A month ago the Bills were flying high on offense, as quarterback Trent Edwards and coordinator Turk Schonert were being lauded for the impressive work they were doing during Buffalo's 5-1 start. These days, the plaudits are few and far between.
The Bills have flopped miserably in their three consecutive losses to AFC East rivals Miami, New York and New England and have sunk all the way to 24th in the league in yards per game (303.8) and 20th in scoring (21.3 points).
During the losing streak, the Bills have scored just three offensive touchdowns, they have turned the ball over on offense eight times (including five interceptions and two fumbles by Edwards), they have only three rushes of 10 yards or more (none in the last two games) and just eight passes of at least 20 yards (none against New England).
"Offensively we couldn't put anything together," coach Dick Jauron said after his team managed a mere 10 first downs and 168 yards in the 20-10 loss to New England. "We just didn't execute well enough to get anything done and to stay in the game or to score enough points or to give our defense the hope that we were going to score enough points to stay in it. We're just really struggling offensively to establish much of anything."
One of the problems is that the Bills have faced nothing but 3-4 defenses the past four games, and they have not figured out a way to attack that scheme. Of course, it's never easy against Bill Belichick because the Patriots look like a 3-4 when the ball is snapped, but they use so many different wrinkles off that alignment, and Edwards admitted it was tough for him to get comfortable.
"We need to give a lot of credit to that defense, they are obviously very talented, very skilled," he said. "They play hard, they play fast, and they show a lot of different looks. For me, on a few plays here and there, it is confusing to know what their coverages are, what their fronts are, and they do a great job of disguising that. That is what they are good at, and they continued to do that against us."
Edwards started the season hot, and his worst passer rating in Buffalo's 4-0 start was 81.0. In the last three games, his best rating was 79.3. Against New England, it was an abysmal 49.2, as he completed just 13 of 23 passes for 120 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
He is clearly struggling, though it certainly isn't all his fault. He doesn't have No. 2 receiver Josh Reed, a valuable player who has missed the last 2 1/2 games with an ankle injury. Also, the offensive line is playing poorly and has been unable able to get Buffalo's stagnant running game going. That means the opposing defenses don't have to commit extra bodies to stop the run, so they have more defenders available in coverage, and Edwards can't find open receivers.
It is these factors that lead Jauron to believe that his quarterback is going to be fine once everyone around him starts playing better.
"I think we have a quarterback, I really like this guy," Jauron said. "I think he is going to be a real fine quarterback. To start the season he played so unlike a young quarterback that now whenever he makes an error, we think there is something wrong.
"We're going to have to live with some things because I think he is an outstanding player. We need to get it back. We can't turn it over. We know those things in this league, and we have done it. Now we have done it three games in a row, and it has hurt us."
--WR Lee Evans just signed a new mega contract, but the Bills' No. 1 receiving weapon has not done much since he inked that deal. Evans is seeing non-stop double coverage, and he can't find a way to beat it lately. The Patriots held him to two catches for 22 yards one week after the Jets limited him to four catches for 41 yards.
Evans has never had any success against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. In eight career games against New England, he has only 16 receptions, only one of which has gone for more than 20 yards, and he has not scored.
"They tried to drop guys in spots, really keep people deep and not allow big plays and hope the pressure got there first," Evans said. "It's not the first time they've done that. They just rely on that front seven to try to get pressure, and they do a good job of it."
--Bills coach Dick Jauron has not mastered the art of the replay challenge. This season he has been wrong on five of the six challenges he has tried, and then against the Patriots he blew a sure reversal by failing to throw his challenge flag in time. Wes Welker caught a 21-yard pass on the Pats' first scoring drive and did not get both feet in bounds, but Jauron didn't get information from upstairs in time and the play wound up standing. Jauron dropped his flag, but the officials didn't see him do it before the Patriots snapped the ball on the next play.
"I should have taken the challenge flag and run on the field," Jauron said. "I threw it on the sideline, clearly. From my vantage point it looked like a catch. I got some information; we always talk if it's close. As I started to get more information I thought it was challengeable and I pulled it out and dropped it there. It was me. I need to get downfield because they can't see it."
