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Winter is coming. So are the New England Patriots. Yet, somehow, someway, Buffalo has a roster that doesn’t appear capable of weathering either of these inevitabilities.
The Bills can neither run the ball nor stop the run. They can’t win in the trenches. They rely too much on daring passes from their $250 million quarterback. They are undisciplined.
They are, currently, a mess worse than their 6-4 record. That leaves the team, coming off a conference title game appearance that was a hot choice to reach the Super Bowl, in second place in its own division. All as December looms, bringing a sharp turn in conditions and two games against their AFC East nemesis Patriots.
The Bills didn’t just get blown out by a surging Indianapolis team on Sunday, 41-15. They revealed recurring issues with all the basics of the game that a team staring out at Lake Erie should never lack. This courtesy of a Colts club that possesses all of them and has the looks of a contender despite playing its home games in a dome.
Indianapolis outrushed the Bills 264-91, controlled the clock to the tune of 37 minutes, 47 seconds to 22:13, and won the turnover battle 4-0. Add in the Bills' five either pre- or post-snap penalties and this is a reeling team that needs an immediate reboot heading into a Thanksgiving trip to New Orleans.
“Execution is what it comes down to and we’re not executing at a high enough level right now,” said quarterback Josh Allen, who went 21-of-35 for 209 yards.
That’s part of it, but it doesn’t appear to be the underlying reason the Bills have lost three of their past five games. It’s about toughness; both physical and mental.
Buffalo is a pretty team; big plays and exciting highlights. This is neither the time nor the place for pretty. The Bills need to win in the trenches, not rely on Allen to consistently make spectacular deep throws. It has to set the line of scrimmage. It can’t seemingly quit when adversity strikes.
The recipe for defeating them is obvious. Beat ’em up and run it at ’em.
And guess how Bill Belichick likes to play?
You don’t need elite quarterback play to beat these guys right now. On Sunday, Buffalo lost for the fourth time to a quarterback with a QB rating of under 87. Carson Wentz was just 11-for-20 for 106 yards and a touchdown. It was all Jonathan Taylor, who had 32 rushes for 185 and five touchdowns, with Nyheim Hines chipping in four carries for 31 yards.
Previously against the Bills, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlissberger threw for just 188 yards and one TD (QB rating: 83.9), Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill 216 and no touchdowns (70.5) and Trevor Lawrence just 118 yards and no touchdowns (69.1). Yet all three won.
The Bills are built for "Madden" rather than reality. It’s even more bizarre considering where they play. Sunday was cold and rainy. It’ll get worse. Yet they ran it just 13 times, including just three times on 13 first-quarter snaps when the game was still close.
Buffalo almost has to be the more physical team to win, especially in January which is what this highly anticipated, dream-big Bills Mafia season was expected to be about.
“Normally, I would say we’re a pretty sound, fundamental team,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We stress that a lot, as you know … But we didn’t have it today.”
It’s a short week and a road trip now, which might be a good thing after such a distasteful performance. Then it’s a long break until a pivotal gut check when New England visits for a Monday night clash on Dec. 6. What follows is a trip to Tampa, a visit by Carolina and then a trip to Foxborough.
That’ll be the stretch that defines these Bills, if they haven’t already done it.
Every one of those teams is going to try to run the ball down Buffalo’s throat. Then they are going to try to keep the Bills' offense as a one-dimensional outfit – the more Allen is throwing into soft coverage, the better.
No one is going to respect Buffalo at the point of attack until Buffalo makes them. That, in particular, includes Belichick.
From 2001-2019, his Patriots teams went 34-4 against Buffalo. One of those Bills victories (2014) came when he rested many of his starters for the playoffs. This was about as complete of an ownership of a rivalry as has ever existed.
Then Buffalo swept New England last season. Now? The Pats run the ball, play a physical defense and have a quarterback who picks apart what’s given. It’s how teams win the AFC East.
Can Buffalo prove it can still be that? Or are these Bills just a flashy roster that wins offseason hype and in the sunshine of September?
“We know who we are,” Allen said. “And that – what we put out there on that field – that’s not who we are.”
We’ll see. Winter is coming. So are the Pats.