QB: D Bledsoe showed nothing when it mattered most. What fans will remember are a couple of deep balls that Shane Matthews or anyone of 30 other starting QBs could have thrown given the play design and time that Bledsoe had. But during the rest of the game, sacks, costly errors, inaccuracy, and overall poor passing in the short game in particular are what doomed this team's offensive effort today. Even when given time the results simply were not there other than on three or four plays. A good chunk of Bledsoe's passing yardage came in the last 8 minutes of the game during two drives where he was sacked five times as well. Bledsoe is on pace for 80 sacks on the season. He appeared to have tripped on himself one foot on his other on the ill-fated 4th-and-3 as well.
RB: B+ Henry ran well against a tough Patriot defense generating a decent per carry average (4.1) for the first time this season and leading the Bills to their first 100-yard rushing effort of the season. Moorman gets an honorable mention here for his heads up run following a heads down handling of a punt late in the first half ripping the momentum from the Patriots and handing it to the Bills setting up the lone offensive TD of the game.
WR: C A dropped ball or two along with either poor routes (or poor throws by Bledsoe) kept this unit from shining. Either Bledsoe's passes or route running was off on numerous plays, one resulting in a Pat INT. The success in the last eight minutes was too little too late.
TE: C N/A for lack of much to evaluate them on. Blocking was decent for the most part.
OL: C+ Played decently for as long as the Patriots were not blitzing which was through most of three quarters. Played above itself and above average. Got much help from FBs, RBs, and TEs.
ST: A Returns were very good with Terrence McGee taking the Pats second kickoff to the house for a TD, one of two Bills' TDs on the day.
DL: C- 397 yards of Pat offense. The D-line didn't sack Brady once and rarely pressured him significantly. They held Dillon to 79 rushing yards and the Pats as a team to 99 rushing yards.
LB: B Fletcher had the best game of the three here and was wisely used to pressure Brady where he is most effective. The lack of effectiveness there was just as much a result of Brady's ability to make the big play under pressure and get rid of the ball, something that Bills fans have long forgotten about. The personal foul penalty called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Brady was ludicrous. Fletcher and Spikes led the team in tackles. Passing D was not up to snuff for this group.
DB: D- Tom Brady had this unit for lunch. It was not always blundered defense although at times it was, but rather Brady and the Patriots ability to very effectively execute their passing game, without their leading receiver it can be added. Tight coverage at times but unable to defend passes or generate interceptions.
Coaching: C Given the lack of Patriots blitzing throughout most of the first three quarters Mularkey and the offensive staff, Mularkey being an offensive man himself, should have done better. It was surprising at how little the Patriots blitzed throughout most of the game especially considering the success they had once they did start blitzing as well as in past games vs. Bledsoe. But yet another 10 point offensive effort doesn't cut it here. Not after a two week break to prepare, a reasonable chance at "wiping the slate clean" and starting over, and after mountains of statements as to how good this team really is. There were far too many critical penalties.
On the season, of the Bills four touchdowns scored, one was set up by the defense inside the red zone, one came on the very last drive as the only TD in the game vs. a prevent defense, one was directly scored by the special teams, and one was set up by the special teams (Moorman) on a broken-down fourth down play. There is no excuse.
In the fourth quarter in this game, once the Patriots began to blitz, trailing by only seven points and "controlling" the entire last eight minutes of the fourth quarter, Bledsoe went 9-of-13 for 79 yards but was sacked five times losing 25 yards and the ball once resulting in a Patriot defensive score putting the game out of reach for the Bills. This is the problem with Bledsoe, he simply cannot be relied upon in those types of situations. This exact same scenario was recurrent throughout the entire 2002 season vs. winning teams. For every game under such circumstances that he might step up in, he will cost the Bills three or four elsewhere.
The first offensive drive for the Bills synopsized the 2002 season perfectly. While the total yardage on the drive was good, 66 yards, the Bills yielded a big play to Evans for 55 yards but then once inside the red zone, their offense stalled forcing them to kick a field goal. Big play excitement not translating to points on the board is what 2002 was all about for the Bills. Records for yardage, attempts, completions abounded, but points on the board were a rarity except vs. the worst of teams.
It also demonstrates perfectly, exactly my points about having used a top draft pick on a wide receiver such as Lee Evans. Management seemed to have felt that this was the panacea for this lifeless offense. Instead, it is a perfect reminder that games are not won on big plays. Rather, they are won on being able to execute a well-run offense and especially one that is productive in the red zone. Once again, the Bills were 0-for-2 in the red zone.
The Patriots did not blitz much until the fourth quarter resulting in five sacks in the last 8 minutes of the 4th quarter. Had they been blitzing all game as many figured they would and as they had in past games, who knows how many sacks Bledsoe would have given up in this game. The fourth quarter saw Bledsoe get sacked five times alone. I have no doubt that these seven would have easily been in double digits had the Pats blitzed much throughout the first three quarters.
This was not one of Bill Belichick's better-coached games.
