It was a game where the defense showed noticeable improvement, and kept the team in the game and the offense did just enough in the first half to keep things close. But Buffalo's attack struggled over the final two quarters managing just three points in a 21-9 loss at Houston.
The Bills were down just a point at halftime (7-6) and had the ball first to start the second half, but the offense went three-and-out on the first possession and managed just a pair of first downs in the third quarter and a field goal. Houston wasn't much more successful, but their two scoring drives each yielded touchdowns and put the Texans up 12 early in the fourth quarter.
"It looked like to me in general they turned their drives into touchdowns and they didn't." said head coach Chan Gailey. "We both made some plays during the course of the day, but they were able to get the ball in the end zone and we weren't able to get the ball in the end zone. That's the bottom line."
Buffalo went 0-for-3 in the red zone Sunday while the Texans went 2-for-3. Gailey credited the Texans for their aggressive defensive approach inside their own 20-yard line.
"Just the combination of their pass rush and us not being able to get where we wanted to go with the ball," he said. "They did a good job of covering a couple of times and we weren't able to get in there. We tried to run it a couple of times and we didn't make any yards. Now you're behind the sticks. We normally throw the ball in the end zone down there and today we couldn't get it thrown in there."
The Bills defense got off to a fair start forcing punts on Houston's first two possessions, but the Texans executed a well designed play fake on a 1st-and-10 play from the Bills 39 on their third possession. Matt Schaub faked the hand-off rolled to his left then threw back across the field to a wide open Owen Daniels for a 39-yard touchdown strike (7-0) with less than a minute left in the opening quarter.
"We've got to get up field and cause some turnovers and make a play on the long ball," said Nick Barnett. "We didn't. We let a couple of little sneak boots come out of there on throwbacks and we have to be more technique-sound on that."
Buffalo responded with a 56-yard drive thanks mainly to a 30-yard catch and run down the left sideline by C.J. Spiller. But Rian Lindell pushed a 37-yard attempt wide right, keeping Buffalo off the scoreboard.
The Bills defense got the stop they needed. After some big runs by Arian Foster moved Houston into Buffalo territory, Mario Williams came up with a sack on on a 2nd-and-9 from the Bills 19. After a false start backed Houston up five more yards, they brought Shayne Graham on for a 46-yard field goal attempt.
Alex Carrington got through the Texans' line to block the kick, his second of the season and hold Houston to a seven-point lead. Buffalo then got their three points back. Ryan Fitzpatrick led the offense on a 60-yard drive going 4-4 passing for 42 yards before Lindell put a 22-yard attempt through to cut the Texans lead to four (7-3) with less than two minutes remaining in the half.
After a three-and-out stop by Buffalo's defense the offense again got in a rhythm. Fitzpatrick hit Spiller for a 12-yard pickup, followed by a 19-yard catch and run by Donald Jones, who got out of bounds to stop the clock. Then Spiller ripped off a 28-yard run to get into field goal range. A shot at the end zone was thwarted by a sack of Fitzpatrick, but Lindell was good from 38 yards out to make it a one-point game at the half (7-6).
"We had three field goals and another field goal attempt and really the one thing that this team has been good at is converting those drives into seven points, not three," said Fitzpatrick, who finished 25-38 passing for 239 yards. "To me that's where our issue was, not being able to get those seven points. Driving it down the field and doing different things and then not being able to convert."
Buffalo had the first possession of the second half, but a three-and-out followed by a 26-yard punt return by Houston set the Texans up at the Bills 43-yard line. Five plays later Arian Foster plunged in from three yards out to push Houston's lead to 14-6.
The Bills offense came back with another field goal drive as Lindell put his third field goal through the uprights from 39 yards away to keep it a one-score game (14-9).
After the defense forced a Houston punt, the Bills offensive unit could not get a first down throwing on all three plays, but gaining just three yards. In the third quarter Buffalo threw 10 times and rushed three times. Gailey explained why.
"They were playing seven big guys in the box out against our three wide sets and you're trying to throw the football to run them out of it," he said. "We weren't able to do it. There were some passes that were dropped at times, we had some mistimed penalties and it cost us offensively."
Buffalo's run defense was much improved Sunday and held Foster to eight carries for 16 yards in third quarter. They also held him in check on the Texans possession that covered 68 yards on a clock-controlled drive of six and a half minutes. But an 18-yard catch by Andre Johnson set up 1st-and-goal from the Bills nine-yard line.
Three plays later Schaub scrambled to buy time before hitting TE Garrett Graham for a five-yard touchdown reception (21-9) with just over 11 minutes remaining.
Buffalo's offense again went three and out gaining just two yards on three straight passes as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had just 11 touches each in the game including six carries apiece.
"Yeah and we would like to," said Gailey of getting Jackson and Spiller more involved. "We've got to try to do that on a more consistent basis. Some weeks are better than others. Sometimes they take things away from you that you don't think they're going to do, but they did. They surprised us with a defense we hadn't seen very much and we had to alter. I've got to do a better job of adjusting."
"We've got to get C.J. more touches," said Fitzpatrick. "I think everybody knows that and we have to find ways to do that. But really the story for us was our inability to score touchdowns."
Following a turnover on downs by Houston, the Bills did get the ball back and moved into Houston territory, but lost possession on a fumble by Fitzpatrick as he was tackled on a scramble at the Texans 34. Buffalo got the ball back once more, but couldn't manufacture points falling to 3-5 on the season.
The Bills are back on the road next Sunday at Foxborough for a 1 pm kickoff against New England.