The Buffalo Bills struggled in the first half, but got outstanding play from their defense throughout to help them win despite their ineffectiveness, 26-10 over the visiting Cleveland Browns this afternoon.
Safety Da’Norris Searcy had two interceptions and Jerry Hughes had a forced fumble and defensive touchdown which helped lead the way on defense, the unit as a whole held the Browns to just 315 yards with only 26 of those yards coming on the ground.
The defensive line was top notch yet again this game, and while they only had two sacks on the day (one to Kyle Williams and the other to Nigel Bradham) they played an instrumental role in stopping the run, and also caused enough pressure up front for Cleveland that they had to switch to their backup quarterback after Brain Hoyer had a brutal day posting a 18 of 30 for 192 yards and those two interceptions.
The secondary also slowed down Josh Gordon, after the playmaking wide receiver opened up the game hot. At halftime, Gordan had six receptions on 10 targets for 57 yards.
He finished the game seeing just three more targets, hauling in two of them for 18 more yards.
For a while, this game had the ghosts of Bills/Browns pasts, as it was 3-0 after the first half.
The turning point in Buffalo’s favor occurred about half way through the third quarter on their second possession of the half.
Buffalo was driving but was faced with a huge call on 4
th and 3 from the Cleveland 37.
Orton dropped back before lofting a ball deep down the left sidelines to Robert Woods (4 receptions, 71 yards) who was able to haul it in despite getting interfered with as he tried to come down with the ball in very tight coverage.
On the very next play, Orton would hook up with Chris Hogan, who beat everyone to the flats and then into the end zone for a 3-yard score to give Buffalo their first lead of the game, 7-3.
After a Buffalo touchback, Cleveland started off their ensuing drive with a Terrance West handoff, which turned out to be a mistake after Jerry Hughes striped West after a 2-yard loss, then picked up the fumble and returned it 18 yards the other way for a score.
And just like that, an entire half of terrible football was erased for Buffalo in 10 seconds, as they took the lead and wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the game.
Johnny Manziel would come in late, and try to make things interesting going 3 of 4 for 54 yards and a 10-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 20-10, but more strong defense and a couple Dan Carpenter field goals would put the Bills ahead for good 26-10.
The win improves Buffalo’s record to 7-5, and keeps their slight playoff hopes alive for at least another week.
Cleveland also sits at 7-5 with the loss and also are on the outside looking in, as every single team in their division is ahead of them. They also now drop their tiebreaker in the wildcard to Buffalo as well, all but ending their season already as well.
If you are Buffalo, you have to pay Jerry Hughes after the year. He will be just 27 at the beginning of next year’s season and is a building block that you want to keep on your team as he is entering the prime of his career. Week in and week out he has been an important factor on what they are trying to do on that side of the ball. His 40 tackles, and 9.5 sacks this year speak for themself. Let him and Mario Williams bookmark that defensive line for years to come and you won’t have to worry about generating pressure anytime soon.
You also need to find a starting quarterback. Kyle Orton just isn’t the guy, and while he is proving to be a decent stopgap, the Bills really need to find someone they believe in. Orton was off all game, and if he doesn’t get such help from his defense, the Bills lose this one for sure. The offense is just so predictable and Orton has really struggled tremendously with his accuracy in recent weeks. He also threw a bad red zone interception, completely looking Sammy Watkins way the whole time. Former Bill Jim Leonard read it the whole way and intercepted it to kill another red zone possession without a touchdown. 17 of 31 for 190 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions just isn’t going to cut it.
The Bills also struggled again tremendously on third down attempts. They were 2 for 15 in their chances to convert, which puts them at a 13% conversion clip. Point blank, this is not going to win you football games. Look at the Browns, they were just 3 for 12 (25%) and only put 10 points on the board as they constantly struggled to maintain drives. When your quarterback is as off as Orton was, it is really hard to keep the chains moving. It will also be hard to keep getting wins if this trend continues.
How about the Bills getting youngster MarQueis Gray involved in their offense? Gray didn’t make any noise when the Bills claimed him on waivers just a week ago, and for good reason. He was virtually an unknown, on his fourth team in under two years. The Bills might have found a diamond in the rough, as Gray is a super athlete (he played quarterback in college at Minnesota and has bounced from tight end,to half back, to wide receiver during his college and pro days) and showed the athleticism for a position that the Bills don’t have any elite athletes at (sorry Scott Chandler). The Bills offense has needed a game changing tight end for years, and while I am not going to let one game let us get ahead of ourselves, it would be nice to see the Bills have a young project on the roster. He made two big plays for 71 yards, including one of his long receptions coming on a key third down conversion (one of the two they had all game). I’d like to see him get mixed in a little bit more in the coming weeks, so they can see what they can get out of the youngster.
I am going to say, I was pretty shocked that the Browns turned to “Johnny Football”. In season, the back ups have very limited, if barely any reps with the first team, so I didn’t really think that a cold Manziel would give them a better chance to win than an ineffective Hoyer. I was proved sort of wrong, as Manziel did look sharp in his limited time (showed off a strong, mostly accurate arm) and scored a rushing touchdown, but in reality we still have nothing about this player other than hype. I really like his skill set and want to see what he can do, but let’s stop the ESPN’s of the world from anointing this guy the next big thing when all he really did in the grand scheme of things was score a touchdown in garbage time. Relax and let the kid just play.
