Bills vs Patriots: 5 Things We Learned from Buffalo's 49-21 Loss
The Bills opened up the game with three touchdowns on their first three possessions to open up a 21-0 lead. At that point in the game, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had amassed 158 yards in passing and two touchdowns, while Tom Brady had gone 0 of 2 on passes for no yards. Surreal, right?
But the scoring pass from Fitzpatrick to Steve Johnson that put the Bills up 21 points led to Steve Johnson putting his personal need to express himself ahead of the team's needs. Johnson got flagged for the exhibition (writing out Happy New Year on his T-shirt), and the Patriots suddenly had good field position at the 40-yard line, which they proceeded to take advantage and score on the drive.
From that point on, it was all New England, all the time, as the Patriots wound up scoring 49 unanswered points to clinch home-field advantage throughout the rest of the AFC playoffs.
We will now discuss the five things we learned about the Bills from today's season finale.
Is Steve Johnson Really in Control of What He Does?
We have been here before. Steve Johnson scores a touchdown, and he feels the need to celebrate with enough flair or demonstration until he gets flagged for excessive celebration. With the prior penalties, Johnson has promised that he has learned his lesson and would just simply hand the ball to the referee.
While today's touchdown catch gave him another opportunity to show that he had matured and learned from his prior lessons, Johnson instead listened to that "other voice" ringing in his head, and went back to the T-shirt message.
Sure the message wasn't malicious, but that isn't the point.
To do what he did draws an automatic penalty of 15 yards. It took the momentum away from the Bills and gave it to the Patriots instead, as if the No. 1 seed in the AFC was in need of any help.
Johnson was promptly pulled from the game by head coach Chan Gailey for not following Gailey's prior orders. Personally, I was happy to see Johnson disciplined by Gailey in this fashion. It is one thing to say you are sorry and won't do it again. It is another thing to be a "healthy scratch" and being benched due to being an out-of-control player that can't follow team rules.
Johnson did manage to cross the 1,000-yard barrier for the year with the touchdown catch. That means that Johnson is the first Bills player in team history to go for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, which is quite a feat considering the rich history of wide receivers in Buffalo.
But what do the Bills do about free agent-to-be Johnson in 2012?
Has Gailey had it with Johnson and, as a result, the Bills will let Johnson walk in free agency? Will the Bills slap a one-year franchise tag on him, give him one final chance to see if he has grown up before entering long-term contract negotiations with him?
We will probably address this frequently over the offseason, but watching Johnson being benched for the final three quarters doesn't bode well for the lasting impression of Johnson's career as a Buffalo Bill.
Bills Defense Played Spirited First Quarter, Flood Gates Thereafter
The Bills defense held Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to two straight three-and-out drives to start out the game. After the Bills scored the first 21 points, the Patriots took their game to a higher level, as they seemed energized to crank out the next 49 points.
All of those points didn't come against the defense, as Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pick-six, in addition to enough interceptions to set the Patriots up in great field position.
Brady wound up completing 23 for 35 passes for 338 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His QB passer rating was 113.7.
The Bills defense gave up 480 yards of offense today to the Patriots. That will not help the defense overall ranking, but it proves how much trouble they have in trying to deal with the Patriots offense.
The dynamic tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski once again exploited the Bills defense, as the Bills have historically been weak against defending the tight end. The Patriots duo combined to gain 246 yards on 15 catches and three touchdowns.
That is simply unbelievable production from the tight end role, and shows how many issues the Bills secondary has in letting that happen.
Kellen Heard Needs Work on His Sack Dance
The Bills pass rush did come up with four sacks today, which was encouraging to see.
The leader of the pass rush was defensive lineman Kellen Heard, who came up two sacks on the day. Dwan Edwards and Arthur Moats also came up with a sack today, but it was Heard that was able to bring the most pressure today.
On Heard's second sack, he had the spotlight to conduct whatever his signature sack dance is supposed to be. Heard simply stood off to the side, and started swinging his arm from side to side, while his body did a little rocking. That was it.
Creativity? No, not really. Inspirational? You are joking, right?
It just looked like one of the strangest sack dances or sack celebrations that I have ever witnessed before. You have to love Heard's power and size, but I sure wish in the offseason that somebody hooks up with him and comes up with something better than what he demonstrated today.
We Saw Both Sides of Ryan Fitzpatrick in Today's Game
Ryan Fitzpatrick demonstrated both his good side (the first half of the game) and his bad side (the second half of the game) today against the Patriots.
His first half was about as brilliant as you could ask for. Fitz was 20 of 28 for 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His QB passer rating at halftime was 122.0. He also doubled as the Bills' leading rusher in the first half, gaining 28 yards on four rushes.
In the second half, Fitz showed his worst side. He completed only nine passes out of 18 attempts, had no touchdowns and four interceptions. For the day, Fitz wound up 29 of 46 for 307 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. His final QB passer rating was 60.7.
Coming into Week 17, Fitz was tied with Philip Rivers, Rex Grossman and Josh Freeman for throwing the most interceptions in the NFL (19). Based on the four interceptions today, there is a very strong chance that Fitz winds up with the dubious distinction of throwing the most interceptions in the league with 23.
At least he finished with 24 touchdowns to the 23 picks, but there is still the sense that he could really improve on this ratio if he would just make better decisions on where to go with the ball.
This will have to be one of the key areas for Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix to analyze. Can the Bills live with a quarterback who has a ratio of 24 touchdowns to 23 interceptions? The defense isn't strong enough to cover up a bad field position due to the many turnovers.
The inconsistency is an issue and it only clouds the overall situation to the point that you wonder if the Bills will take the plunge and draft a quarterback despite the new Fitzpatrick contract extension.
Chan Gailey Becomes a Gambler in Week 17
It was interesting to see Chan Gailey throw caution to the wind, by gambling on two straight first-quarter drives by going for it on fourth down.
The first occurrence was off of a punt formation on 4th-and-1. Gailey had George Wilson take the snap directly from center (Brad Smith did the same thing in the preseason), and run the ball right up the gut to convert the first down. That decision led to the Bills driving down for an opening touchdown.
The next drive, the Bills went for it on fourth down again. It was a 4th-and-4, and Fitz hit on a pass to Steve Johnson to convert. The Bills scored another touchdown on that drive to go up 14-0.
It is gratifying to see Gailey experience success with these kind of gambles, but the only other point I have about this is why wait until Week 17 to take these risks, when you had 16 prior weeks to not show so much predictability.
The Bills had basically been highly predictable throughout the year, so doing something different today was like a breath of fresh air.
Look for my article later this week, when we address the Bills' 2011 season in a detailed overview of all the good, bad and ugly that made up the 2011 version of the Buffalo Bills.