The Buffalo Bills lost their season opener to the New England Patriots in heart-breaking fashion yesterday. The Bills had the lead for most of the second half but gave up a late field goal to lose the game 23-21. While the result may have been more of the same of what Bills fans have endured over the past 13 years, the on-field product certainly looked a lot different than it did when the likes of Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron manned the Bills’ sideline.
For starters Doug Marrone had several very curious decisions. His first challenge was a real head scratcher. Patriots RB Stevan Ridley fumbled a ball which was recovered by the Patriots anyway, but he still challenged. In hindsight he was probably right in that it wasn’t ruled a fumble on the field and was clearly a fumble, but it was a senseless move either way. Then there was running a no-huddle, hurry up offense in the 4th quarter when you have a lead. The Bills quickly gave the ball back to the Pats after three consecutive quick three-and-outs in the 4th quarter. I know Marrone may want to give control to first year OC Nathaniel Hackett, but he needs to figure out when it’s time to be the head coach and make an executive decision.
Speaking of Hackett I was not impressed with his game calling. He was too conservative at times and he was often predictable. When E.J. Manuel‘s first deep ball was nearly picked off he shied away from calling big plays. The only way Manuel is going to learn at this level is by taking chances. WR T.J. Graham barely showed up in the game plan at all. He touched the ball once on an end-around. I would have liked to have seen more screens called for the WRs. Finally, it seems like they ran the same running play on offense the whole game – a run to the left off of the shotgun snap and hand-off. That play might fly in the Big East, but it didn’t work in the NFL and I didn’t see any adjustments.
While Marrone and Hackett received low marks new DC Mike Pettine was as advertised. He promised an attacking defense and that is exactly what we got. Tom Brady was on his toes all day. There were multiple blitzes by linebackers and defensive backs, and the defense used multiple looks up front all day. This is a far cry from Dave Wannstedt‘s vanilla defense. Of note was the good play by the Bills’ defensive backs without their two best players. CB Leodis McKelvin looked great yesterday and should make a good duo in this defense when Stephon Gilmore gets back. S Da’Norris Searcy played like Jairus Byrd yesterday, making plays all over the field.
Overall I’d like to see the play-calling more diverse on offense. Hackett could learn a thing or two from Pettine because he had a different look for Brady all game long. We’ll see how they come out this weekend against the Panthers.