Observations from Buffalo’s 20-16 loss to the Bengals
CINCINNATI, OH – Fools gold. That now best describes the Bills 23-17, Week 4 win over the Falcons.
Riding high and confident as ever, Buffalo was greeted by a classic trap game against the 1-3 Cincinnati Bengals one week later and squandered it away in a 20-16 loss, like so many past Bills teams have done during this 17-year playoff drought.
Typical. Just when you have Bills fans Billieving, they rip the carpet out from underneath them in one fell swoop.
“I know the guys have worked extremely hard. We’ve made a lot of progress, but never as much as you’d like which is clear today,” head coach Sean McDermott said following the game.” My biggest focus right now is [on] learning from this game, and moving forward. Continuing to grow, continuing to build our team and looking to take that next step.”
For the first time in four weeks, Buffalo’s suffocating defense showed some cracks. Rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White got beat by Bengals’ star wide receiver A.J. Green for a 77-yard touchdown reception on Cincinnati’s second drive of the game. He gave up a few other big plays as well, as Andy Dalton became the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards on the Bills defense this season. The majority of those yards came from his go-to-target Green, who hauled in seven passes for the third highest single-game receiving yard total of his career (189) and a touchdown.
As potent as the Bengals offense seemed at times, the Bills defense still managed to force three turnovers. Despite surrendering their largest point total of the season, they kept the offense within striking distance late into the fourth quarter. The offense, however, couldn’t finish the job.
Off those turnovers, the Bills offense managed to score just 10 points. Despite making four separate trips inside the red zone, Buffalo came away with just one touchdown. The second half in particular was a disaster. It started with a quick three-and-out on the first possession out of the break, and ended with a game sealing interception on their final series. In total they accumulated just 36 yards of total offense in the second half, their lowest total yardage for a half since 2001.
Tyrod Taylor struggled in his own right. The Bills signal caller finished 20-for-37 passing for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He averaged 4.48 yards per attempt on the day, and his 63.6 passer rating for the game was the 3rd-worst of his career. Taylor took responsibility for the Bills offensive woes.
“It was definitely tough, but we didn’t make enough plays on offense [to win],” the 28-year-old explained. “I’ll take full responsibility for that one. It just wasn’t a great offensive performance. We had a bunch of opportunities and left some plays out there on the field. We didn’t convert a couple of turnovers that the defense did a good job [providing us with.] The offense didn’t play the way we needed to, to win against a very good defense and like I said, I’ll take responsibility for that.”
In his defense, it’s not as if Taylor had much help. In the first quarter he lost his leading receiver, tight end Charles Clay, to a potentially severe knee injury and Jordan Matthews didn’t even dress after having thumb surgery earlier in the week. That left rookie Zay Jones, Brandon Tate, Andre Holmes and Kaelin Clay as his receivers and three-year vet Nick O’Leary and quarterback turned tight end Logan Thomas as his primary receiving options. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison even had LeSean McCoy – who managed just 63 rushing yards and for a fifth consecutive week didn’t score a touchdown – split out wide at times.
Asked if he regretted not looking to bolster the receiving depth chart during the preseason, McDermott stood by his guys.
“I’m confident in these guys,” he said. “I know where you’re going with that and I’m confident in these guys.”
Taylor also isn’t worried about what his lack of receiving options means for his status as a franchise QB. As he put it, “at the end of the day, I’m going to be judged on wins.” Sure, and while the Bills may still have a winning record at the moment, there are a few situations where Taylor’s uninspiring number of wins are incriminating. Like how he’s now 2-16 when the Bills trail by four or more points at any point in a game. And how he fell to 1-10 in his career when he throws the ball 30 or more times in a game. Those aren’t exactly earth shattering marks.
Still, even though Taylor shouldered the blame for Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati, it would be inappropriate to pin the inefficiencies of the offense solely on him. The run game doesn’t seem to have the zing it’s had in the past two seasons. There is a general lack of talent at receiver. And the offensive line is a turnstyle at times.
