Bills Season Comes Full Circle

The Bills played a completely predictable game vs. the same Pats team that they handled in week one this season and with an almost completely opposite result. On Saturday, the Bills were handed a 31-0 thrashing at the hands of the same team which they had beaten 31-0 in week one in similar fashion then to generate a season opening euphoria resulting in talk of an AFC championship and more.

The euphoria over a 2-0 start with a 31-0 whuppin' of the Patriots in week one has disintegrated into a chorus of finger-pointing, fan disgust, media criticism amongst a whole slew of other things

Analyzing the Bills this season has been somewhat of a boring and repetitive exercise. The defensive line can generate little or no pressure on opposing quarterbacks on their own without the aid of blitzes. London Fletcher, as the middle linebacker, ever since he has been with the team cannot cover the pass vs. running backs and more specifically tight ends leaving that option as a major weapon for Bills' opponents. Takeaways, just as they were last season, came infrequently. The Bills generated seven more sacks this season but had one fewer takeaway.

On offense, offensive adjustments, either during the season or at halftime of games have been virtually non-existent. See ya Kevin! Bledsoe plays sub par ball well over 75% of the time. In fact, in his two seasons in Buffalo now, he has amassed 35 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, and 41 total turnovers in 32 games. Aggregately, those are averages of barely over 1 touchdown per game, just less than one interception per game, and approximately 1.3 turnovers per game.

The problem with those numbers is that 20 of those 35 touchdowns coupled with 0 interceptions and only 1 turnover have come in 8 games. Those eight games were against 7 non-playoff teams, five of which will have finished their respective seasons at 6-10 or worse, only one playoff team (Titans this season), and only one team with 10 or more wins. (Titans '03)

In the other 24 games, Bledsoe has only 15 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, and 40 total turnovers for abysmal numbers in 75% of the games that he has played for Buffalo. Those are averages of barely over half-a-touchdown per game, nearly twice as many interceptions per game, and almost three times as many total turnovers per game in 75% of the team's games and in the most important games to be sure. For this the Bills are prepared, seemingly, to pay Bledsoe $6 million for next season. I am only left to scratch my head at how the media continues to carry the banner of Bledsoe's reputation just as it has for nearly his entire career.

Turning point of the game: Bledsoe's interception to Mike Vrabel with under six minutes having been played in the game. New England had already marched down the field for a relatively easy touchdown and then had the ball back at the Buffalo 34-yard line to essentially provide the Patriots with irreversible momentum and the game. There was simply no way on earth that with the Bills needing a passing game to overcome even a 10-0 deficit, 14-0 as it turned out, which they were going to get it in New England with Bledsoe at the helm.

Was Bledsoe hurried? At times, no question. However, he is also not the only quarterback to be hurried on any given Sunday. But I have watched that play at least 10 times on tape and it cannot be any clearer that he could very easily have thrown that ball out of bounds. But where I take issue is again, in Bledsoe's read on that play. The Pats had 6 men on the line clearly in position to rush Bledsoe, and two more showing blitz for 8 total.

Drew knew that his tight end would release and leave five men to block 6-8 rushers! This has nothing to do with football, it has everything to do with basic elementary school math. Yet, this is something that after 11 seasons and at the age of 31 Drew still struggles with. It plagued him several times in this game alone. Bledsoe should have known that he would have little time and made a provision for it mentally. Again, this is something that has beplagued Bledsoe throughout his time in Buffalo and even throughout his career.

Bledsoe has played like a shell-shocked backup for most of this season and a good chunk of last season as well. He will be 32 next season and as I have predicted numerous times before, his stint in Buffalo would precede his fading into being a journeyman starter/backup for the duration of his career. Henceforth, unlike anything he has experienced before regardless of how poorly he has played, he will be under scrutiny from media and fans like who will be much quicker to criticize him and demand that he be benched regardless of where he plays, likely beginning next season in Buffalo.

On the one chance that the Bills had to get back into the game following a Posey forced fumble setting the Bills up at the Pat 29 yard-line, Bledsoe underthrew Moulds first on 2nd-and-7 and then Reed on 3rd-and-7 forcing a missed field goal attempt. A delay-of-game penalty negated the try and Bledsoe then again threw behind Reed on 4th-and-12. Once again, I find myself asking why can this level of play not be had for veteran minimum salary from at least 50 other quarterbacks in the league!

I have two names: A.J. Feely in free agency and Philip Rivers in the draft. Based on team statements, apparently they plan on keeping Drew. Given that, they should be prepared to replace him after only a few games. Should the Bills decide to release Drew, they can have Feely, Rivers, and Brown or another veteran QB for the $6 million that Bledsoe is scheduled to earn next season. In fact, and partially facetiously, we should hope that Drew goes to Miami or the Jets. I will have more on this during the offseason.

Game Grades:

QB: F- There was absolutely no production by Bledsoe at all. Fewer than three yards-per-attempt, one interception (almost three), one lost fumble, no points, 62 net passing yards through three quarters, and a game passer rating of 34.7. Behind, under, and other errant throws highlighted the day. If this game does not seal Bledsoe's fate in Buffalo, then the first four or five games next season will assuming that Donahoe sees fit to have someone, anyone, on the roster that would be capable of stepping into the role.

Travis Brown, played somewhat better albeit while facing somewhat less pressure, with pressure nonetheless however. He threw the ball much more quickly, far more accurately, and did more in two drives than Bledsoe had done through over three quarters

RB: B It is difficult to blame Henry for anything on Sunday except for his fumble when the game was long over. The Bills dropped back to pass over 70% of the time as well limiting Henry's carries to 15 and over four yards-per-carry. Henry performed well vs. the fourth ranked rushing defense in the league with limited carries.

