(Photo Courtesy of Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports)
As the early games were winding to a close on Sunday afternoon, it appeared that the stars were possibly aligning for the Bills to end their 14-year playoff drought. The Steelers were beating a Kansas City team that the Bills needed to leap in the standings. The Houston Texans, who were forced into starting Case Keenum at quarterback, were in the process of upsetting the 9-5 Baltimore Ravens. While there was still other help needed in Week 17, it appeared that the Bills’ opportunity was becoming more and more realistic. Soon enough however, all of the scoreboard watching and what-if scenarios became irrelevant.
After four quarters of dismal football against a terrible Oakland team, the Bills eliminated themselves from playoff contention with a 26-24 loss. With all the talk of a “changing culture” following the victory over Green Bay, the Bills epitomized the normalcy that’s existed over the last decade and a half with this team. In “big” games and in “big” moments, the Bills always find a way to disappoint.
Let’s revisit the three areas of focus that I discussed prior to the game.
1. Continued Dominance on Defense
Early on in the first quarter it seemed that the Bills defense was primed to put forth yet another influential display against the Derek Carr-led Raiders. The first three offensive drives for Oakland ran 9 plays, gained 11 yards, and ended in three punts. Derek Carr looked confused and flustered, and the run game offered little hope. Then things started to change for the worse.
First, Derek Carr found former Patriot Kenbrell Thompkins for a 50-yard bomb down to the Buffalo four. Two plays later, Carr found James Jones wide open in the back of the end zone to make it 7-7. Second, Marcell Dareus left the game early in the second quarter because of a knee injury. His absence allowed Oakland to establish a running game. By the end of the day, the Bills had surrendered 140 yards on the ground to a team that averaged 73.8 per game up to Week 16. Lastly, Stephon Gilmore departed midway through the third quarter with a concussion. Though it’s difficult to say his presence would’ve altered the outcome, one has to wonder if the third-year corner would’ve prevented Derek Carr’s 51-yard completion to Andre Holmes on third-and-22.
All this considered, it’s difficult to place really any blame on the Bills defense despite their momentary lapses yesterday. This unit has consistently bailed out a pathetic offense and has largely been responsible for keeping each game close. With injuries to two top players, and some head-scratching play from normally strong contributors, the Bills defense faltered from the high standards they had established throughout the season. For one of the few times this season, the defense looked to the offense to pick them up, and the offense unsurprisingly wasn’t up to the challenge.
2. Improved Quarterback Play
Despite a stat-line (65.3% on completions, 329 yards, 3 touchdowns, 87.9 QB rating) that offers up a competent performance, Orton was bad yet again on Sunday. He frequently checked the ball to his backs and seemed unwilling to push the ball downfield to receivers in 1-on-1 situations. Though some would point to the lack of a running game, and the matador approach that Seantrel Henderson used to block Khalil Mack, I’m simply tired of losing games that a competent quarterback would win.
With an average, or god forbid above average quarterback, the Bills go up 21-0 early in the first quarter and never look back. Instead, Sammy Watkins bails him out with a terrific grab, Orton throws a horrific interception at the Oakland 16, and Orton completely misfires on what should have been a long touchdown down the seam to Chris Hogan. This pattern of misfires that could’ve altered the outcome has become a regular occurrence for Orton since he took over. Aside from the loss to New England, Orton has been a central reason behind every loss (KC, MIA, DEN, OAK) he’s been under center for. He’s also had performances (CLE and GB) that should’ve resulted in losses if it weren’t for the club’s incredible defensive efforts.
I suppose Orton’s failure to lead this team to the playoffs shouldn’t be all that surprising. He’s been replaced as a starter multiple times, and he’s played on five different teams for a reason. That doesn’t make his performance, and the team’s defeat any easier to stomach.
3. Re-Establish the Running Game
13 carries for 13 yards.
That output marked the club’s worst rushing performance in 17 years and its fourth-worst all-time. Needless to say, the Bills did not re-establish the running game.
MVP: Yikes. Fred Jackson? He had 93 yards on 9 catches and frequently made something out of nothing on Kyle Orton dump-offs.
LVP(s): Orton and the O-Line
Play of the Game: Derek Carr’s 51-yard pass to Andre Holmes on third-and-22.