--The Bills have now lost 10 games in a row to the Patriots, which ties as the second-longest winless streak against one team in franchise history. The Bills also lost 10 in a row to the Houston Oilers between 1967 and 1978. Of course, that streak pales in comparison to what Miami did to the Bills in the 1970s when it beat Buffalo 20 consecutive times.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Marshawn Lynch remains without a 100-yard game this season as he was held to 46 yards on 14 carries with a long gain of just 8 yards.
--WR Roscoe Parrish had four catches for 31 yards, which incredibly were team highs for the Bills against the Patriots. Parrish also made a poor decision calling for a fair catch on a punt.
--K Rian Lindell made his only field-goal attempt, which gave him 134 for his Bills career, moving him into second place on the all-time franchise list behind Steve Christie (234).
--FS Ko Simpson was in on 11 tackles, but he committed a personal-foul penalty that helped get the Patriots started on their game-opening TD drive.
--DT Marcus Stroud was in on four tackles and shared a sack that resulted in a forced fumble.
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- In the brief career of QB Trent Edwards, this was one of his worst performances, and certainly the worst on a good-weather day. His passer rating was 49.2. He completed just 13 of 23 passes for 120 yards, his lowest yardage total in a game in which he played the whole way. The Patriots did a great job of taking WR Lee Evans out of the game, and no one else stepped up to fill the void. Roscoe Parrish had four catches for 31 yards to lead the way in both categories. Pass protection was barely average, and Edwards was sacked twice.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Bills running game is non-existent, and much of the problem lies with the soft play of the offensive line, the biggest unit in the NFL that can't get any push. The Bills were held to 60 yards on the ground, 46 from Marshawn Lynch, and of their 10 first downs, only two came via the rush. The Bills had the ball for just over 22 minutes, and part of the problem was its inability to sustain a ground attack.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- This was Matt Cassel the Bills were playing, not Tom Brady, but it didn't seem to matter. Cassel was an efficient 23-for-34 for 234 yards, and he was rarely under the gun. He was sacked once when the Bills ran a safety blitz and George Wilson and Marcus Stroud combined to take him down, with Stroud forcing a fumble that Wilson recovered. That was it in terms of pass rush. CB Terrence McGee did a good job on Randy Moss, limiting him to 53 yards, but no one was able to stay with Wes Welker, who had 10 catches for 107 yards. The Bills tried Jabari Greer and Reggie Corner in the slot, but neither did anything of note. McGee had the secondary's only two passes defensed, while DE Ryan Denney batted down two at the line.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Bills have been playing pretty well against the run in holding six of their first eight opponents under 100 yards. But New England's fourth-string running back, a rookie free agent named BenJarvus Green-Ellis, rushed for 105 yards, and the Patriots finished with 144 on the ground. The Bills were not stout at the point of attack, and LBs Paul Posluszny, Kawika Mitchell and Keith Ellison combined for 28 tackles, and far too many were made in the second level after pounding gains by Green-Ellis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- P Brian Moorman had gone four games without having a punt downed inside the 20, but he had four against the Patriots. K Rian Lindell made his lone field-goal attempt. KR Leodis McKelvin busted an 85-yard return, but it came when the game was long decided and meant nothing. PR Roscoe Parrish had one chance on a return but called for a fair catch with no one around him. The coverage units had very little to do, as New England had only two opportunities for returns.
COACHING: D - Not a good day for Dick Jauron. He failed to challenge an early Welker reception that he would have won, as he didn't throw the red challenge flag in time. Come on. And then he wasted a timeout late in the first half for no apparent good reason, and when Moorman pinned the Pats deep, that timeout would have forced the Patriots to punt from deep in their end zone. It could have provided Buffalo great field position and a possible scoring chance. Both coordinators, Perry Fewell and Turk Schonert, need to take a step back and re-evaluate what they're doing. In the last three losses, neither man has distinguished himself, and both of their units were outplayed Sunday.