What a first quarter of the season, huh? After an 0-2 start and the firing of Greg Roman the Bills were considered dead in the water. Season ticket holders were looking for buyers for cold, meaningless games in December, and that dreaded 17th year without a playoff appearance was inevitable.
Not so fast.
Suddenly, wins over two of last year’s final four teams – Arizona last week and New England on Sunday – has the Bills miraculously at .500. They certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they’re there.
Shutting out the Patriots in their house is no easy feat. Here’s m 5 Yays and 5 Nays from Week 4.
1) The defense
The 16-0 shutout of the Patriots in Gillette speaks for itself. As I wrote about in the game story it was the first time they’ve ever been shutout in that building. Granted it happened with a very limited Jacoby Brissett running the offense, but hey, that unit hung 27 points on Houston 10 days prior. Rex Ryan continued to show some exotic looks such as a 1-4-6 set up. Pretty much everyone did their job on every play, it was incredible. Even without one of their best defensive players in Marcell Darues, who returns this week from his four-game suspension, this defense has found it’s identity.
2) Zach Brown
Oh you know, just an 18 tackle, two forced fumble, one sack day from the Bills linebacker – his third straight game with double-digit tackles. Simply put; Brown has been incredible and he’s lightening fast for his position. On the Patriots opening play – a pass to Julian Edelman – that went for 90 yards and was called back, guess who was the man running all the way down to the other end of the field to tackle the speedy receiver a yard shy of a TD? Zach Brown. The two crossed paths again when Brown chased down and tackled Edelman for a measly one-yard gain on a read option play in the first quarter. He can run down ball carriers, drop into coverage, you name it. When the Bills signed him this off-season it was mostly out of desperation after losing Nigel Bradham and cutting ties with Mario Williams. They got the former Tennessee Titan on the cheap after his career was derailed by a torn pectoral muscle in 2014, and boy are they getting a great return on their investment. Brown is flourishing in Ryan’s scheme.
3) LeSean McCoy
The stats don’t necessarily jump off the page – 19 carries for 70 yards, 6 receptions for 38 yards and a TD – but McCoy looked nearly unstoppable on Sunday. Almost every single touch it felt like he was making a defender miss and getting a few extra yards that didn’t seem to be there initially. In Greg Roman’s system the production just wasn’t there, now under Anthony Lynn he looks comfortable, versatile and effective.
4) Tyrod Taylor’s effectiveness in the passing game
Finally we got a more quarterback like performance from Taylor. He was 27-of-39 passing for 246 yards and a touchdown, without his most dangerous weapon Sammy Watkins. Before Sunday’s effort Taylor was 0-6 when attempting 30 or more passes in a game. I know the Bills like to use his dual threat ability to their advantage – as we saw in Week 3 – and they absolutely should. Balance is the key though. If they make Taylor a one dimensional, running quarterback, opponents will have no problem shutting him down. If he can do both, run and beat you with his arm, now that’s difficult to defend. Considering the money Buffalo potentially has tied to Taylor at the start of the 2017 league year this was a step in the right direction towards proving he’s a wise investment.
5) Robert Woods
Perhaps the one silver lining to Watkins being placed on the IR is that Robert Woods will get his chance to shine as Taylor’s top receiver. We saw some flashes of his ability in Week 4 as Woods hauled in a team best seven receptions for 89 yards on the day. Every time a play broke down it Taylor kept his eyes downfield looking for Woods. He is such a smart player too, he always seems to understand the situation or where he needs to get to on a specific route or down. This is a contract year for him so Watkins absence could help him prove his worth to the Bills.
1) Only putting up 16 points
For as in control of this game the Bills were from start to finish, the fact that they only managed 16 points is a little disappointing. Give some credit to the Patriots defense for bending but not breaking and keeping their team in the game, but this score could have and probably should have been 24-0. This was definitely the best we’ve seen Buffalo move the ball up and down the field, but finishing a few more of those drives with touchdowns would have been nice.
2) The pregame skirmish
The little pregame baltercation involving Bills S Robert Blanton, Brissett and Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell was totally unnecessary. The way I understand it Brissett and Mitchell were running from one end zone to the other and as the pair headed back to their side of the field Blanton took exception to them crossing into his warmup area, pushed Brissett and of course Mitchell came to his fellow rookie’s defense. That fueled some harsh criticism’s of Rex Ryan from Patriots owner Robert Kraft who went on 98.5 The Sports Hub before kickoff and said, “I think if you are less-than-disciplined in your personal approach, your team takes on the attitude of the coach… My guess is Rex [Ryan] probably loves that. … Why Rex is Rex and Bill [Belichick] is Bill.”
Hard to totally disagree with those remarks to some extent because Rex does tend to talk a big game, especially during Patriots week, and in general he’s an emotional guy. His players carry that same emotion with them on the field and sometimes it can bubble over like we saw. The issue is New England really took exception to the incident. In fact Danny Amendola went on WEEI, Monday talking about how pissed he was and that the team isn’t going to forget about it anytime soon. As if Buffalo needed to stoke the Patriots fire. Now they’ll face a vengeful group at home it Week 8.
3) Dumb penalties
You’d usually expect to see Jerry Hughes’ name under this category, but he actually played a very smart game on Sunday and picked up his fourth sack of the season. Very uncharacteristically, G Richie Incognito fell victim to the stupid penalty bug, picking up an unnecessary roughness on the Bills second drive, with the offense set up first-and-10 at New England’s 18. The penalty halted what was looking like a sure touchdown drive and Buffalo had to settle for a field goal.
Then after forcing a Patriots three and out on the ensuing drive, Stephon Gilmore was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the punt return. Instead of starting at their own 20 they began the series from their own five and while they still were able to ass another FG who knows if that drive ends differently with a bit of a shorter field to work with. Surprisingly it was the Patriots who were the less disciplined team, so neither flag came back to hurt Buffalo this week.
4) Dan Carpenter
Carpenter has missed a either field goal or extra point in three of the team’s first four games. While he made amends for his 47-yard doink shot off the left upright midway through the third quarter by nailing a 44-yarder on the Bills very next possession, and by hitting three of his four attempts on the day, his inconsistencies are becoming deflating. Misses are bound to happen from time to time, but Carpenter is making a habit of it.
5) Reggie Bush being inactive
Rex Ryan clarified on Monday that the reason Reggie Bush was inactive was because the specialty package the Bills designed for him was not part of their Week 4 gameplan, begging the question, why is he on this team if he’s only deployed in one package? He was initially signed to be the Bills primary kick returner, a job that has since been taken by Brandon Tate. After watching Bush show some elusiveness at camp I actually liked this move because I thought he could contribute behind McCoy, but this experiment has been dreadful.
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