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Opinion: Buffalo Bills woes go beyond Xs and Os in loss to Jaguars

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills lost in embarrassing fashion to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, 9-6. It wasn’t just that they were outschemed or outplayed or outcoached, they were outmatched on every level. Mental mistakes added up for the Bills and compounded every other problem they had on Sunday.

While folks are going to blame the penalties on the officiating crew doing a subpar job (and they did do a subpar job), Buffalo was called for five personal fouls during the game, a number that caused safety Micah Hyde to let out a “Jesus” in the middle of the post-game press conference question. Tre’Davious White took a Jags player to the ground on the opening series well away from and after the play in a retaliatory move. The play came on a failed third-down conversion, allowed Jacksonville to keep the ball, and they eventually scored three of their nine points. In the second quarter, left tackle Dion Dawkins was called for unnecessary roughness after picking up his defender, throwing him to the ground, and jumping on him. That pushed the Bills from 2nd & 10 to 1st & 25 before an eventual 3rd & 31. They were able to gain enough on third down for a long Tyler Bass field goal on 4th & 9. Linebacker A.J. Klein was flagged for 15 yards on an Isaiah McKenzie kickoff return. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds hit the Jaguars’ quarterback for a dubious roughing the passer call that was bailed out by a fumble one play later. The most comical of all was a taunting penalty on CB Levi Wallace after the Bills gave up a first down conversion on fourth down. Wallace was baited by the Jaguars, who once again had a questionable hit far away from the play and near the whistle.

There were more mental mistakes in the penalty department, as well, but we will get into that during our penalty recap later this week. When the broadcast continually shows head coach Sean McDermott pointing to his head from the sidelines and telling his players to be smarter about things like that, it certainly warrants multiple conversations.

Mental execution was also a major problem for the Bills. Wide receiver Cole Beasley dropped a conversion all alone in the middle of the field. A rattled Josh Allen sent a pass directly into the waiting arms of a Jaguars defender in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Allen fumbled on a 3rd & 2 run on the cusp of field goal range, ending their penultimate drive without points. Right tackle Daryl Williams was a full second late getting off the snap on Buffalo’s final series, leading to a sack of Allen from which they wouldn’t recover.

Even more damning than the thoughtless penalties and individual miscues was the lack of effort, according to the Jaguars. Buffalo looked like a team that didn’t want it, said Jags cornerback Shaquill Griffin after the game. There aren’t many worse things one player can say to another on the football field than “you didn’t look like you cared” and the Bills will have to address that. Not being mentally up for every game is understandable, but you have to turn it on at some point no matter the opponent.

Is it really things like the ManningCast curse and the fact that the Bills are the “hunted not the hunter” thing? Are the Bills reading their press clippings too much? Are they self-assured? (I know, a dirty word.) If that’s the case, it should be handled in short order by losing to a team like the Jaguars. You can’t possibly be too big for your britches anymore after a loss like that. I had hoped that loss came against the Tennessee Titans before the bye, but I was wrong.

If it’s not an underserved arrogance that’s causing these mental lapses, it may be a fatal flaw for the Bills. Their ability to overcome adversity has been a hallmark of their time under head coach Sean McDermott, responding after hardship and playing with a chip on their collective shoulder. If that’s gone because the Bills are “too talented” or “too good,” then all the strides made during the rebuild will be wasted.

McDermott and company have also shown a propensity at learning from their mistakes, so we will give them the benefit of the doubt. But this week’s opponent, the New York Jets, have two better wins than any win on the Bills’ ledger at this point. If Buffalo sleepwalks again, they are going to suffer a similar outcome in the Meadowlands on Sunday.