Fortunately it’s still early in the season. And at 3-2 the Bills still hold a share of first-place in the AFC East with the Patriots and, surprisingly, the Jets posting identical records. With the bye week now at their disposal though, Buffalo has some serious issues to address. Otherwise they’re on a slippery slope towards Year 18 of the playoff drought.
Tyrod-to-Tate Touchdown – Buffalo’s first and only touchdown of the game came on a beautiful strike from Tyrod Taylor to Brandon Tate in the second quarter. Tate was lined up in the slot on the left side for the Bills 3rd-and-10 play, from Cincinnati’s 12 yard line. At the snap, he streaked past Bengals cornerback Josh Shaw on a fly route and Taylor hit him in stride with a perfectly placed pass, in the back of the end zone. It was one of the best throws of the season for Tyrod and a solid catch from Tate as well, who showed some athleticism getting two feet down.
Brandon Tate – In that vain, Brandon Tate had himself quite the performance against his former team. That aforementioned touchdown was probably the biggest play of his afternoon, but his impressive 40-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that led to a Bills FG can’t be forgotten either. He finished the contest with two receptions for 25 yards and that one score. Minimal contributions, but impactful ones.
Turnovers Galore – For a third straight week and the fourth time this season, Buffalo’s defense forced two or more turnovers. Twice, Bengals wideout A.J. Green had the ball tip off his hands and into those of a Bills defensive back (one to Micah Hyde and the other to Jordan Poyer). They also forced a fumble in the third quarter. The Bills were previously undefeated when forcing a turnover this season.
Tre’Davious White – The rookie CB has been tremendous through the first four games of the season but had his worst day by far in Week 5. His first big mistake came on the Bengals second drive of the game where he simply let A.J. Green run right past him for a 77-yard touchdown reception. Later in the game, Green beat him again over the middle for a 20-yard catch, but fortunately a monstrous hit from Lorenzo Alexander forced Green to fumble the ball and they kept Cincinnati off the board.
Penalties – It wasn’t so much the number of penalties – Buffalo tallied six for the game, but the timing of a handful of them was brutal. Early in the second quarter, Buffalo’s defense had Cincinnati backed up in a third-and-21 and forced a stop on the ensuing play, only for a Jerry Hughes roughing the passer penalty to keep the drive alive. The Bengals ended that drive with a field goal. Then with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter, CB Greg Mabin was called for pass interference on a third down incompletion that awarded Cincinnati an automatic first down, which ultimately led to a touchdown. Finally, on the Bills first series of the fourth quarter, a 44-yard run by LeSean McCoy that would have set up Buffalo in the red zone was wiped out by a holding penalty.
The weather – As most fans watching at home could probably tell (rain always looks worse on TV), the weather was an absolute mess in Cincinnati. There was a heavy rain throughout pregame warmups and the majority of the first half, which turned into a steadier, lighter rain throughout the remainder of the afternoon. The sloppy weather made for some sloppy play out on the field but it did help Buffalo snag two picks off tipped passes.
The Red Zone Offense – Entering Sunday, the Bills had the third highest red zone TD percentage (66.67). That figure took a hit in Cincinnati. Buffalo pushed the ball into the red zone on four separate occasions and came away with just a single touchdown. The worst of the bunch came after a 40-yard Brandon Tate punt return and Bengals penalty had Buffalo set up at the Cincinnati 12, but they went three-and-out and settled for a field goal.
The offensive line – Sean McDermott opted to start Vlad Ducasse at right guard over John Miller, who was a healthy scratch, and it was a struggle for him throughout much of the game. Rookie Dion Dawkins had his fair share of miscues on the day as well, leaving Tyrod Taylor running for his life at times. As a unit, the Bills O-line allowed six sacks.
Charles Clay injury – Buffalo already had more injuries than usual heading into Week 5 and it only got worse on Sunday. The biggest loss though was Charles Clay, who suffered a knee injury in the first quarter after making a 24-yard reception on the Bills’ third drive of the game. Clay first went to the sideline and was examined by the trainers, but eventually had to be carted to the locker room. He never returned and the severity is unknown at this point.