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Third downs doomed Bills more than clock management

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills fans sound upset over the no-huddle offense's inability to run time off the clock with a late lead Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Buffalo's real problem, though, was an inability to convert third downs.

Up-tempo offenses are no good when they record only four first downs. Buffalo failed to move the chains and kept the ball a mere 22:17. Buffalo's defense was on the field far too long, which showed when Tom Brady dissected it in the fourth quarter.

New England had 89 offensive plays to Buffalo's 61 plays.

"I don't think we're going to win a lot of time-of-possession battles this year, and we're fine with that," Bills center Eric Wood said. "We just need to run more plays. We would've liked to have their number of plays yesterday and wear them down a little more.

"When we were able to put drives together, I felt our tempo was great. But when we do go three-and-out, our defense is going to be hung out to dry."

The Bills converted four of their 13 third downs, which had an average distance of 6.6 yards to go. They needed to gain only 1 or 2 yards on six of their third downs.

In those third-and-short situations, the Bills passed four times and ran twice. The Bills had a seventh third-and-short situation that was converted by a 15-yard Fred Jackson catch-and-run but then erased by a Kraig Urbik hands-to-the-face penalty.

Six of the Bills' 14 possessions (not counting their final, desperation play) lasted three plays or fewer. They had two three-and-outs in the second quarter and two more in the fourth quarter.

"It comes down to execution," Bills tight end Scott Chandler said. "When you're going three-and-out quickly, that usually means you had either a penalty or you didn't execute. We had a lot of that yesterday. You just can't do that. We've got to play smarter football."

Buffalo's offense committed five penalties, four of which were accepted. Chandler was called for two of them.

Chandler called rookie quarterback EJ Manuel's performance "pretty phenomenal" but bemoaned all the mistakes that short-circuited the cause and kept the defense on the field.

"We've got a long ways to go offensively," Chandler said, "and we can help them out by putting them in better field-position situations, getting some drives and flipping the field and then sustaining some drives and keeping them fresh on the sidelines."

Here's a look at how the Bills' offense performed on third downs:

  • Third and 2: Manuel pass to Stevie Johnson for 13 yards (first down)
  • Third and 13: Manuel pass to C.J. Spiller for 0 yards
  • Third and 19: Manuel incomplete pass to Spiller
  • Third and 1: Spiller run for minus-1
  • Third and 3: Manuel pass incomplete to Johnson
  • Third and 2: Manuel pass incomplete to Chandler
  • Third and 1: Fred Jackson run for 2 yards (first down)
  • Third and 6: Manuel pass to Jackson for 11 yards (first down)
  • Third and 5: Manuel pass to Jackson for 14 yards (first down)
  • Third and 1: Manuel pass to Jackson for 15 yards (first down, penalty)*
  • Third and 11: Manuel pass to Johnson for 8 yards
  • Third and 12: Manuel pass incomplete to T.J. Graham
  • Third and 1: Manuel pass incomplete to Johnson
  • Third and 10: Manuel pass to Chandler for 4 yards

* Play wiped out by penalty


C.J. Spiller | EJ Manuel | Eric Wood | Fred Jackson | Scott Chandler | Stevie Johnson | T.J. Graham
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |