New York–Sunday’s 15-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams was vintage Buffalo Bills football in 2012. Good enough to compete, bad enough to blow it in the end.
If there is one thing the 2012 Bills have perfected it is the ability to find a way to lose games that good teams around the NFL find a way to close out.
Much like their Week 7 loss to the Titans, the Bills found a way to blow it at the end of the fourth quarter against the Rams. The Bills had the lead until 48 seconds left to play in the fourth quarter when Sam Bradford hit Brandon Gibson with the game-winning, 13-yard touchdown pass.
It never should have come down to that play.
Forget blaming the Bills secondary or Ryan Fitzpatrick, this loss should rest squarely on the shoulders of head coach Chan Gailey.
Gailey’s poor clock management at the end of the first half was a real head scratcher. With 11 seconds left on the clock and facing a third down at the Rams 22 yard line Gailey opted for a field goal instead of taking a shot at the end zone.
Then later in the game as the field goal unit was preparing to attempt a 52-yarder, Gailey burned a time out and then sent the punt unit out. Rian Lindell was visibly upset as he walked towards the sideline.
Then again everyone in the Bills organization was upset with what has transpired this season. On a day when both the Bengals and the Steelers lost the Bills blew a chance to keep their paper thin playoff hopes alive.
As you expect with a 5-8 team there is a great level of frustration surrounding the Bills right now. Goodness knows the fans are frustrated and the players are just as frustrated at all of their missed opportunities this season. “That’s the NFL. Most games in this league are close football games; just like that one. At the end of the game if you can’t find a way to make the play and win the game you’ll be 5-8. That’s what happens and that’s where we are. You can point back to it and say we needed to play better and figure out how to play consistently better and makes play to win the football game. Because we had plenty of opportunities today and we didn’t do it,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
Had the Bills the ability to close out games they should be at least 7-6 right now and very much alive in the playoff race in the AFC. Since they do not yet have the ability to close out these kind of games the Bills are once again wondering ‘what if?’ as the season comes to a close.
But when looking back at this loss to the Rams frustrated Bills fans should be asking ‘Why Chan, why?’
With that in mind it is time to hand out the grades from this game.
Quarterback – Grade C - This was your classic Ryan Fitzpatrick kind of game; he made some throws, he missed some throws and the threw an interception at the end of the game. Afterwards Fitzpatrick was as frustrated as anyone with another heartbreaking loss.”We have to develop a killer instinct. We have to win those games if we want to be one of the teams that is sitting there at the end of the year getting ready for the playoffs.” Of course it would have helped if Fitzpatrick had thrown for more than 78 yards in the second half and converted more third downs.
Running Backs – Grade C - To be fair CJ Spiller might have been able to earn a much higher grade had he been given more opportunities to carry the ball. Spiller had a grand total of seven carries and only one pass thrown his way. The lack of touches for one of the Bills most explosive play makers was another questionable decision by Gailey and his staff. Spiller tried to put on a brave face after the game about his lack of work. “I really can’t control how many times I touch the ball, guys. I keep saying it over and over.” Gailey tried to defend Spiller’s lack of work load with this gem, “He had two good runs in the first drive, he gets winded and he comes out.” CJ Spiller gets winded? The man is averaging over six yards per carry! If that wasn’t bad enough Fred Jackson suffered a leg injury and had to be carted off of the field.
Receivers and tight ends – Grade C - A distraught Stevie Johnson answered all of the tough questions after the game and his answers did little to improve his mood. Johnson led all Bills receivers with six catches for 71 yards but caught only two passes in the second half. In Johnson’s opinion he felt the Rams wanted it more than they did. ‘When you’ve got the lead the entire game and when it comes down to a minute left, it basically comes down to who wants it more and who’s going to make the play. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t but they ended up making the plays and getting the win.”
Offensive line – Grade D - Riddled with injuries the Bills offensive line struggled mightily in pass protection. Fitzpatrick was sacked five times and hit another 11 times in the face of the Rams pass rush. I honestly thought the Bills were going to run the ball more in this game. Then again, so did Spiller and the 68,000 plus fans in attendance.
Front Seven – Grade B - When you hold the opposing team to 15 points in the NFL your offence should be able to score enough points to help you win. Up until the final drive the Bills front seven had done a solid job in run defence and in putting pressure on Bradford. Mario Williams and Kyle Moore did a good job of putting pressure on Bradford and being more disciplined in their run defence. Not that any of that mattered to Mario Williams. “The games that we’ve lost, especially the ones similar to this are tough”.
Secondary – Grade C - If George Wilson had a better pair of hands this game would have been over in the fourth quarter. Just after the two minute warning Wilson had a sure interception in his hands that would have ended the game and he dropped it. After holding Bradford to 37 yards passing in the first half the Bills secondary allowed 172 yards passing and Gibson’s game winning touchdown catch.
Special Teams – Grade D - Of all the players I spoke to in the Bills locker room after the game nobody was more upset with the loss than kicker Rian Lindell. After telling the assembled reporters that he had made a 55-yard field goal in warm-ups he was frustrated at not being allowed to attempt that 52 yarder. “I want to kick everything. But I think the one going through the paws on the PAT played into that,” said Lindell. “I want to kick them all, that’s why I’m here.” It should be noted that Lindell is 1 for 1 kicking 50 yard field goals and 3 of 3 between 40 and 49 yards this season.
Coaching – Grade F - Take nothing away from the Rams effort but there was no reason for the Bills to lose this game. Had there been better clock management, better play calling and better in game decision making the Bills would have been able to seal the victory and improve to 6-7 on the year. When asked why he didn’t let Lindell try that 52-yard field goal Gailey had this to say: “We had just dropped the snap on the extra point, so that is why I pulled them (the field goal unit) back out of there and said ‘Hey let’s let the defence try and keep them pinned back’.” Of course that doesn’t explain Gailey’s logic behind not getting the ball in Spiller’s hands more. Even with his paltry seven carries Spiller still averaged 5.3 yards per carry. “We were trying to run the football and when it was Fred’s turn, it was Fred’s turn to be in there. Trying to keep them both fresh,” said Gailey.
What’s Next: The Bills next “home” game takes place next Sunday at Rogers Centre as they host the Seattle Seahawks in the latest instalment of the Bills in Toronto series. A few more wins this season and little more sizzle from the Bills offence would make selling the game to NFL fans in Toronto a whole lot easier.