not to say the Saints didn't beat us, because they did. They didn't do it the way most thought - which is a credit to the Bills, actually - but they certainly closed the game out convincingly in the fourth quarter. That said, I harped all week - to the point where I was actually irritated with myself at how repetitive I was getting - about Buffalo playing mistake-free football. They turned the ball over twice and committed 12 penalties for 116 yards. Add in the fact that the offense converted 2 of 14 third-down opportunities - one of the most miserable stats I've ever seen - and that's the ball game. We handed it to New Orleans on a silver platter.
Opportunities were left on the field. I'll get to the defense momentarily, because I thought they were brilliant. Buffalo was in this game for 50 minutes, mostly because the Saints had scored only 10 points to that point in the game. The offense drove into field goal range in the third quarter, but Trent Edwards - who was terrible - tried to force a slant in to Terrell Owens, and the Saints tipped the pass and DE Will Smith picked it off. Then Trent had T.O. wide open on a bomb that surely would have gone for a touchdown on a good throw, but the pass was long. The plays, and the points, were there for the taking. Those missed opportunities are even more frustrating considering the above paragraph.
We need more from this offense. That seems obvious - and it is obvious - but it works on small levels, too. More points, more yards, more balance - these are all obvious things. I appreciated how blunt coordinator Alex Van Pelt was post-game in taking the blame and, most importantly, acknowledging that he needs to find more creative ways to get the ball into the hands of Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. These guys are making $16 million this season for a reason - they're your best players. We've got to find ways to use them - the time for go routes-or-bust with these guys is over. AVP needs to find a way to diversify the passing attack - and particularly the types of routes run by his top two targets - without overwhelming his already-overwhelmed quarterback. Have fun with that one, coach.
What's up with Edwards' accuracy? Even in two solid performances to open the season, Trent Edwards has been spotty at best in the accuracy department this season. On one throw, he'll thread the needle down the seam, and on the next, he'll throw high, behind or long. I hate chalking it up to his being a young quarterback, because accuracy is supposed to be his strong suit. Maybe he's pressing; I couldn't tell you. But he's been errant on some pretty basic throws, and that's cause for concern.
The O-Line is what it is. These guys are so tremendously inexperienced that mistakes are expected. They're incredibly competent run blockers, and they do a pretty solid job in pass protection, too, despite the fact that Edwards was harrassed to no end yesterday. They struggle with the blitz, but it's on Van Pelt to find ways to make defenses pay for sending the house. Five linemen can't block seven blitzers. Our two best linemen yesterday? Jonathan Scott (lots of mistake-free, heady ball) and Andy Levitre (who has been our most consistently dominant lineman through three weeks). These guys will be fine long-term, but man, some of their mistakes are frustrating.
Give Perry Fewell his props, folks. It's become pretty en vogue around these parts to bash Perry Fewell for his defensive scheme, his coaching tendencies, and the many failures of our defense under his watch. He had Drew Brees - the best quarterback in the league right now - completely flustered yesterday. He got pressure, he mixed coverages, and he held the Saints' 46-points-per-game offense to 10 points in 50 minutes. He had his troops prepared to play, and they by far exceeded anyone's expectations. Don't completely disregard the fact that the flood gates opened to the tune of 17 fourth-quarter points - the D certainly folded - but they gave their team opportunity after opportunity to beat this Saints team, and the offense couldn't capitalize.
Bob Sanders is one hell of a coach. All four of Buffalo's defensive linemen - Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay (!), Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams - have flashed dominance this season. Kelsay has been outstanding. Schobel looks much closer to his old self than he did in 2007. Chalk some of that up to Sanders' tutelage, because Bill Kollar certainly never made this group look like anything other than incredibly average players. They're playing well above average right now. Now we just need to get that Maybin kid going...
Drink your milk, Bills players. It's nearly as frustrating to watch Bills players drop like flies as it is to watch this team lose. Leodis McKelvin, Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott and Demetrius Bell all left the game today with various injuries. Derek Fine played late in the game with essentially one arm. It's tough to win games when you're this young, but it's obviously much tougher when you can't get any continuity in personnel. We've got to find a way to stay healthy.
Paul Posluszny's cast is off. Poz was on the sidelines yesterday, and he didn't have a cast on either arm. That was encouraging to see. It was also encouraging to see him sitting on the bench next to Marcus Buggs and his fellow linebackers, actively involved in the game. I can't wait to get this kid back on the field.
Don't waste your time trying to blame one entity for this loss. Lots went wrong. I speak specifically to Dick Jauron's decision to punt in fourth-and-short with roughly 7 minutes remaining in the ball game. I didn't like the decision (though I didn't boo), mostly because it was a makeable distance and the decision to punt took an opportunity away from an offense that clearly needed as many as it could get. But the game was already slipping away - it was 17-7 at the time - and the decision had no effect on team morale nor the final outcome. Can't just blame the offense, either. It's a team game, and thus, it's a team loss.
We miss Derek Schouman. There, I said it.
Welcome back, Mr. Lynch. The timing of Marshawn Lynch's return to the team could not be more perfect. Fred Jackson is my absolute favorite player on this team, but he's made more effective when he doesn't have to carry the entire load. We're about to enter a critical stretch in our schedule, with two of our next three games on the road against divisional opponents. We'll need all hands on deck, and hopefully, Marshawn's return brings back some of the offensive balance that was lost in the New Orleans defeat.
Miami is a must-win. The defending AFC East champs are 0-3, and might be playing Buffalo without QB Chad Pennington. They're obviously very talented and very dangerous, but they're 0-3. If Buffalo is anything more than a pretender, that's a game they absolutely have to win - particularly considering the fact that they've dropped seven straight divisional games. They'll have a hard time coming back from a loss to Miami next week; if that happens, the frustration will reach an early boiling point.