Few people expected the Buffalo Bills to beat the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. I was actually one of the brave souls that did, and I was wrong. Being wrong about who wins or loses a football game isn't new or difficult to accept, in theory, but this one... this one was different. This loss stings for a lot of fans, for a lot of reasons. Here are a few:
Rex Ryan drafted a great game plan against the Patriots, and the Bills still lost. The Bills defense was in Brady's face all night. They mostly shut down Rob Gronkowski, a feat that has proved virtually impossible in the 2015 NFL season. The Bills defense showed Bill Belichick more looks than a freshman in the mirror before homecoming. Rex Ryan is being deep fried like a chicken wing right now on social media in Buffalo, but everywhere else he's being recognized for putting together a great plan to beat the Patriots. It just wasn't enough.
Tyrod Taylor didn't throw the ball particularly well last evening. He wasn't EJ Manuel against the Jacksonville Jaguars bad, but he missed some easy throws and overlooked open receivers. The weather was cold in New England, and that affects every quarterback. Tyrod Taylor was also on the road against a tough opponent and perhaps the NFL's most underrated defense. So that's also an obvious factor to consider. However, failing to get Sammy Watkins the ball on a consistent basis is a red flag. Taylor has drastically improved the Bills at QB and everyone knows it, but one wonders if we're witnessing the ceiling of Taylor's abilities when it comes to finding open receivers and throwing the ball deep. If so, it isn't going to be enough for the Bills to become a legitimate playoff contender.
By the way, Tyrod Taylor is a very tough player. Long ago, in an AFC far, far away, a young quarterback named Jim Kelly forever set the definition of "toughness" at the quarterback position. There is a term called "Kelly Tough" that fans of the game understand even two decades after the man retired from the NFL. Tyrod Taylor showed in the 4th quarter of the Bills loss to New England that he's as tough as any quarterback in the NFL. That matters to teammates, coaches, fans, and sometimes even the win column. Just not this time.
Sammy Watkins isn't the factor he needs to be for opposing defenses, but he might be someday. Forget how many draft picks the Bills gave up for Watkins, or who the Bills could have had if they not made that deal. Great players are consistently great regardless of circumstances over the course of a season. There are off games, like the one Rob Gronkowski had last evening, but great players emerge and remain in our minds because they are too good to be denied. This is why DeAndre Hopkins shines with such a terrible QB situation in Houston. It is why Tom Brady and Cam Newton are so dominant regardless of who they throw the ball to. It is why Todd Gurley shines on such a terrible offense. Sammy is only a season and a half into his NFL career. He has a lot of time to develop and emerge into a dominant player. He just hasn't done that yet. There have been flashes, and a few highlights, but so far, he hasn't distinguished himself from the majority of starting wide receivers in the NFL. His QB can be a factor, and playcalling can be a factor. Ultimately, if he's as great as he and Doug Whaley say he is, he'll become impossible to overlook or shut down on a consistent basis. Someday.
In case you missed it, the Bills are really banged up. So are the Patriots, but we'll ignore that for now. The Bills have played games without key players all season. Over the course of the season they've had to play without their starting quarterback, wide receivers, running backs, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and defensive backs.
Officiating in the NFL is really the worst of all major sports in North America. It didn't used to be this way, it really didn't. Yet somehow over time, the quality of officiating in the NFL has become absolutely unreliable. The rules themselves at times are worded in a such a way that nobody seems to agree what they mean. The referees themselves don't seem to have a full grasp on what the rules are. Replay seems to get obvious plays wrong week to week. The entire system is in need of a complete overhaul, but we all know that isn't going to happen. If I told you that officiating has hurt the NFL's reputation more than deflated balls or criminal activity has in 2015, would you disagree?
Playing against the Patriots is like a Superbowl for the Bills and most other teams. But for the Patriots, it is just a small part of getting to another playoff run. The regular season for the New England Patriots is an inconvenient delay to their annual trip to the playoffs. That probably stings the most to Bills fans.
Dazzled by my scientific breakdown and analysis? Follow me @TheBurkeReport on Twitter.