The view from the radio booth in Indianapolis was as high as it gets in the NFL. We were good 8-10 stories above the playing surface. But we still have plenty of observations in the wake of Buffalo's 20-13 loss to the Colts:
- The game seemed to turn on the start of the second half. The Bills won the coin toss to start the game and elected to defer, choosing to get the ball at the start of the second half. But once they got it, they didn't do much.
Buffalo picked up a couple of first downs during the three minute possession to start the half, but the offense failed on 3rd and 5 from the Indy 48.
A Shawn Powell punt put the Colts back on their 13-yard line, and they proceeded to move methodically down the field for their only offensive touchdown. We mentioned on the broadcast how quiet the crowd was at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it was never more evident than on this drive, when the Colts seemed to lull the Bills to sleep.
Indy went 4-for-4 on third downs during the 87-yard drive, converting a 3rd and 17 from the Buffalo 32 yard line. On that play, the Bills put very little pressure on QB Andrew Luck, and he had 4-or-5 seconds to step up and find a Reggie Wayne open down the field.
It was fitting that the Indianapolis touchdown came on a third down, third and goal from the eight. The Bills rushed four, got very little pressure, and Luck found T.J. Hilton in the end zone for the score.
Safety Jairus Byrd told us in the locker room the Colts third down conversion rate (50-percent) was a big problem for the Bills.
"They had that long drive. We were talking, third down really got us today. We'd get them in third down and something, and they'd scramble he'd buy some time and hit a lane. That really got us today. "
- The Colts offense did third down damage during the second quarter also, on a 82-yard field goal drive. And this time, it was Andrew Luck who made the plays by scrambling for first downs. The Bills got caught in man coverage on both plays, and the defensive backs had their backs to the line of scrimmage following their men downfield. That opened things up for Luck (not lucky) scrambles of 8 and 14 yards.
- There was an officiating debacle at the end of the second quarter that cost the Bills another three points. Indy hit a 25-yard pass to Reggie Wayne and he dragged Buffalo defenders down to the three yard line. Right at that point, safety Jairus Byrd raked the ball out of Wayne's arms before he went down. Byrd came up with the ball, but the Bills didn't get possession because of blown calls by both the on-field officials and the replay officials upstairs.
There's no evidence of a whistle blowing the play dead, yet referee Ed Hochuli opened his mic to say, "There was no fumble. Indianapolis has the ball." Why? And more importantly, why no replay review?
There was plenty of time. In fact, the Colts called a time out to stop the clock, giving the replay official upstairs plenty of time to signal down to Hochuli to take another look. But no signal came.
The league can make all the rules it wants regarding replay challenges, when they're allowed and what they cover. But when an egregious mistake on the field goes un-reviewed, like Wayne's fumble at the three yard line, it's no wonder coaches (like Detroit's Jim Schwartz last week) reach for the challenge flag.
To make matters worse, Hochuli inexplicably put another second on the clock after Andrew Luck's third down spike of the ball, giving the Colts time to kick a field goal. The video evidence seemed to show the clock had expired.
- The Colts pass rush gave Bills RT Chris Hairston a rough time in the game. Hairston struggled with the outside rush of veteran DE Robert Mathis most of the day. In the first quarter, on the play before Rian Lindell's first field goal, Mathis beat Hairston around the edge and hurried Ryan Fitzpatrick into a quick, short pass to Stevie Johnson that failed to pick up a first down.
It was Mathis' sack of Fitzpatrick five minutes into the second quarter that pushed the Bills too far back to try a long field goal, at least in Chan Gailey's judgment. And Mathis hit Fitzpatrick's arm in the final minute of the first half that caused him to miss badly on a pass to Stevie Johnson.
- Colts LB Jerrell Freeman had a sensational game right from the start. He finished with 16-tackles and a sack, with three quarterback hits. Freeman spent the last three years in the CFL, after a standout career in college at Mary Hardin-Baylor. We joked on the broadcast that we had not heard of Mary Hardin-Baylor College. Turns out it's a small, Division III program in Texas.