There's no shortage of big plays and decisive moments to chew on, after Buffalo's 37-31 loss in New England. The Bills went toe-to-toe with the number one offensive attack in the league, and actually outplayed the Patriots on the offensive side of the ball. But the third of Buffalo's three turnovers put an end to the Bills hopes of an upset in Foxboro, even as it provided some hope for the team's offensive attack going forward.
Here are some observations from the Bills radio booth in New England:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick played his best game of the season, even with the interception that ended Buffalo's chances. Fitz was decisive and active in the pocket. He took advantage of some good pass protection, in the second half especially, to scan the field and identify the open receiver. We've pointed out before, Fitzpatrick thrives if he can throw the ball over the middle, and he did so successfully on several passes to tight end Scott Chandler.
Fitzpatrick showed fire and passion when he challenged Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes for his hit to the head. It's the kind of emotion that his teammates respond to on a daily basis.
As for the Devin McCourty interception that snuffed out Buffalo's last minute scoring drive, Fitzpatrick accepted his share of the criticism for the pass. But rookie WR T.J. Graham was quick to point out that he did not adjust his route to cross in front of McCourty in the end zone, and he took the blame for the pick.
I find it tough to find fault with Fitzpatrick's decision to throw it to Graham. He was open. He was in the end zone, so that the Bills wouldn't have to hurry to the line of scrimmage to run another play with a pass completed before the end zone. Fitzpatrick had success throwing between the safeties in New England's cover-two look all day long. And, of course, Graham was just one of several options Fitzpatrick had to choose from.
- Buffalo's first scoring drive provided a perfect illustration of how C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson can work together to provide an almost unstoppable ground game. Late in the first quarter, Jackson caught a middle screen on 3rd-and-15 from the Bills own 15-yard line, and turned it into a 15-yard pickup for a first down. Jackson was hit at the 23-yard line, and he was eventually surrounded by three Patriots all trying to drag him down. Jackson kept chugging away, picking up eight
yards after the contact, and keeping the drive alive with a first down.
On the next play, Spiller carried the ball to the left, and ran into a Patriots pileup at the point of attack. He made his signature move, bouncing the run to the right, putting tremendous fakes on Rob Ninkovich and Alfonzo Dennard, and picking up seven yards.
Spiller and Jackson are probably the best one-two punch in the league right now. With Jackson's status in question for the Miami game, Spiller is almost certain to get the kind of workload many fans have been clamoring for. But don't discount Fred Jackson's contributions to the Bills running attack (ranked 6th in the NFL) and the benefit the Bills get from being able to have them spelling each other in the backfield.
- Much has been said about the 14-penalties the Bills recorded in the loss at Foxboro. They almost tripled their average penalty count for games this season. But of the 14 penalties, only three of them seemed to be truly bad calls.
The first occurred in the first quarter, when George Wilson was flagged for pass interference on an end zone pass intended for Rob Gronkowski. There was incidental contact between the two in the end zone, but Tom Brady's pass was clearly uncatchable. If anything, the officials could have called illegal contact, but even that would be a stretch. CBS Color Analyst Dan Fouts called the pass interference on Wilson "horrible."
The second quarter pass interference call on Jairus Byrd was another one that should have been illegal contact, not pass interference. Brady's pass wasn't even intended for Julian Edelman. The Patriots got 17-yards on the call, rather than the 5 that would have come from an illegal contact call.
Later, on the same drive, the officials flagged Stephon Gilmore for pass interference on Brandon Lloyd in the end zone. Brady was trying to throw the ball away; in fact, his pass went beyond the yellow line behind the back line of the end zone. A terrible call that gave New England a first and goal at the one, and resulted in a two yard touchdown pass.
The New England touchdown drive was 82-yards, 69-of which came on poorly called penalties.
The Bills didn't lose because of bad officiating, but it didn't help at all.