The shame of what has happened to the Bills in the midst of one of the worst offensive performances in recent NFL history is that they are laying to waste a defense that has played at a mostly high level all season.
“It’s tough,” said cornerback Tre’Davious White. “We come out and hold those guys to one touchdown and we still can’t get the win.”
He was talking of the high-octane Patriots who defeated the Bills 25-6 despite scoring only one offensive touchdown. The Buffalo defense forced five field goal attempts (four were made) and New England also scored on defense, a pick-six 84-yard return by Devon McCourty in the final minutes to put a bow on their 32nd win in the last 37 games against Buffalo.
“They came hard and played hard,” said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught only three passes for 43 yards. “They brought game, they weren’t backing down at all. When you’ve got players on the other side of the ball coming hard in the NFL, it’s always going to be a tough challenge.”
Said Brady, “They’ve been playing good all year and they haven’t given up many yards. But we hung in there and we grinded it out.”
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is as frustrated as anyone, but he also knows that he and the rest of his teammates on defense can’t moan about it; they have to continue to grind, keep the Bills in games, and hope that at some point the offense will escape the incubator.
“This is an offensive league, so it’s hard to hold people to three points, but we have that mentality every week,” he said. “We haven’t been able to accomplish that, but at the end of the day we have to get more turnovers because obviously, we’re having a hard time scoring touchdowns.”
It won’t get any easier Sunday when the Bills meet a Chicago Bears defense that ranks seventh in yards allowed, third against the run, and first in interception percentage and fewest first downs permitted.
And now, bake in the Nathan Peterman Factor and things could potentially get very ugly.
It appears that Peterman is going to be forced to start because Derek Anderson is in concussion protocol, and Josh Allen remains out with an elbow injury. The Bills signed journeyman Matt Barkley Wednesday, but he won’t be ready to play, so it’s Peterman’s show, and that’s about the very last thing any Bills fan wants to see.
“We’re going to support Nathan if, in fact, he is called upon to play,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We’re going to support him with everything we’ve got and we expect him to go out and execute, and execute at a high level.”
Executing at a high level is a virtual impossibility and surely, deep down, McDermott must know this. If Peterman can execute at a functional level, and stop throwing the ball to the other team (he has 10 picks on 84 career pass attempts), then perhaps the Bills, with their stout defense, will have a chance to pull the upset.
If Peterman does what Peterman has always done, then the train to irrelevance will keep chugging down the tracks, both for Peterman, and the Bills.
This is the 13th regular-season meeting, and the Bears lead 7-5. Buffalo won the last meeting on opening day in 2014. The game prior to that was a Bills home game that was played in Toronto and the Bears pulled out a 22-19 victory at Rogers Centre during a period when the Bills were playing one home game per season north of the border.
BY THE NUMBERS
13 – Teams in NFL history going back to 1940 who have scored only seven touchdowns in the first eight games of a season. Of that group, Buffalo’s negative 113-point differential is sixth-worst.
- QB Derek Anderson is in concussion protocol and will likely be out for the game against the Bears.
- QB Nathan Peterman is expected to be the starter Sunday against the Bears, but only because he’s the only healthy and viable QB on the roster.
- QB Matt Barkley was signed to a one-year deal on Wednesday and will probably have to serve as Peterman’s backup.
- WR Terrelle Pryor was signed off the waiver wire Tuesday and is expected to play against Chicago.
- DE Shaq Lawson started in place of injured Trent Murphy against the Patriots and he was in on three tackles.
- TE Charles Clay caught three passes for 36 yards, but his lack of production continues to hurt the Bills. He has only 19 catches for 161 yards this season.
- RB Chris Ivory made the most of his six rushing attempts against New England as he gained 34 yards. He also caught one pass for 11 yards.
- TE Jason Croom had one catch for 14 yards, but he also failed to secure what would have been a 25-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter that could have cut the Bills deficit to one score.
- RB Marcus Murphy has taken over the kickoff return duties, but while he had a 29-yard return, he also coughed one up, though it was ruled that he was down by contact.
