In a game where the Bills starting offensive unit saw the most playing time thus far in the preseason they simply could not take care of the football and found themselves in a huge hole against a good Packers squad at Lambeau Field Saturday night.
The end result was 31-21 in favor of Green Bay, but the game's outcome was largely determined in the first half when Buffalo committed four of their five total turnovers.
"Like we always talk about after games the turnovers just really kill you," said head coach Dick Jauron. "You can't expect to win a game turning the ball over like we did. We've got to really take care of the football."
Buffalo's first team offense was the main culprit with giveaways on three of their first four possessions with all three coming inside their own 40-yard line. It was the main reason the Bills were staring at a 24-0 first half deficit with Green Bay scoring 14 points off takeaways.
The first giveaway for Buffalo happened on the opening drive. On a 2nd-and-11 Trent Edwards' pass intended for Lee Evans was deflected by Nick Collins and the deflection was caught by Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga, who returned it to the Bills 37-yard line.
With playmaking veteran cornerbacks in Al Harris and Charles Woodson, Edwards did not appear to have a lot of open options in the passing game.
"There's a reason why they play in Pro Bowls," said Jauron. "They're talented. We just had one of those nights where we weren't hitting on all cylinders. You have them sometimes and you've just got to work through them."
Fortunately Buffalo's defense held after the first turnover as Keith Ellison, with some help from Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams, stuffed Ryan Grant on a 4th-and-1 attempt by Green Bay at the Bills 15-yard line forcing a turnover on downs.
Three plays later however, on a 3rd-and-15 from the Bills 12, Trent Edwards could not find anyone downfield, was sacked by Johnny Jolly and fumbled. A.J. Hawk recovered for Green Bay at the Buffalo five-yard line, and the Packers offense converted on the very next play with Aaron Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings with a five-yard touchdown pass.
In looking back on the play Edwards admitted he likely had enough time to get rid of the ball.
"I didn't like the way I reacted," said Edwards of the play. "I felt like "The whole night they were disguising a lot of their coverages," said Edwards. "It was kind of in that gray area of either tucking and running with it or trying to throw the ball away. I was trying to get outside the pocket and throw the ball away because we lost Marshawn in protection and Roscoe wasn't open over the middle and Lee was covered over the top. It's that gray area of knowing when to take the sack and when to throw the ball away. Obviously that's on the quarterback."
Buffalo's fourth drive also ended with a turnover on their half of the field when Fred Jackson while heading up field after pulling in a screen pass was stripped of the ball by Cullen Jenkins.
Poppinga made his second fumble recovery at the Buffalo 41, and Green Bay's first team offense needed just six plays before they put another seven on the board with Donald Driver's five-yard touchdown reception.
The second offensive unit for Buffalo did not fare much better. Late in the first half Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked on a 2nd-and-2 at the Bills 26-yard line by Brad Jones and fumbled. Desmond Bishop recovered for Green Bay leading to a field goal for the Packers before the end of the first half.
Fitzpatrick also threw an interception in the third quarter when Buffalo had actually moved the ball into Green Bay territory, something they failed to do in the first half. Going for it on a 4th-and-2 at the Packers 21, Fitzpatrick's attempt to hit Dominic Rhodes was picked off by Bishop thwarting Buffalo's best drive.
Though the 3-4 defensive front was a problem for Buffalo's offense, Jauron did not believe it was the sole reason for their offensive struggles.
"I would say protection-wise I didn't feel bad about it, and I was very concerned with that because of the youth of our guys," he said. "Now they got beat at times, but for the most part I thought they were where they were supposed to be. And I thought for the most part Trent had time and Ryan had time to throw it. That was good. That was a plus. The results weren't what we needed them to be."
Their problems seemed rooted in the fact that they chose not to specifically game plan for Green Bay, while the Packers apparently did based on their varied defensive play calls.
"They were bringing a lot of pressure and for a preseason game we weren't expecting too much of that," said Edwards. "We've got to be able to handle that because that's going to happen during the season. We've got to be able to make in game adjustments and that's something that we'll learn from."
Buffalo didn't find the end zone until there was 1:09 left in the third when Ryan Fitzpatrick fit a nice pass in to tight end Jonathan Stupar for a nine-yard scoring play to make the score 24-7 capping a 12-play 60-yard drive. Xavier Omon and Bruce Hall added rushing touchdowns late.
But ultimately the Bills offense has its work cut out for them this week in practice after a disappointing performance.
"It wasn't what we wanted today," said Edwards. "It is something that we need to change pretty quickly and we can do that in practice and learning from our mistakes."
"It was a disappointing night," said Jauron. "The good news is that it's preseason. We knew we had a long way to go and this should show us that we have a long way to go. We've got to get back to work on Monday."
The Bills starting offense is still looking for their first touchdown drive of the preseason, and the task will get no easier next Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh to face another 3-4 defense in the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers.
"I think it was a really good learning experience for us," said Evans. "For a lot of guys there were a lot of different looks that we haven't seen before. Obviously we made some mistakes, but hopefully this is something we can look back on and learn from and be a lot better next week. Pittsburgh plays a similar style."
"Schematically Pittsburgh will do a lot of the same things, 3-4 front, a lot of fire zones, they'll do a lot of the same things that we saw (Saturday night)," said center Geoff Hangartner. "So hopefully we'll improve on it this week and have a lot better performance next week."
Bills 'D'Buffalo's defense was behind the eight ball early as they had several short fields to defend, but Green Bay's running game was very productive. In the first half the Packers averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also was given plenty of time to throw and was 8-9 for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think we just need to make the plays," said Jauron. "Somebody needs to make the plays on the field. They're good. They're a talented team. You have these games and you don't like them when they occur. You just have to correct things and grow from them."
There were some bright spots. Reggie Corner picked off a Brian Brohm pass late in the first half that was intended for Ruvell Martin to stop a Packers drive at the Bills nine-yard line.
Spencer Johnson had a good performance with a couple of quarterback pressures and a tackle for loss. Chris Ellis had a quarterback pressure as he almost got to Green Bay third stringer Matt Flynn.
Copeland Bryan also had his second sack and forced fumble in as many games in the fourth quarter and a tackle for no gain to force a punt.
The Bills are typically one of the most disciplined teams in the league when it comes to penalties under Dick Jauron, but the yellow flags were flying early and often. Careless offsides penalties and false starts accounted for nearly half of the infractions.
"The number of penalties, we haven't been a highly penalized team and tonight we got our share and we deserved a number of them," said Jauron. "We've got to really correct those things."
Buffalo had 12 penalties in all for 123 yards.
InactivesThose Bills players who did not play Saturday were CB Drayton Florence, TE Travis McCall, LB Aaron Maybin, LB Pat Thomas, LB Ashlee Palmer, WR Terrell Owens, DT Marcus Smith. WR James Hardy is still on PUP.
Next weekThe Bills resume practice on Monday. No word yet as to whether Terrell Owens will rejoin his teammates on the field as he continues to recover from a sprained toe suffered in the Hall of Fame game.
Aaron Maybin will also make his debut on the practice field after signing with the club Friday.