The Buffalo Bills’ offense was in desperate need of a pep talk.
After a second lost fumble in the first half Sunday against the New England Patriots, coach Doug Marrone gathered every offensive player in a Buffalo uniform in a huddle along the bench during a replay review.
Marrone quickly broke away to get back to the game, but the gathering continued with veteran running back Fred Jackson leading an impassioned speech.
“I just told them there were things that we were doing to ourselves. They didn’t stop us in the first half,” Jackson said. “There were self-inflicted injuries to us on offense.”
Penalties and drops were among the Bills’ offensive follies, but most egregious were the two lost fumbles. The first one by C.J. Spiller came on the Bills’ second play from scrimmage. Then Marquise Goodwin put the ball on the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf after a short gain with less than 4 minutes to play in the second quarter.
Both times, the Patriots cashed in short fields for touchdowns, opening up a 17-7 lead with 1:55 remaining in the first half. At that point in the game, the Bills had run 26 offensive plays, producing zero points and just 91 yards of total offense.
“I said if we get out of our own way, you know, we’ll get this rolling,” Jackson said.
It didn’t happen immediately – the Bills went three and out on their next possession after Jackson’s speech – but the offense caught a break when Justin Rogers intercepted Tom Brady with 1:03 left in the first half to set up the Bills at the New England 37-yard line.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel completed two straight passes, the second of which went for an 18-yard touchdown to Robert Woods. Down just 17-14 going into halftime, the Bills continued their momentum in the third quarter – led by Jackson.
With the Patriots’ defense largely bottling up Spiller, Jackson led the Bills with 13 carries for 67 yards, an average of 5.2 per rush (Spiller rushed 17 times for 41 yards). He also gained 41 yards on four receptions (Spiller had five catches for only 14 yards).
For a player who was supposed to take a backseat to Spiller this year, Jackson outgained him from scrimmage, 108-55.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could play,” Jackson said. “I still think I’ve got a lot left in the tank and you know when my number’s called I’m going to go out there and do whatever I can to help get this team rolling.
“There’s some satisfaction there, but the No. 1 goal whenever you step on that field is to win the football game so, you know, we’ve gotta fix what mistakes we made and continue to try and get better.”
Jackson said it was clear the Patriots’ main priority was to take away Spiller.
“Rightfully so,” Jackson said. “He’s played out of his mind the last two years, so it’s just my job, when I get that opportunity, to try and take some of that pressure off of him.”
The Bills opened up a 21-17 lead with a touchdown on their first drive of the second half, but could not make the offensive plays needed down the stretch in what turned into a 23-21 loss.
“The fact that we are a good team,” he said. “We hurt ourselves a lot today. If we can correct those mistakes we can have a different outcome.”