- CB Phillip Gaines was a favorite target for Patriots QB Tom Brady, and the evidence was the 10 tackles he was forced to make, most after balls were caught on him.
- LB Tremaine Edmunds suffered a concussion Monday and is in the protocol this week.
- LB Julian Stanford stepped in to replace Edmunds in the second half and he made two tackles, though he also whiffed on a critical third-down play that helped keep a Patriots’ scoring drive alive.
CB Tre’Davious White. He has been the best player on a defense that, despite all of Buffalo’s struggles, has played at a playoff-caliber level. White has been asked to cover the opposition’s best receiver every week, and he has consistently won his battles. He played a major role in limiting the Chargers’ Keenan Allen to 67 yards, Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs to 17 yards, Tennessee’s Corey Davis to 49 yards, and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins to 63 yards. White may not get Pro Bowl consideration because of the state of the Bills, but he should.
MLB Tremaine Edmunds. The second of Buffalo’s two first-round picks has shown remarkable athleticism and instincts despite being asked to serve as the quarterback of the defense. He has not been good in pass coverage as he too often bites on fakes or gets confused on crossing routes, but thanks to his sideline to sideline talent, he still leads the Bills in tackles and looks like a star in the making once he gains some experience.
WR Kelvin Benjamin. Not only has he been next to useless statistically with just 16 catches for 262 yards and one touchdown, all you have to do is watch him when the ball is not thrown his way to see how little effort as he given all season. He is a free agent in 2019, and his lack of performance is costing him years and money on any potential change of scenery. He was acquired in a trade from Carolina at this time last year, and it has proven to be a terrible deal for the Bills.
WR Zay Jones. There have been almost no bright spots on this Buffalo offense in 2018, but at least Jones seems to be showing some growth in his second NFL season. Last year, the second-round draft pick struggled mightily adapting to the more physical pro game and he caught just 27 passes for 316 yards and 2 TDs. In eight games this year, he has basically become the Bills’ No. 1 WR and now leads the team with 25 catches for 281 yards and he has one of Buffalo’s three TD receptions. Jones is ideally a slot receiver who has had to play outside because the Bills have no one else capable beyond Kelvin Benjamin. If the Bills can upgrade the position next year, Jones may be able to begin reaching the potential the Bills saw him during his record-setting career at East Carolina when he set the all-time Division I record with 399 receptions.
It’s almost impossible to play offense as poorly as the Bills have played it all season, and now they have to turn back to incompetent Nathan Peterman to start at QB against the Bears. Coordinator Brian Daboll is at his wits end as the Bills are on their third starting QB, and now he has to keep him upright with a weak offensive line that could get manhandled by Khalil Mack and the Bears. The Bills would like to run, but the Bears are third in the NFL in stopping the run. Do they really want to put the ball in Peterman’s hands? They may not have a choice.
The Bears have been a tough team to stop on the ground, and that’s the best way to attack the Bills, especially if rookie MLB Tremaine Edmunds can’t play due to a concussion. Bears RBs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard have combined for 688 rushing yards, and Cohen has been a game-breaker as he has a video game-like 8.0-yard average per attempt. QB Mitchell Trubisky is still a work in progress, and while he has played well this season, it’s easy to see the Bears trying to pound the Bills on the ground, at least until Buffalo proves it can stop them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills LB Matt Milano on Bears RB Tarik Cohen. The Bears have done a great job scheming things to get Cohen in space, and he has paid huge dividends, not only the ground with his 8.0 average per carry, but with 398 yards on 30 pass receptions, all of which has resulted in four touchdowns. Milano has had a rollercoaster season, but when he has played well, he’s been great. If Edmunds can’t play, Milano will need to step up against Cohen.
Bills OTs vs. Bears OLB Khalil Mack. Mack missed the first game of his NFL career last week against the Jets. If he plays in the town where he went to college and became a star, he’ll be a load for the Bills, no matter which side he lines up. Both LT Dion Dawkins and RT Jordan Mills will not be able to handle him alone, so the Bills have to find a way to keep Mack away from QB Nathan Peterman as well as RBs LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory.