TAMPA, Fla. — Big plays have done big damage to the Buffalo Bills’ defense over the past couple weeks.
The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have combined for nine plays of 20 or more yards in victories over the Bills — a major reason the team’s streak of consecutive seasons without reaching the postseason is all but mathematically certain to reach 14.
It took the Bucs just 18 seconds to strike Sunday, with running back Bobby Rainey racing 80 yards to the end zone on the game’s second play from scrimmage. The run was the longest in Tampa Bay team history.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘hey, that’s the play that lost the game.’ You have to be able to overcome those plays. That’s what good football teams do,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said after the game. “But at the end of the day, you can’t give teams that type of chunk.”
Using the definition of a big play as a 20-yard run or 40-yard pass, the Bills have allowed 27 such plays (14 runs, 13 passes), most in the NFL in 2013. That doesn’t count a 38-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson later in the first quarter Sunday for the Buccaneers during their 27-6 victory.
“It can be a morale killer, a couple big plays early on,” Bills linebacker Manny Lawson said. “We stop them here and there, but we just aren’t technically sound. I think it’s just trying to do too much. A guy trying to make a play, he’ll be in one gap and then vacate that gap to make a play, and that’s where the ball spits out at.”
Lawson said Rainey’s run had a lingering effect on the defense.
“We were thinking about that one and got down,” he said. “I think it played some type of role.”
It’s not just the Bills’ defense that has been victimized. In fact, each unit has been an offender. The Bills’ special teams gave up a momentum-swinging 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in a Week Five loss at Cleveland. In a Week 9 loss to the Chiefs, quarterback Jeff Tuel threw an interception that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown in what may be the lowlight of the season.
“Inconsistency” has been the buzzword in the Bills’ locker room the past few weeks, being heard more than “Jingle Bells” this time of year. That word is a bit of a catchall, however, and doesn’t offer a clear explanation as to how the team’s defense is giving up yardage in such big chunks.
“I guess miscommunication or guys in the wrong spots. Honestly, I don’t know,” safety Aaron Williams said, himself searching for an answer to what’s gone wrong. “Maybe it’s just one of those things where it’s a great call by the offense. Either way, it happened, you’ve got to learn from it.”
For years, the Bills have talked about their defensive efforts in exclusionary terms – if it weren’t for this or that long play, the statistics would tell a different story. Sunday’s game is a perfect example – Rainey gained 47 yards on 21 carries (2.2 yards per rush) after his 80-yard run. Glennon managed just 52 passing yards outside of his touchdown throw to Jackson.
But the damage was done.
“We came out flat and not ready to play,” Lawson said. “They showed up and we didn’t. They did an excellent job running with the momentum. It’s one that got away from us. It’s all about character and how you respond when adversity strikes – and we’ve seen a lot of adversity our way.
“More than anything, how to respond to adversity – a loss or a big play – is something we have to learn.”
With only three games remaining in the season, it’s so far been a lesson not learned.
“It’s almost like a, ‘uh oh, did we let that happen?’ type mode. Or it’s the old, not necessarily ‘here we go again,’ but ‘hey, we’ve given this play up somewhere before,’ and someone has to just step up and we have to make a play at that time,” Marrone said.
One of the key differences between the losses to Atlanta and Tampa Bay is the big plays on the offensive side of the ball. The Bills had five plays of 20 or more yards against the Falcons, and just two against the Bucs.
A defense that puts the team in a big hole and an offense that lacks the firepower to dig out of it equals the ugly effort the Bills put forth Sunday.
“It goes back to that word – ‘consistency.’ Down in and down out, being able to forget things and not think about things for the future and win that down at that moment,” Marrone said.