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'Field position' a flimsy reason for Doug Marrone's decision to punt

By Jay Skurski

Priority No. 1 for every Buffalo Bills head coach should be avoiding comparisons to Gregg Williams.

But it was easy to make one Sunday with Doug Marrone.

Trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-3, at the start of the fourth quarter, Marrone elected to punt on fourth and 5 from the Steelers' 36-yard line.

The decision hearkened back to 2002,  when Williams infamously punting from the New England Patriots' 32-yard line on a fourth-and-2 play in the third quarter of a game the Bills were trailing by 10 points. 

Here was the explanation offered by Marrone for Sunday's call after the game:

"I still think we’re going to get enough possessions trying to play the field position. We weren't able to make big plays, so I was trying to play the field position where we could get good field position and pin them back. I thought the defense was doing well for the most part, except for we gave up a couple plays. Man coverage, we lost a guy. They beat us in man-to-man a couple times. The reverse was a play, we missed that. That's what I was thinking at that time."

The problem with playing field position at that time is that the Bills had done absolutely nothing with it until that point. Buffalo's first three possessions began on the Pittsburgh 29-yard line, the Pittsburgh 44 and the Buffalo 44. The Bills got a field goal on those three drives combined, going three and out twice.

The Bills started at their own 48-yard line on the drive in which Marrone decided to punt. They gained 16 yards on five plays before failing to convert a third and 5. Brian Moorman punted 25 yards to the Pittsburgh 11, where Antonio Brown made a fair catch.

The decision to punt officially backfired when the Steelers converted a third-and-4 play to get the ball out to their 26-yard line. Pittsburgh then gained one more first down before eventually being forced to punt, but by that time the Steelers had flipped the field -- and ran 4:15 off the clock. Mat McBriar's 44-yard punt was returned for a loss of 1 yard by the Bills' Leodis McKelvin, meaning the Bills took over at their 22-yard line with 9:47 to play. EJ Manuel threw an interception on the next play.


Brian Moorman | Doug Marrone | EJ Manuel | Leodis McKelvin
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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 |