One of the biggest gripes surrounding the Dick Jauron era of the Buffalo Bills was the team's inability to win close games. Buffalo suffered defeat in so many fourth-quarter collapses that it became ritualistic for fans to expect the worse once the final 15 minutes of a game began.
Buddy Nix and, most especially, Chan Gailey are in town to fix that problem. The thought process is as follows: better game planning, better adjustments, and better attention to detail will get the Bills over the hump. Improvements in those simple areas will allow the Bills to win more close games in the fourth quarter, as well as to get more games to the point where they're close in the final stanza.
In order to properly sell just how much improvement Gailey's Bills need to make in this specific area in years to come, we must first understand Buffalo's troubles as thoroughly as possible. This post will be very, very painful. It will evoke agonizing memories, and perhaps upset a stomach or two. Soldier through it. There's a lot to be learned in this post.
After the jump, you'll find Buffalo's last 64 regular season games - all those played since Jauron took over the team in 2006 - separated into five categories. From those five categories, we'll learn just how clutch - or, as the case may be, the exact opposite of clutch - the Bills have been over the past four seasons.
The five categories are broken down by point spreads after three quarters of play. We have two categories for multiple-score differentials (nine or more points) - one for Bills leads, and another for Bills deficits. We have two more categories for single-score differentials (one to eight points) - again, one for Bills leads, and another for Bills deficits. The fifth and final category includes all games which were tied after three quarters of play.
Now's the time to steel yourselves, muster every ounce of resolve possible, maybe squint or look between your fingers, and deal with this post as painlessly as possible. Learn. Just don't cause yourself emotional distress in doing so.
|Third Quarter Pt. Differential||# Games||Bills Record|
|Bills ahead by 9+ points||11||9-2|
|Bills ahead by 1-8 points||12||6-6|
|Game is tied||5||3-2|
|Opponent ahead by 1-8 points||19||8-11|
|Opponent ahead by 9+ points||17||1-16|
Not pretty, but I'm impressed you've made it this far. Don't get complacent. We've still got plenty to discuss. I've got seven points to make before you take over this discussion in the comments section.
Point 1: We now clearly know which two losses have been the most grueling since '06 began. It is flat-out embarrassing to blow a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, no matter the circumstance. Buffalo did it twice under Jauron, and the first time it happened, it might have cost them a chance at a playoff spot. Buffalo blew a 29-20 lead entering the fourth quarter to the Tennessee Titans, allowing the Vince Young-led outfit 10 fourth-quarter points in an aggravating 30-29 loss. That collapse dropped the Bills to 7-8 and out of the wild card picture.
Then, of course, there was the 25-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in 2007. Buffalo led that game 24-13 going into the fourth quarter. You don't need me to recall the rest for you, because those memories just appeared in your mouth.
Point 2: Buffalo needs to take better care of slim fourth-quarter leads. Gut-wrenching losses aside, Buffalo protected their large fourth-quarter leads well enough. They absolutely have to do a better job of protecting slim fourth-quarter leads, as a .500 record in those games isn't anywhere close to good enough. We talk frequently about the team needing to develop a killer instinct and to learn how to finish games; if they're able to do that, you'll see the biggest statistical improvement in this category.
Point 3: The Jets should try to avoid entering the fourth quarter tied with us. This point is irrelevant to the larger theme of the article, but I thought it was worth mentioning considering my hatred of the Jets. Three times in the last four years - that's three of eight games against the Jets, by the way - the Bills and Jets entered the fourth quarter with equal scores. All three times, Buffalo emerged victorious. Very odd, but there's no way I'm complaining about that. Jets suck!
By the way, both losses in tied games came during the 2009 season, as the Bills blew tie games against the Browns (in a game I continually pray I'll never have to recall again, only to be sorely disappointed) and the Titans.
Point 4: Buffalo could stand to improve when facing slim deficits, too. Had I asked myself to predict Buffalo's record in games in which the team was within one score entering the fourth quarter, not only would I have reprimanded myself for talking to myself, but I wouldn't have guessed the team would be as close to .500 as they were. An 8-11 record in those situations is, considering what we've endured for the past four years, surprisingly respectable. But once the team figures out how to protect its slim fourth-quarter leads (see point two), this is where the next point of emphasis needs to be. Playoff teams are slightly better than the Bills have been in this department. Nudging that record a little closer to .500, and eventually slightly past .500, is an absolute must.
Point 5: Was Week 3, 2008 really the Bills' best win of the Jauron era? That's debatable, but there's no debating that it was the most surprising; the Bills' 24-23 come-from-behind victory over the Oakland Raiders was the only time in the past four years that the Bills overcame a deficit or nine or more points in the fourth quarter to win a game. Buffalo trailed 16-7 entering the fourth quarter, but used touchdowns from and , along with a game-winning field goal off of 's foot, to secure an unlikely win. That's it. Every other time the Bills entered the fourth quarter in that predicament, they lost.
Point 6: The most obvious shift needs to occur in where the Bills are playing games late. This will be the most obvious point made here, but it doesn't hurt to make an obvious point once in a while. In 64% of its games over the past four years, the Bills were not winning the game entering the fourth quarter. That's roughly two out of every three games. It's tough to win in that circumstance, and the Bills only won 29.3% of those games (12-29 record). Buffalo needs more leads before it can sustain those leads. You're welcome for making this sound so easy.
Point 7: This team gets blown out a lot by AFC East opponents. In four years, every NFL team plays 24 games against divisional opponents. Buffalo is no different. As detailed in the table above, the Bills entered the fourth quarter facing multiple-score deficits 17 times over the past four years. 10 of those 17 instances (58.8%) were against AFC East opponents, which also accounts for 41.7% of divisional games played. That's two times out of five that the Bills had virtually no shot of securing a win against their biggest rivals. I'm thinking that probably needs to change, too.
One last series of fun stats before I turn this over to you in the comments section: of those 10 AFC East games in which the Bills faced multiple-score fourth-quarter deficits, six of them were against the New England Patriots. That's six of eight meetings against The Team We Can't Beat where the Bills were toast after 45 minutes. What about those other two games, you ask? Buffalo blew fourth-quarter leads - the first time in Week 1 of the 2006 season, and the second time in Week 1 of the 2009 season. Poetic not only as bookends to Jauron's tenure as coach of the Bills, but as a nice little wrap-up on this post, as well.