1 – Bills defense dominant
Buffalo’s defense came into Sunday’s game with five takeaways in their last two games. They stayed on that pace registering a total of four takeaways in the game with two interceptions and three forced fumbles, two of which they recovered. The turnovers were largely thanks to their dominant pass rush.
“I thought overall defensively we did some good things. We sacked him seven times,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “Other than the last drive, they struggled to have some offense. That’s a good offense, coach O’Brien give him credit. But overall, I thought we did some good things defensively.”
Jordan Poyer thwarted a Texans scoring threat late in the first half. Pass pressure flushed DeShaun Watson from the pocket and while escaping the rush to his right, Watson’s pass to the TE Ryan Griffin in the end zone was picked off by Poyer.
Early in the second half, Lorenzo Alexander tipped a Watson pass straight up in the air, that had Keke Coutee targeted over the middle, and picked it off for an interception at the Texans’ 29-yard line. Buffalo’s offense converted the takeaway into a field goal to make it a one-score game early in the third quarter (10-3).
After the Bills were able to close to within four after a 52-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka, the defense forced their third turnover when Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy combined to take down Watson and force another fumble that was recovered by Harrison Phillips at the Texans’ 32-yard line.
That led to the Bills’ go-ahead touchdown from Nathan Peterman, who came on in relief for an injury Josh Allen, found Zay Jones for a 16-yard score to take the lead 13-10 with 13 minutes to play.
Buffalo’s defense even had a goal-line stand at their own one-yard line after a pass interference call had the Texans knocking on the door, but the defense held them to a field goal that only tied the game at 13.
“I think we felt like we were better than them up front,” said Alexander. “Watson makes them special with his ability to run. With him being a little nicked up I think he was staying in the pocket a little more and little hesitant getting out. Obviously, he still made some plays, but we were able to get him down, create some forced fumbles and get a couple of interceptions off him as well. But we have to be able to finish games. That’s what it’s all about in the NFL.”
All told the Bills defense registered seven sacks and 12 quarterback hits, and forced four turnovers.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as two late interceptions by Houston sealed the game for them with one going back for the game-winning touchdown.
“That was probably one of my top three most difficult losses I’ve had,” said Poyer. “You fight so hard during the game. You have a solid goal line stand. It was a tough loss. Coach said at the end of the game, you lose or you learn. We have to move forward from this and learn from the mistakes that we made in critical moments.”
2 - Special teams miscues prove costly
The Bills special teams unit was instrumental in lifting the team to victory last week against Tennessee. On Sunday in Houston they did not get off to a good start and it cost Buffalo on the scoreboard.
Kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled the opening kickoff, and fortunately fellow rookie Siran Neal recovered.
However, after the Bills defense forced the Texans to punt, McCloud muffed the punt after signaling for a fair catch. The ball was recovered by Houston at the Bills 29-yard line. Five plays later the Texans were in the end zone.
“You can’t do that,” said McDermott of the turnover. “In the first half the difference in field position they have the ball around the 43-yard line and ours was the minus-20. You’re not going to set yourself up for success when you play that type of game. We’ve got to play better in that area.”
Later in the first half, the Texans busted through Buffalo’s punt protection and blocked the punt by Corey Bojorquez at the Bills 47 and returned to the Buffalo 21. Fortunately, the Bills defense was able to hold the Texans to just a field goal.
“It was a good scheme as far as overloading and coming,” said Lorenzo Alexander. “We just have to have better technique as far as that blocked punt and better ball security on the fumble on the punt. Nothing special, just better technique on those plays.”
The special teams miscues were a large reason why the Bills were down 10-0 at halftime.
Danny Crossman’s unit did make up for it in the second half with Stephen Hauschka delivering a 52-yard field goal and P Corey Bojorquez did a good job of flipping the field, especially late in the game, but in the end, it wasn’t enough in a seven-point loss.
3 – Penalties and picks cloud the effort
The Bills came into Sunday’s game with the second-most pre-snap penalties in the league (17). The only team with more was the Houston Texans (19). On Sunday, Buffalo continued to add to that dubious statistic.
On offense they committed three pre-snap penalties on third down, two of which cost them plays that were third down conversions.
“We beat ourselves,” said Dion Dawkins. “We beat ourselves early, in the middle and at the end. We have to come together as a team and figure out how not to beat ourselves. Guys have to lock in just a little bit more. It came back and bit us. We just have to do a better job.”
On special teams the Bills committed penalties as well. From holding on a punt return to being offsides on a kickoff they cost themselves yardage in the kicking game.
And on defense, there were a pair of defensive holding calls that gave the Texans first downs, but the big one came late in the game when Phillip Gaines was flagged for pass interference on Vincent Fuller in the end zone that handed the Texans a free 41 yards setting them up 1st and goal at the one-yard line.
That combined with Nate Peterman’s two interceptions on Buffalo’s final two possessions, including one that was returned for the game-winning score, sealed the Bills fate in the loss.
“It’s disappointing. It wasn’t good enough to win,” said McDermott. “I thought there were some good moments. We battled back in a tough environment and I give the guys credit for doing that. It came down to communication and respect for the football and then pre-snap penalties. You can’t hurt yourself with pre-snap penalties like we did.”
All told Buffalo was assessed with 12 penalties for 104 yards.