This was Mularkey's best-coached game to date. Still lots of work to be done however.
Special teams played well. Moorman had a very good game twice pinning the Pats inside their five and rushing for 34-yards setting up a Moulds TD on the next play, the only offensive TD of the game. Lindell hit the only field goal that he attempted, albeit not a long one. Terrence McGee's 98-yard kickoff return is what kept the Bills in this game and the momentum going.
The defense was hustling and flying all over the field, nearly literally at times. However, this could very well have gone in the "bad" category since the Pats were able to move the ball and score nonetheless. Had Dillon not fumbled this Bills' D would have allowed 31 points on drives allowing 323 net yards. As it was, they allowed 24 points on drives netting 274 yards.
Travis Henry ran well and averaged 4.1 yards-per-carry, the Bills' first decent rushing outing of the season. Henry's long run was only 13 yards indicative of the fact that this was a sustained and consistent effort on his part individually and not predicated on one or two long runs.
The Bills as a team broke the 10-point scoring barrier for the first time this season. Not sure this should fall into the "good" category with only a well below average 17 points, seven of which was put up by the special teams.
The Bills were 0-for-2 in the red zone.
The Bills 3rd-down-efficiency was 2-for-12 or 17%.
Once again, the defense or special teams had to put up points or set them up in order to avoid a scoring embarrassment.
The Bills' "offense" is averaging 10 points-per-game.
The Bills as a team are averaging 12.3 points-per-game. Only the Dolphins and Buccaneers are averaging fewer points as a team. When one compares the skill position talent on all three teams this has become an open embarrassment and a signature Donahoe failure.
The Bills had two "drives", out of 10, longer than 35 yards. The first was a 71-yarder which was almost entirely predicated on one big play pass to Lee Evans for 55-yards which resulted in continued red zone woes and only three points. The other was a 96 yard drive, really two drives, only kept alive due to an unintentionally mishandled punt by punter Brian Moorman turned into a huge 34-yard gain and bridging the "continuation" drive of one play on a 41-yard pass to Moulds. The first half of the drive stalled at the Bills own 25-yard line. Again, a big play is the only way the offense could generate a TD. Good solid consistent execution has yet to make an appearance when the Bills are on offense yet this season.
The Patriots moved the ball with relative ease with six drives (out of ten) of 45-yards or more and four drives greater than 60 yards.
The Bills defense only picked up where it left off last season proving that it cannot stop decent and well-rounded offenses.
Other than in the last 8 minutes on two drives separated by a Bledsoe fumble for a Pat TD to ice the game and on which Bledsoe went 9-of-13 for 89 yards while sustaining 5 sacks for a loss of 25 yards on two empty attempts at putting the ball in the end zone, Bledsoe had only 135 net passing yards through three and a half quarters. Of those 135 net passing yards, 96 of them were on two long balls leaving only 39 yards throughout the rest of the game. Both passes were solid plays, but both also were the primary targets on plays with very good or better protection that any one of 30 starting quarterbacks could have executed given the same set of circumstances. Neither was something that "only Bledsoe can do."
The Bills had 11 penalties for 94 yards; once on a field goal try giving the Pats a first down followed by a touchdown instead of a field goal and putting the Pats up by 7 instead of 3 in the fourth quarter; once pushing the Bills from 3rd-and-8 to 3rd-and-13 in the red zone resulting in a failed 3rd-down-conversion on a Bledsoe overthrow; and had three penalties in a row to start the third quarter changing a 3rd-and-1 to 3rd-and-21 forcing a punt.
On third downs, Bledsoe was 3-for-7 along with two additional sacks making 3rd downs in his hands a perfect 1-for-3 on average with two overthrows and one wide throw.
Bledsoe simply cannot be counted on under pressure or when the game is on the line. Bledsoe's interception was horrendous! There was no pressure, he threw in way off the mark as it was a very poor throw. Had he been near his target Moulds, he would have thrown it into multiple coverage. It was an enormous momentum changer.
The coaching and play calling in this game was better than it has been, however, given that the team had two weeks to prepare and that they still could not move the ball on offense anywhere close to consistently, the coaching effort has to fall into ineffective category, especially given all of the penalties.
On 4th-and-3 and what arguably was the biggest play of the game, Bledsoe took a sack and fumbled the ball which was recovered by Richard Seymour for a game-icing TD at just under three minutes left in the game. He did not even position himself to be able to try to make a play.
Bledsoe is on pace for 80 sacks and leads the league in sacks easily to date.
The Bills D generated only one fumble, more a result of Dillon's poor handling than of solid D, no interceptions and no sacks.
With two weeks to prepare and all the big talk coming out of One Bills Drive, particularly from Bledsoe, this team showed absolutely nothing. As predicted, the Bills cannot stop decent defenses. The reason why this game was not lost 48-13 was for one simple reason; mistakes made by New England, such as Corey Dillon fumbling on 2nd-and-2 at the Buffalo 2-yard line as well as fortunate miscues by the Bills such as Moorman mishandling the punt resulting in a complete change in momentum, a 34-yard rushing gain, and ultimately a TD on the next play for the Bills offensively. As well, had McGee not returned a kickoff return, this game may have headed for disaster very early on.
