So I was only 50% correct with my prediction of 38-17. I was obviously wrong about the result and the final score, but I was right about New England being an average team. For the first time in about 10 years, I didn't have the fear of God in me when New England had the ball.
The new era of Bills football began with another familiar crushing defeat. This game can be added to the list of demoralizing home losses on opening day along with Jacksonville in 2004 and Denver in 2007 to name a few. The reason why the Bills lost is pretty simple in my opinion.
Steve Johnson can't catch. Johnson has had so many critical jobs in his career. It seems like every single time we have had a big moment in a big game against a good team, he has made a critical drop. We haven't had many of these moments, which makes all of his drops so memorable. Overtime vs. the Steelers, drops the ball in the end zone. 4th quarter against the Jets, drops the ball on what may have been a touchdown. This time, with about 8:50 to go in the 4th quarter, Johnson drops a reasonably well thrown pass at the Patriots 48 that would have been a first down inside Patriots territory. Who knows what would have ended up happening if he caught this pass...but the way the game was going, even a field goal on that possession would have increased the Bills chances of winning significantly. What percentage of the nearly 70,000 strong in the stadium knew the game was over as soon as that ball hit the turf? I say 100%. Steve Johnson came into the game talking about how no one on the Patriots could cover him. He follows that up with less than 40 yards receiving and a critical drop. He also blew off the media after the game and on Monday morning.
The second reason why we lost is Nate Hackett's play calling was too predictable and conservative. The Bills lined up in the same 3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE formation pretty much every single play. They ran the same draw play basically every time they ran the ball. The play action pass was rarely used. It seemed like every time we got a few good runs in a row, we would run the same play again and get stuffed. The Bills had 13 plays in which they needed less than 5 yards to go for a first down and ran on 9 of them, and ran the same draw play each time. I thought Manuel showed enough that he could have been trusted to do more during the game, but he just wasn't. It was obvious New England spent the past 2 weeks game planning for Spiller, so the play action would have worked especially well when he was out there. It was a little disappointing.
The Bills also had some critical penalties. There were multiple illegal hands to the face penalties that cost big plays. Robert Woods had a 20 yard pass negated on a penalty. Jackson had a first down reception negated by a penalty. The Bills had 10 penalties for 75 yards. The Patriots only had 4 for 36 yards. That is something that needs to be fixed immediately. It was a problem in the preseason and has continued into the regular season.
Some people are blaming the turnovers as contributing to the loss. Obviously the turnovers hurt, but New England gave the Bills some gifts too. The Spiller fumble directly resulted in a TD, but the Patriots fumble that Searcy returned for a TD was a gift. The Goodwin fumble also resulted in a TD, but Rogers INT led to a Bills TD and the Patriots also fumbled at the goal line. I would say the impact of turnovers in this game was pretty much a wash.
People have also been criticizing the hurry up offense in the 4th quarter for contributing to the loss. This has absolutely no bearing on the outcome. First, our entire offensive system is based on the no huddle...so now all of a sudden people wanted the Bills to huddle? Second, the Patriots had all of their time outs. The chances we would run out the clock there were slim to none. Third, we were only up 1 point against Tom Brady. Just like Marrone said, we still needed to score to win the game. I have no problem with the hurry up on the last drive. The only problem that I may have had was to not run it with Spiller on first down. Everyone on Earth could have expected that, which is why it got stuffed.
People are complaining about the defense and Mario Williams. The defense held the Patriots to 23 points. They had zero real touchdown drives (one was about 9 yards and the other about 30). The secondary was missing its two best players. The Bills did get pressure. Brady only completed 56% of his passes and looked uncomfortable a lot of times. The defensive performance actually gives me some hope for the rest of the season. I mean think about what the Bills were working with. Aaron Williams' first game at safety. Byrd out. Gilmore out. Rogers and undrafted rookie Nikel Roby playing significant numbers of snaps. Kiko Alonso played every single snap and it was his first game as a rookie. On top of all that, they were going up against arguably the GOAT. I thought they did well.
I think that everyone needs to just relax. It is one game out of 16. The overreaction by so many Bills fans after one game is just so ridiculous. I wonder what all of these idiots would be saying if Steve Johnson caught that third down pass and the Bills won the game? I would venture to guess they would be anointing Doug Marrone as a HOFer and not calling for his job. Wake up people.
As an aside, the Bills are 3 point underdogs at home against Carolina. Someone please explain this line to me. The Panthers only won 1 more game than the Bills last year and lost their opening day game at home as well. You mean to tell me the Panthers would be -9 if this game was home for them? Their coach is Ron Rivera for Christ sake. Its back to back weeks of the Bills being one of the biggest locks of the week.