Bills 0 – Patriots 13 – 10 Things I Think

Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)

Well, the 2008 season is over. What a disappointment. It will take months before I can start feeling positive about 2009.

1. Just when you think you’ve seen the worst conditions possible, along comes another remarkable Orchard Park game. Has the wind ever blown harder at a game? Maybe, but that was pretty bad.

The weather probably helped the Bills. It was in several ways great equalizer. The wind took the passing game from both teams, leaving both teams with only the run and some short passes. In those condtions, Randy Moss was just another receiver. Lee Evans (who got to the 1000 yards he deserved) was more valuable than Moss.

So the game came down to running the ball, where the Bills are pretty competitive. They ran well.

Unfortunately, while the weather conditions minimize the talents of the players, the conditions magnify the talents of the coaches. In that weather, players can’t make many big plays. So coaching decisions are even more important than in most other games, and this was the best coach in the history of the game against Dick Jauron. No contest.

2. Let’s hear it for the offensive line. It took another entire season, but they’re finally making a believer of me. The Bills played without their best offensive lineman, against a decent run defense that knew the Bills would come right at them, and the run game sparkled. Those guys made holes, moved the pile, just kept working to get every yard they could. It was a great show by some guys who may have learned, a little too late for this season, what it takes to make the running game go. And for those who were complaining that Kirk Chambers didn’t have a role on this team, look again. The guy clearly has progressed. He did a really nice job in the last two games. He certainly wasn’t a liability. Is it possible we’ve seen Jason Peters for the last time?

Pass protection, on the other hand, still needs serious work. Anyone watching film (heck, anyone watching the games live who’s watching the line play) figured out weeks ago that the Bills are clueless when it comes to picking up stunting linemen. It happened at least two or three times again yesterday: defensive end rushes to the inside, tackle stays with him; defensive tackle delays, then loops around the outside. One time Dockery was just standing in the backfield wondering where his man went, until he saw his man heading straight for the QB. Trent’s fumble was altogether not his fault, and several of the other times he was hit happened the same way. Either the coaches aren’t teaching (I’m betting they are) or the players aren’t learning (I’m betting thy’re not). It’s a real problem.

3. Speaking of Trent – nice game. He had a MUCH better day than he had in Cleveland in the blizzard – this game he actually figured out how to deliver the ball on plays when it seemed impossible. One of the best was the one that Royal dropped (Robert must have been amazed the ball got there). 70 passer rating isn’t great, but under the conditions was certainly good enough. (Cassel’s rating was higher, but he didn’t have to throw as much because he was (no surprises here) winning most of the game. He also wide open receivers.) Trent made good decisions, scrambled nicely, got sacked primarily because of blocking breakdowns, and had a fumble courtesy of Derrick Dockery.

Oh, and for those who didn’t like it last week when I complained about Trent dragging himself off the ground after sacks like he was near death, I won’t apologize. I will say, however, that that may have been Trent getting used to the game again after a little layoff. He got hit pretty well by the Patriots, and each time he just got up and went back at it. Good for him.

I predicted in June that Trent would finish the season as a top 15 passer. He didn’t make it (finsihed 17th), but he did finish surrounded by playoff QBs – Eli, Flacco, Cutler, McNabb, Delhomme – and way ahead of Roethlisberger. Trent has a lot of upside – he’ll work hard in the off-season and be better next year. Trent may not be a star in the future, but he’s a good bet.

4. Freddy Jackson is a gamer. Teams will spend a lot of time in the off-season devising ways to stop the wildcat; the Bills should spend time figuring out new ways to deploy it with Fred and Marshawn. (Meanwhile, if Marshawn had been healthy, this game could actually have been a win for the Bills. I don’t know if the Pats could have taken more pounding than they got with just one of these stars.)

We didn’t see anything new from Freddy yesterday, just more of the same: Quick to the hole, any hole. Really good burst. Surprising power. And a big heart. Great, great performance.

5. A couple of things about coaching. First, kudos to Dan Dierdorf, who was right on the money time after time in criticizing the Bills’ calls from the sidelines: (a) No sense of urgency with just under two minutes in the first half – that wasted time killed them in the end. (b) Too long in the huddle on the last play of the half. (c) Duke Preston fails to return to huddle after last play of the half. (d) Failure to go no huddle with the wind in the third quarter. (e) Empty the backfield on fourth and one or two, showing the Pats that it was a certain pass. Dierdorf had them all right. There were others, too (like trying a 40+ yard field goal in a tornado), but Dierdorf hit the high points.

6. On the other side of the field was Bill Belichick. While Dick was bumbling, what was Bill doing? Calling timeouts in the first quarter to keep the wind at his back, quick-kicking with the wind to get the good roll and pin the Bills deep, saving a play (the pass to Welker on the left sideline) that he knew the Bills couldn’t defend to use in the critical touchdown drive, having the RIGHT playcall on fourth down (the play action roll out keeper).

The Bills were clearly outprepared and outthought in this game, but that doesn’t really qualify as news.

7. The Ball Burglar really let us down, too. He needed two takeaways to bring the season total over $11,000 – big money to help lots of kids fight serious illness. He got none.

But the $11,000 challenge isn’t over. The Burglar needs just 15 Bills fans to agree to pay $1 per takeaway for the 2008 season – just $25 each (22 takeaways plus $3 extra for the three TD returns). Fifteen fans. You’re out there. Now’s the time to help.

And thanks to all those Burglars who have pledged a total of more than $400 per takeaway so far this season.

8. Exactly how many guys did the Bills have out there wearing number 95? Six solo tackles? SIX!!! From a defensive tackle? What a performance. Kyle Williams was everywhere. My new favorite player.

9. I hope Donte is all right. Clearly, it wasn’t his best season, but it’s never fun to see one of your guys go down like that.

It takes enormous courage to play this game. He never backs down, and he didn’t on that play.

I expect him back, playing with dedication that will be unlike anything we’ve seen before.

10. In the end, the Bills were a little below average. Overall, 25th in yards per game offense, 23rd in points per game offense. 22nd in passing yards, 22nd in passing rating. 14th in rushing yards, 16th in rushing average. The offense lagged behind the defense all season.

14th in yards per game defense, 14th in points per game defense. 13th in passing yards defense, 16th in passer rating defense. 22nd in rushing yards allowed, 21st in yards per carry defense. The defense wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough.

The Bills beat the teams they should have beaten, and lost to the teams they should lost to.

This game was emblematic of all of that. Average. The Bills were, for the Patriots and for every other good team they played this season, a worthy opponent. They played hard, fought all the way to the end, made it tough for the Pats to win. But, for the Pats and every other good team they Bills played, the Bills were just a team that wouldn’t roll over before losing. The Bills made good teams work for the win but were never able to make good teams lose. Average.

If I had to pick a team I wanted to win the AFC east other than the Bills, it would have been the Dolphins. I wanted the Pats out, and I didn’t want the carpetbagger in. Congratualations to Chad Pennington and his new teammates. They earned it, and I’m happy for Chad. Good player, class act.

See you all in the new year.