Had the Patriots blitzed earlier on in the game there should be little doubt, based on their success in the fourth quarter, that the Bills offense would have performed even worse than they did. Big Plays ruled the day with Evans' 55-yarder setting up a field goal only, Moulds 41-yard TD off of Moorman's botch, and Moorman's 34 yard run accounted for nearly 40% of the Bills net yardage.
While many will remember Bledsoe's two long balls as cause for celebration, the truth is that had the Bills had a quarterback deft at running a short game, the results for this game, not to mention the others, would very likely have been different. Certainly had Brady and Bledsoe traded roles, there is little to contradict the notion that the outcome of this game would have been exactly the opposite.
This game is a clinic example, partially due to the Bills failed efforts and partly when contrasted with the Patriots offensive effort led by Tom Brady, as to how big plays do not win games primarily. Big plays do not win games. Good, solid, consistent execution does. Brady was as cool as could be under pressure often throwing and releasing the ball just as he was taking a hit. Bledsoe was rattled often and began to prepare for sacks while would-be sackers were still steps away not even attempting to get rid of the ball or make a play. Hello Rob Johnson!
This game should have been a surprise to no one. It highlights several things. First, the flaw in the thinking that this team was only a deep threat WR away from being competitive offensively. The very first drive hammers that home in spades. No sooner had Lee Evans caught a spectacular 55-yard Bledsoe pass on the first play of the game than he was removed from the game. Why? Because at that point the deep game evaporated and the Bills needed a good old fashioned solid red zone offense and a productive grind-it-out offense if nothing else. They don't have that. They came up empty only being able to put up seven later on, on the merits of yet a second deep ball.
The second thing is the inadequacies of Bledsoe, particularly when under pressure. No further proof is necessary. No, my prediction of Bledsoe getting booed out of Buffalo by the fans did not come to pass, but it should have. There is no question in my mind that if Brady were on the Bills today and Bledsoe on the Pats, the results would have been exactly opposite. That screams volumes!
The Bills and their lipservice and big talk all throughout this past week once again came up empty. Ten offensive points against arguably the easiest defense that they have seen thus far, ironically, and certainly the easiest defense to run on, is wholly unacceptable. Special teams stepped up but cannot carry the offense.
The defense just as predicted based on performances vs. similar offenses last season was exposed as a top-notch defense only masquerading as such due to easy offensive opponents in most games last season as well as to date this season. The Jets next week figure to be yet a second test of this highly touted defense. Is the defense good? Absolutely. It is simply not nearly as good as many think. It is not a top-10 defense, but likely an above average one, more than enough for the team overall to be competitive.
This Bills team under Donahoe has become a marketing oriented team. Big talk, promises, and statements about the future performance of the team all without any action supporting those statements has become the norm of this team. It takes after the mantra of many a daytime talk shows and motivational speakers premised upon statements that one can will or hope themselves into success. What has long gotten past the braintrust of the Bills is that talent in fact is required in order for players to overcome the performances of their counterparts in games.
This week featured Bill Belichick facing Tom Donahoe, his willing trading partner in deals where Belichick dishes off his overvalued castoff players while even getting something very significant in return. According to "Patriot Reign" Belicheck knew full well exactly what kind of QB he traded to Buffalo, which should never have been a reach to believe to begin with, and shaming Donahoe even further. One approach features continual player movement and the introduction of young draft picks and role-playing free agents into as dynamic a process and cycle of player development as can possibly exist in this league. The result is the ultimate success.
On the flip side, we here in Buffalo have Tom Donahoe who prefers to make as big a splash as possible via the acquisition of players based on name brand recognition and past performance with hype easily exceeding reality and only generating false perceptions for fans, media, and even team officials. He is a marketer, not a football personnel specialist. His legacy is lipservice and the corporate culture that he has nearly single-handedly created at One Bills Drive is one of "if we only believe in ourselves…" Meanwhile, he has completely and utterly missed the mark on needing the appropriate talent, and has staffed that talent very inefficiently from an overall optimization approach, as well as not having been able to spot that talent, to effectively execute game plans.
Clearly, the approach used by Bill Belichick is superior as New England clearly is "Buffalo's Daddy!" The Bills are owned by Belichick and the Patriots since Bledsoe came to Buffalo and have outscored the Bills in four of five games by a total 127-41 with the fifth game falling into the twilight zone category as an anomaly. Tom Donahoe could learn a little something from financial disclaimers regarding investments;
Past performance is not indicative of future results.
To discuss this article, the game, or the Bills in general, tune into "The 2004 Bills Report" radio program, which can be accessed and heard on the Internet on Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. at www.broadcastmonsters.com. The number to call into the show is 1-877-913-9739.