It is nice to see Fred Jackson back at near 100% for the Bills. I know for a fact he isn’t all the way there, as he is such a tough guy who will push through just about anything, but he is showing he is well enough to take over the workload again for the Bills backfield. He out-touched the other backs 24-9, and looked like he was running with a purpose. If he could’ve gotten some help from his line, his day would’ve finished a little bit better than 71 yards and just 3.3 yards a carry, but some of those carries also came real late in kill clock mode, so it can be forgiven. Nice to see one of their biggest leaders back near full health for the stretch run when they need all the help they can get out of their running game.
Sammy Watkins had another forgettable week, posting just three receptions on nine targets for 11 yards. His catches were of 5, 3 and 3 yards. I know that defenses are really trying to take him away, and he had some really bad balls thrown his way today, it is just concerning that the Bills don’t do more to get him open. We saw Josh Gordon from Cleveland constantly moving around their formations and catching a lot of plays on crossing routes over the middle, something we already saw Watkins take advantage of early in the season. They have to do a better job of coming up with creative plays to get the ball in his hands. The screenplays they ran today were dreadful, and caught no one off guard. Good teams find ways to get their number one receiver involved no matter the coverage and the Bills need to find a way to. He is one of their most explosive (if not the most on offense without CJ Spiller because of injury), he has to get the ball, plan and simple.
And to end on a less serious note, shout out to Bills fans today. They had to sit through a terrible first half but stuck with it and got very loud in the second as the Ralph turned into a rocking place. They also showed their creative side, getting a very loud anti-Donte Whitner chant happen multiple times late in the fourth while giving it to Johnny Football as well. After an apparent sack/strip/touchdown (which I still don’t know how it got overturned), Bills fans made sure to give Manziel plenty of “money-signs” with their hands, duplicating the celebration he is known for and pulled off after his touchdown run. The crowd also got very loud at the beginning of the game, as Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly lead the Bills out of the tunnel wearing a Darryl Talley jersey. If you missed the eye-opening profile on Talley and his struggles with
life after football by Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, make sure to check it out. It isn’t always this picture perfect ending once the game is over for these NFL stars and after learning of his post career struggles, Bill’s fans and the city of Buffalo have raised over $134,000 and counting for Talley and his family on a go-fund-me page. The Bills faithful came out strong after losing a game to a snowstorm just a week before. Kudos Buffalo.
Around the Locker Rooms
With the snowstorm last week, was it important to win at home for your hometown fans?
“Absolutley. It was great. We knew they were upset they couldn’t be there with us <last week>, but we knew they were back at the Ralph cleaning it out for the next home game. Coach Marrone said, “These fans love you. They want to see you win back at the Ralph. Let’s bring a win back to the Ralph.””
-Bills Safety Da’Norris Searcy
Is it daunting or inspiring that you have Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in these next four weeks?
“Well, if it’s daunting and you’re worried or you’re scared about it, I don’t want to play with you. It’s a challenge obviously, great players. We feel like we’re pretty good players too, so we have to prepare, we have to be on top of our business and go out there and try to win one football game. You can’t lose sight of the forest for the trees, you can’t look at everybody, you can only focus on what you have in front of you and we have a good test in front of us.”
-Bills Defensive Tackle Kyle Williams
“I’m proud of the players. There’s no doubt about it. Where it comes from me is that I know and believe how well we can play when we execute at a higher level. That’s what we have to do. That’s what you have to do to win in this league. When you get the ball down there, you’ve got to finish these drives and finish these things as you go. Everything I’m saying to you guys, I’ve talked to the players about before. We understand that and that’s why we continue to come to practice everyday and work our butts off.”
-Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone
“It wouldn’t be <hard going back to Hoyer>. We’ll hit the reset button. We’re not going to overreact when we win and we’re certainly not going to overreact when we lose. We’ll get out of here and get back to a less emotional environment in the offices and study it and ask that question and come up with an answer.”
-Browns Head Coach and former Bills D-Coordinator Mike Pettine
“Yeah, the first drive, very nervous getting in there for the first time in a live-game setting. It’s been a long time, since week four of preseason. So it felt very good to get back out there. Very thankful for the teammates I had on offense to work me and allow me to overcome a few hurtles, getting in there for the first time, calling the play right, getting everything, making sure everything is lined up. It’s a lot different in a game than it is getting a couple snaps here and there in practice.”
-Browns Quarterback Johnny Manziel
On Tap for Next Week: at Denver Broncos (8-3), 1:00 PM (eastern)
The Bills get a huge test in facing one of the best teams in the NFL. The thing about these up-coming games that we forget is about how good this defense really is. The Rams gave the Broncos a ton of problems just a couple weeks ago, and this is a Bills defense that will be able to get after Peyton Manning and give them some of the same problems St. Louis did. It’ll come down to the secondary having enough guys to stop his endless weapons along with the offense at least putting something on the board. Even in a strong defensive effort, you’re going to need at least 20 points to beat the Broncos (and that’s being generous). For now though, the Bills are very much alive, although a loss would all but put the season on life support.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but you know how the saying goes, a win is a win in today’s NFL. The team can celebrate for a night, but it’s back to work right away for this squad. Preparation for this game against Denver is going to be key. You need to outthink Peyton, which is never an easy task to do. It’s hard, because we saw them lose some very winable games, but if you would’ve told me the Bills would be 7-5 at this point in the season before it started, I would’ve been more than happy with that result. This team is on the right track in terms of mentality and putting a lot of talent in place. We will get to see exactly how far they have come from year’s past in these up-coming weeks.
Photos by ProPlayerInsider’s Derek Zeller
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