The Buffalo Bills continue to have no answers against the top dog in the AFC East.
Despite a valiant effort in the first half, the Bills faltered down the stretch in a 37-16 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Pats outscored them 24-3 in the final 30 minutes en route to the road loss at Gillette Stadium.
The loss condemned Buffalo to another season sweep against their inter-divisional rival. It marks the 13th time since Tom Brady became starting quarterback that the Bills failed to win at least one of their two matchups against the Patriots.
As a result, the Bills fall to 8-7 on the season. But there’s still much to play for in their regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins. Though they don’t exactly control their own destiny, a win puts them in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Whichever way you look at it, next Sunday’s contest on New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest in recent franchise history.
For now, it’s time to take a look at the biggest takeaways from another disappointing result against the Pats.
Week 16 Buffalo Bills Takeaways
“What Constitutes a Catch?” Is Fast Becoming a Punchline
Does anyone know what the hell a catch is in the NFL anymore? It’s becoming a frequent occurrence for plays to initially get ruled as catches only for them to be overturned under questionable circumstances. Last week, the Patriots benefited from the situation after a potential game-winning touchdown from Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James was ruled incomplete after further review.
In week 16, the Bills found themselves in a similar predicament at the end of the first half. Facing a third and goal from the Pats four-yard line, Tyrod Taylor found Kelvin Benjamin in the corner of the end zone. The officials originally ruled touchdown. However, it was unclear as to whether Benjamin had both feet down with possession of the ball. Nevertheless, replays appeared inconclusive. In that sense, the ruling on the field should’ve stood as called.
But after a lengthy review, head official Craig Wrolstad reversed the original call. That unleashed the ire of a good portion of NFL Twitter regarding the league’s continued inconsistency vis a vis “what is a catch?” The sentiment ranged from officiating incompetence to tin foil hat conspiracy theory discourse in favor of the Pats. In the grand scheme of things, though, the Bills only have themselves to blame.
One play earlier, tight end Charles Clay had his own opportunity to give the Bills a 17-13 lead ahead of halftime. But he dropped an easy catch in the middle of the end zone. Moral of the story: don’t put it in the hands of the referees. In a sport that’s much more exciting when there are actual touchdowns, they’re total grinches in letting catches stand lately.
Bills Falter at the Line of Scrimmage on Both Sides of the Ball
One of the more defining characteristics of the Bills’ 2017 season has been the inability to consistently get at the quarterback. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into week 16 with fewer quarterback pressures. They also ranked fourth worst in the NFL with 24 sacks. All those issues reared their ugly head in Sunday’s loss.
Though their two sacks of Brady slightly exceeded their game-by-game average of 1.6 per game, that pales in comparison to New England’s effort at flummoxing Taylor. The Pats tallied six sacks on Sunday which served as a glaring indicator as to their dominance at the line of scrimmage. They forced a total of 15 negative plays out of the Bills offense compared just six on the part of Buffalo’s defense.
On the other side of the ball, it wasn’t much better. The Bills defensive front offered little resistance to a Pats offensive line that gradually asserted their control on the game. That becomes apparent considering all three New England touchdowns in the second half came from running backs. It included a Dion Lewis touchdown catch off a screen pass where he followed his linemen en route to the end zone.
In summary, Sunday’s game marked the fourth time this year the Bills have given up at least 190 yards rushing. That’s happened in just three other seasons since 1980 (1983, 1987, 2010). It underscores the continued ineptitude defending the run that’s held the Bills back in 2017.
If there’s one positive about Sunday’s loss, it’s that it didn’t eliminate the Bills from playoff contention. But as a result of other games from around the league this week, they’re no longer in the sixth and final spot out of the AFC. Combined with the Baltimore Ravens win over the Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Chargers triumph over the New York Jets, they’ll find themselves in eighth place heading into their final game against the Dolphins.
That necessitates some things happening in week 17 that are beyond their control to get in. At the very least, the Chargers and Tennessee Titans need to lose to the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars respectively. In that scenario, a Bills win would vault them over both teams and back into sixth by superior record alone.
Another possibility is a Ravens loss to the Cincinnati Bengals combined with the Bills, Titans and Chargers winning. That would put all four teams at 9-7, necessitating the use of tiebreakers. Head-to-head doesn’t apply since they all haven’t played one another this year. So the first tiebreaker that comes into play is conference record. This would eliminate the Chargers and put the Titans into the fifth spot.
But Buffalo and Baltimore would be tied with a 7-5 AFC record. That brings in the strength of victory tiebreaker. As of right now, the Bills have the advantage and a win over the Dolphins along with a Ravens loss to the Bengals wouldn’t change things in that regard. As a result, the Bills would finish sixth and likely face a road game against the Jags in the wild card round.
Jacksonville can certainly help the Bills by dispatching Tennessee next week. Oakland can do the same while playing spoiler against their AFC West rival Chargers. But for Buffalo, the famous saying of former Raiders owner Al Davis certainly applies: “Just win, baby!”