Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: B
Fred Jackson lost a fumble on the game’s first play to give the Cardinals a three-point spot before the national anthem singer had time to grab a sip of water. But the Bills’ ground game was a guiding influence in a game when Ryan Fitzpatrick’s arm was scattershot. C.J. Spiller ran 12 times for 88 yards and a touchdown. Jackson had 53 yards and punched in a TD at the goal line.
PASSING GAME: D+
Fitzpatrick was his usual, maddening self. He regularly misfired, throwing balls that were behind receivers and at their feet. He went 18 of 32 for 153 yards and no touchdowns, but he didn’t have any interceptions either. The Cardinals sacked him twice. In the first half, he had 44 yards and averaged 2.4 yards an attempt. Brad Smith’s fourth-quarter interception out of the Wildcat was a bewildering call from Chan Gailey.
RUN DEFENSE: B
The Bills did what they were supposed to do against a patchwork offensive line and third-string running back. They stuffed LaRod Stephens-Howling on a regular basis, limiting him to 2.2 yards a carry, but gave up 70 yards on 13 attempts to William Powell. Kevin Kolb’s quarterback scrambles made the Bills’ run defense stats look worse than they played.
PASS DEFENSE: A
Buffalo’s defensive line was drooling before the game started and feasted on the crummy unit in front of them. Buffalo recorded two interceptions, a safety and five sacks (defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker Nick Barnett had two apiece). The Bills could’ve had a slew more if Kolb didn’t turn into Fran Tarkenton every two or three plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
The Bills won the game with a deflection of Jay Feely’s last-second field-goal attempt and Rian Lindell’s third field goal of the season. But they were burned on a fake punt that went for 24 yards and two penalties on kicks. Punter Shawn Powell was shaky.
Gailey and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt put together game plans that were good enough to win, but not by a lot. You easily could argue the Bills won in spite of themselves. If not for Alex Carrington getting a piece of Feely’s kick, the Bills are losers again. Gailey’s decision to have Smith throw out of the Wildcat when the Bills were about to make it a two-score game in the fourth quarter nearly doomed them. And declining to kick a field goal in overtime?
Grading the Cardinals
RUNNING GAME: C-
The Cardinals did what they could. William Powell (undrafted last year) ran for a healthy 5.4-yard average. Stephens-Howling (2009 seventh-round draft choice with 295 career yards entering this season) was borderline useless. Take away Kolb’s scrambles and a fake punt and the Cardinals rushed for 92 yards.
PASSING GAME: D+
Kolb looked like David Blaine on a handful of plays before getting knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. When he did throw the ball, he was mediocre. Kolb was 14 of 26 for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He threw Larry Fitzgerald’s way 12 times, but they connected on only half of them. John Skelton, the opening-day starter, completed two of his 10 throws and had an interception in relief.
RUN DEFENSE: C
The Bills controlled the game on the ground when they didn’t try to get cute. Aside from Jackson’s fumble, the Cardinals’ run defense didn’t do much. Spiller and Jackson had enough room to gain yards at a consistent clip. Smith had a Wildcat run that went 16 yards and set up Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: B
The Cardinals performed well here. They sacked Fitzpatrick twice, refused to get fooled on the Wildcat pass and blew up a couple of screen plays before they could get started. Fitzpatrick’s inaccuracies helped the Cardinals on occasion, but their combination of pressure and tight coverage allowed the Bills to gain an average of only 4 yards per pass play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
It’s difficult to fault Jay Feely for the blocked field goal. Sometimes a defender simply makes a big play, and Carrington did just that. Feely’s 61-yard field goal to tie the game with just over a minute to play was a franchise record and personal best. He also made two kicks of 49 yards. The Cardinals’ fake punt worked, and their coverage unit took Leodis McKelvin out of the game.
Ken Whisenhunt has found ways to win all season and nearly pulled out another victory with his backup quarterback, third- and fourth-string running backs and a ramshackle offensive line. The Cardinals did show some lapses in discipline, especially fullback Reagan Mauia’s delay-of-game call for spiking the ball after a good run when the Cardinals were marching. The Cardinals had seven penalties for 67 yards.
Grading the Bills