The fourth quarter has not been kind to the Buffalo Bills.
And that’s putting it nicely.
The Bills have been outscored, 90-28, in the final 15 minutes of games in their 3-5 start to the season. Since scoring 14 points in garbage time of the season opener against the New York Jets, the Bills have been held to just 14 in the fourth quarters of the following seven games. They haven’t scored a single point in the fourth quarter in their last four contests.
“The whole deal with that is we’ve been behind in three games really big. You go out there and throw it every snap, bad things happen and that’s when they end up getting field position and running the football and scoring. That’s where the imbalance comes,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said.
Gailey is referring to losses against the Jets, Patriots and 49ers. Against New York, the Bills trailed, 41-14, going into the fourth quarter. They were actually tied against New England, 21-21, but the Patriots scored on the first play of the fourth quarter and never stopped, putting up 31 points in a 52-28 win. Buffalo was down, 24-3, going into the fourth against San Francisco before giving up another 21 points in a 45-3 loss.
“I haven’t looked at that. That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said this week when fourth quarter scoring was brought up. “If we were winning a lot of games then that’s when we’d be trying to run down the clock. Obviously at 3-5, we’ve been on the wrong end more times than not. That’s something we’ll have to look at.”
Houston led, 14-9, entering the fourth quarter Sunday. The Texans opened a 12-point lead when Matt Schaub completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Graham 3:35 into the quarter. While it was still a two-possession game, it didn’t feel that close because Houston dominated the time of possession, holding an advantage of 11:29-3:31 in the fourth quarter.
Over the Bills’ last four games, the opponent has held the ball for 39:01, while Buffalo has had it for 20:59.
“I think teams, as the game’s going on, they’ve done a good job of [defending] what we’re trying to do,” running back C.J. Spiller said. “The plays are there to make, we just have to go make those plays. I think that’s pretty much the difference.”
Time of possession goes hand in hand with third-down conversions, and that’s another area the Bills have struggled over the last four scoreless fourth quarters. The team is just 1 for 10 converting third downs in the fourth quarter over that time span.
Carelessness with the ball is another reason for the trouble. Since the Week Four loss to the Patriots, Buffalo has lost six turnovers.
Expanded to include the third quarters, the Bills are being outscored, 152-76, in the second half of games. That number is 107-31 over the last five contests (not counting Buffalo’s game-winning field goal against Arizona in overtime).
Gailey had this to say about his team’s struggles in the second half following the Week Five loss at San Francisco.
“We’re looking at everything. We evaluate everything. We evaluate halftime adjustments. … What do we give them to eat or drink at halftime; you evaluate all of it,” he said. “The thing about it is, a year ago we played our best in the second half. So I don’t think as a coach you ever have the exact answer. You’re just looking to try to tweak a thing here or there to give yourself a chance to be better.”
While the problems at that time were mainly on defense, it’s the offensive struggles that were the biggest concern Sunday.
That was especially true in the red zone, where the Bills went 0 for 3 in scoring touchdowns.
“When you get down to the red zone, everything’s kind of tightened up. The coverages, you don’t have too much real estate to work with,” Spiller said. “So you really have to be precise down there. We just have to really work on the fundamentals once we get down there, and just have that attitude ‘we’re going to score, no matter what defense they got up.’ We’re going to get the ball in the end zone. Every individual’s got to have that mindset.”