By Ed Kilgore
The Bills have yet to beat the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro since it opened in 2002, but their 37-31 loss Sunday was probably the most unusual of them all in many respects. First of all, by the opening kickoff, the betting line favored the Patriots by 13 points. Just about anyone giving the 13 points to take the Pats would have been counting their money had they known the Bills would turn the football over 3 times while not forcing even one Patriot turnover. Usually, anytime a team is a plus 2 or more it wins more than 80 percent of the time. That's especially true if the team at plus 3 is considered the better team and proved that in meeting one by scoring 45 points in one HALF.
Yet here were the Bills coming within one play of winning this game. Oh, almost forgot, the Bills were not only minus 3, they also racked up an astounding 14 penalties for 148 yards to help a Patriot offense that didn't need any help anyway.
Yet, they almost won the game.
Don't tell me you don't feel a tiny bit better about this Bills team even though they lost their last two games at Houston and New England to fall to 3-6 and virtually out of the playoff race. There was not much reason to feel very good about this Bills team after it literally fell apart in games against the Jets and 49ers, added to the meltdown in the first meeting against the Pats in Orchard Park.
But this team is resiliant, if nothing else.
Houston and New England are legit Super Bowl contenders, and with even the semblance of a defense and another play or two on offense the Bills win those games. We still have to look big picture here, and I'm not sure if Chan Gailey and certainly defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt are a part of that big picture, but gm Buddy Nix has upgraded the talent.
There is still work to be done, starting at quarterback. Obviously.
Nix finally said publicly his priority before leaving the Bills, and we all know he won't be around here a lot longer at his age, was to find a franchise quarterback. He explained what he meant by that to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who already has franchise quarterback money in his bank account. Fitz put together one of his best games as a Bill in Foxboro, hitting 27 of 40 attempts for 337 yards, two td's and a pick. But Fitz also lost a fumble on a sack deep in his own territory, and threw the interception at the worst possible moment. Again.
With no timeouts and less than a minute remaining from the NE 15, Fitz let it fly towards the end zone, and the ball went directly to Pats defensive back Devin McCourty. Does it really matter that rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham admitted he didn't run the pattern correctly? The reason the Bills still need to find the franchise qb is because Fitz is proving time and time again he can't close the deal. Some qb's can, and some can't.
If Brady threw the end zone pick and the receiver ran the wrong pattern, you'd say "it happens", and think none the less of Brady, or either Manning among others. But with Fitz, you only need go back to the Tennessee game in Orchard Park that was virtually over when Fitz made a horrible third down throw that was intercepted, and the Titans emerged with a stunning victory.
Fitz does many great things, and I've said this many times, but I admire his mental and physical toughness and leadership abilities. We didn't see any evidence of the inconsistent Fitz in Foxboro, as he was on target all day long. The terrific running of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, along with the continued strong play of the Bills offensive line, didn't hurt. Until that final play, Fitz didn't force anything, as the Bills racked up a team record 35 first downs and 481 yards of total offense. Fitz spread the ball around to his tight end Scott Chandler, Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones, along with the sprinkled in screens to Spiller and Jackson.
No doubt some will be squawking that C.J. should "get more touches", but I think Gailey is smart to use both of his stars even though Spiller's light is a little bit brighter right now. Spiller had only 9 carries but averaged 7.8 yards a pop for 70 yards, while Jackson was a force with 16 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson did fumble twice, including a costly turnover at the goal line, but his effort was extraordinary and a lift to the entire team. The Bills could use several more players with Jackson's drive.
Back to the "big picture". Even without their "franchise" qb, which the Bills hope to find in next year's draft, the Bills offense is pretty darn good even with Fitz when the team is reasonably healthy. The special teams are also outstanding. But oh, that defense.
The defense did do a much better job against the Patriots this time around than it did in the season's first meeting, but the disturbing aspect (among many) of this defense is that it just isn't forcing turnovers. The Bills had their chances too, with a couple batted balls they couldn't hang on to. Even ONE turnover forced by the D would probably have turned the L into a W.
Seven games are left, and there is a lot of good that can come from this stretch. Maybe the defense starts coming together a bit more - remember this was a switch to the 4-3 under Wannstedt - and we'll get a better idea of who should stay and who should go. Linebackers and a strong safety are certainly needed as a priority to go along with that qb, but more importantly, this group needs to retain some continuity.
Yes, I'm saying keep Gailey, barring a total collapse over the final 7 games. His team respects him and is playing hard for him, and as long as that's the case, the team is moving forward. Slowly, yes, but forward.
One thing we should remember. Changing head coaches every three years just isn't working.