Head Coach Doug Marrone is spot on when he identifies red zone struggles as one of the big problems for the Bills Sunday. They went 0-3 in the red zone. And their trips inside the 20 on back to back possessions early in the second quarter were particularly troubling.
Down 7-0, the Bills got deep into Jets territory on the final play of the first quarter with a 59-yard Fred Jackson run. But two C.J. Spiller runs for 0-yards and an incompletion later, Buffalo had to settle for a field goal. They failed to take advantage of the momentum generated by Jackson's big run.
Four minutes later, it happened again. Jim Leonhard's interception set up Buffalo at the Jets 21 yard line, but five straight carries by Spiller and Jackson led to a read-option run by EJ Manuel that netted five yards. Then on 3rd and goal from the 6, the Jets dropped eight men into coverage and Manuel was forced to scramble for 1-yard after finding no one open in the end zone. The ensuing Dan Carpenter field goal meant Buffalo settled for 6-points instead of 14 on two early possessions in the red zone.
And it happened again in the third quarter, after Kiko Alonso's interception. The Bills had to settle for another field goal, so that's a total of 12-points left on the table. If the Bills get 7-of-those-12, the game is tied down the stretch.
"Right now we're at 50% and that's what hurt us at the end of the day," Marrone said after reviewing the video Monday. "We wound up kicking three field goals and we weren't able to convert them into touchdowns. That's what we need to do to win. That's basically it in a nutshell."
The Buffalo defense has its own problems, but free agent linebacker Manny Lawson is not one of them. He set a new career high with 14-tackles in the Jets game. And he continues to demonstrate his value as a potential free agent steal for the Bills.
Two plays in the second quarter illustrate how well Lawson is playing. And both of them are the result of his quickness and instinctive reaction. With just under ten minutes left in the quarter, Lawson jumped around a chip block from Jets fullback Tommy Bohanon to stop Bilal Powell for no game. Two plays later, he ran around tight end Jeff Cumberland to hold Powell to a one yard gain.
In the third quarter, Lawson demonstrated how quickly he can anticipate what's coming his way, when he held Powell to a one yard gain on a first down play with 8:18 left.
Lawson is smart and instinctive. And he's got unusually long arms that allow him to shed blocks. That combined with better than average speed make him one of the Bills top defenders in the first three games this year.
The Bills had trouble with a young, talented Jets defensive line through most of the game. The trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon "Snacks" Harrison, and Sheldon Richardson is tough and talented. And they're likely to be around for a long time. Wilkerson was the Jets 1st round pick two years ago. Harrison was an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012. And Richardson was one of New York's two first round draft picks last April.
The three played a major role in holding the Bills run game in check Sunday. In fact, if you ignore Fred Jackson's 59-yard run at the end of the first quarter, Buffalo's running backs finished with 21 yards rushing on 18 carries. Of course, you can't ignore Jackson's long run. In fact, Sheldon Richardson probably heard a lot about it during the Jets meetings on Monday. Richardson began to celebrate what he thought was a run-stuff by his teammates, when Jackson got bottled up at the line of scrimmage. But Fred kept running, and he ran right by Richardson while he was already celebrating by waving his hands in front of his waist.
The rookie told the Newark Star Ledger after the game that he expects a steady diet of abuse once the coaches see his celebration on film.
"I thought he was down," Richardson said. "I thought Calvin Pace had him. I didn't hear the whistle. That was all my bad. It won't happen again. (The coaches) didn't see it. I hope they didn't. I'm going to hear about it in meetings."
Another Jets defender who will be heard from down the line is cornerback Kyle Wilson. He had an eventful fourth quarter, with four consecutive penalties producing 25 yards on Buffalo's 80-yard scoring drive. Wilson, another former first rounder on the New York defense, got tangled up with Stevie Johnson during the series and Stevie got flagged for taunting during the sequence.
We asked Johnson in the Buffalo locker room what was going on between him and Wilson.
"Just guys playing football—that's it," Stevie said. We were just out there competing with each other. He's a Jets player, I'm a Bills player. It's kind of that bad blood. They walk around like they're bigger than us, and we're not going to have that. That's all we were doing, playing football. Nothing personal-- just playing football."
It looked like it was more than a little personal. And you gotta believe the two will go at it again in two months, in the rematch at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
It was obviously a long and forgettable day for Bills CB Justin Rogers. But one of the best images on the CBS TV broadcast of the game came moments after Santonio Holmes go-ahead touchdown. The network cut to a quick shot of the Buffalo bench, with Rogers sitting next to his position coach. Donnie Henderson had his arm around Rogers as if to console him, with a slight smile on his face. Based on the tough-love approach that Henderson dishes out to his DBs, Rogers will no doubt get a great deal of attention in practice and meetings this week.