WR: B+ It's a difficult argument to blame the receivers and tight ends when they caught 119 yards worth of balls in two drives and in just under a quarter from Travis Brown but only 83 yards worth in over three quarters with Bledsoe at the helm.

TE: A Again, the tight ends went totally underused having zero catches with Bledsoe under center. Under Brown's leadership, three catches for 72 yards under Brown. Part of this must be attributed to Kevin Gilbride as well.

OL: B- There were numerous plays where Bledsoe was pressured, but all-in-all the line played decently given the caliber of the defense they faced as well as the fact that they were missing Brown, Jennings, and big Mike Williams again. On at least one of Bledsoe's sacks he had plenty of time yet did not avoid the sack. A horrible throw nearly intercepted to Bruschi towards the end of the first half had nothing to do with poor pass blocking. The line played well enough to allow Henry and Morris to rush for over 4 yards-per-carry vs. the league's 4th ranked rushing defense.

In fact, I saw an entire offensive line playing as if they were auditioning for spots on the roster next season. Sullivan, Pucillo, Teague, Tucker, and Price do not have starting spots locked up. Price and Pucillo likely will be on the roster. Teague as well due to the "cost of releasing" him. But apparently Bills' management, contrary to fan observations, do not have much faith in Sullivan while Tucker simply has not played well enough this season to ensure even a backup role. He played relatively well on Saturday however.

DL: D The line allowed the league's 25th ranked rushing offense to amass 131 net rushing yards. The tandem of Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk, not exactly two of the league's premier running backs to be facetious, netted 100 rushing yards on over 4 yards-per-carry. They had one sack (Denney). Denney had one of his better games yet not nearly to the level of play that the Bills need at that defensive end spot. As usual, there was little pressure on Brady or Huard unless blitz packages were on.

LB: C- Posey's strip of Brady was solid. Fletcher's pass coverage was poor, again. Other than that the linebackers played an average game. No interceptions, one sack from Posey, little else.

Fletcher's inability to cover allowed the Pats' first touchdown to Daniel Graham and set it up with a hold on Christian Fauria on a 2nd-and-15 at the Bills' 22 giving the Pats a 1st-and-10 were key factors in the establishment of the Pats' early momentum in this game.

DB: D- Tom Brady had more touchdown passes in this game alone than he has all season long at home in Foxborough in seven other games! Over two hundred yards passing highlighted the Patriot passing game as Brady picked the Bills secondary apart like the Christmas turkey was picked apart by grandma turning it into soup just as the Bills D was picked apart and turned into soup. There were no interceptions and only one pass defensed by the secondary all day.

As well, as good as Antoine Winfield is against the run, this game merely reinforced the notion that the Bills should not offer Winfield a contract worth much more than $2.5 million per season overall due to his average coverage abilities. This is especially true with the rookie upstart Terrence McGee, Donahoe's lone bright spot in this past draft, waiting in the wings. McGee appears to already have equal if not superior coverage abilities.

ST: C- Moorman's punts were very good. Antonio Brown has finally figured out to simply run forward on returns and wait for the big play in picking holes as a result. He should be decent next season. Kickoff returns were average in general with one outstanding return to open the second half long after the game was over. His 75-yarder was clinic! Once he cut back across the field he transferred the ball into his left hand for his jaunt down the left sideline! VERY nice Antonio!! Punt coverages were below average and kickoff coverages were non-existent other than the opening kickoff.

Coaching: F

Overall: Although there certainly are mitigating factors in support of and defending Greg Williams (see ‘offensive' below), it is clearly best for both the team and Williams for him to move on.

Offensive: Good bye Mr. Gilbride! Enjoy your stint at ESPN or wherever you end up!

Defensive: This game gets an F. It would be difficult to assess any other grade. However, as I have pointed out in recent weeks, the biggest difference in the "improved" overall statistics in this season's Bills' defense has been the caliber of opponents played. Those numbers are reflective of a schedule this season largely made up of what will be bottom two-thirds caliber offensive opponents this season unlike last season where the Bills faced a barrage of top offensive teams and top rushing teams in particular.

Having said that, the defense has played well enough on the season to make this team ultimately competitive. Ignored or "inadequately addressed" offseason needs (LDE, DT, and LB) are also to blame for only a "perceived improved" defense vice a truly improved defense.

If my math is correct, this loss will land the Bills either the 11th or 12th overall draft selection as a result of their poor finish to the season. This should be dependent upon whether the Jets win or lose. In any case, there remains much work to be done this offseason, largely due to wholly unaddressed needs from last offseason.

There should be no lack of activity in coming weeks as the front office announces that Williams contract will not be extended, and Gilbride, Ruel, and Danny Smith are released. Of course this is all predicated on notions that Tom Donahoe, with Ralph Wilson's blessing apparently, does what needs to be done in order to put a more competitive product on the field next season. Donahoe's personal strengths as a marketing GM may once again get in the way of his making the best strategic moves.

At absolute minimum, Donahoe needs to send a message to fans who will be buying the season tickets next year, by firing Kevin Gilbride sometime on Monday at the latest. Delays in taking what should be extremely obvious and blatant decisions will hurt Donahoe's credibility especially given this past draft that saw not one rookie either start or contribute significantly this season.

The only bright spot appears to have been Terrence McGee. The timing could not have been better on this, however, as it also remains to be seen whether Donahoe will invest more money than would be wise in order to resign Winfield. Given that there are at least five other far more pressing need areas, resigning Winfield should not be a priority, especially with the apparently ready and able McGee able to effectively take over the starting spot.


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