Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

First-quarter analysis: Big plays killing the Bills

By Jay Skurski

It took all of 4 seconds for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to jump ahead of the Buffalo Bills today in Raymond James Stadium.

Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey raced 80 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown on Tampa’s second play from scrimmage to give his team a 7-0 lead. Rainey blew past Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso to get into the open field.

It was a career-long run for Rainey, who took over as the starter for the Bucs after season-long injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James.

Bucs hit another big one: Tampa Bay went up, 14-3, on a 38-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to receiver Vincent Jackson. Glennon scrambled right, then heaved a bomb to the end zone that Jackson tracked down despite being interfered with by Bills cornerback Nickell Robey.

Penalty help: A pair of personal foul penalties against Tampa Bay assisted the Bills in the first quarter. The first came against linebacker Dekoda Watson, who ran into punter Brian Moorman. The Bills, however, were not able to capitalize and Moorman punted again four plays later. On Buffalo’s next possession, Bucs linebacker Mason Foster was penalized for hitting defenseless Bills receiver Stevie Johnson. The Bills got a 40-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter on the drive.

Lineup changes: The Bills started rookie seventh-round draft pick Chris Gragg at tight end in place of Scott Chandler. Buffalo also benched fullback Frank Summers, making him inactive in favor of Evan Rodriguez.

Lee Smith's work often unnoticed, which means he's doing it well

By Tim Graham

Of the Buffalo Bills' four tight ends, the one who gets talked about the least is Lee Smith.

That's because he has been quietly doing his grunt job all year.

Smith has three catches for 47 yards without a touchdown. But his primary job isn't to make downfield plays; it's to get in the defense's way.

ProFootballFocus.com rates Smith the NFL's best pass-blocking tight end.

Among tight ends who've played at least 25 percent of their teams' snaps, Smith is the only one not to have allowed a sack, hit or pressure. The Bills have used him on 98 pass plays and kept him in to block on 39 percent of them.

Smith has been used as a run blocker on 212 snaps, PFF's data shows.

PFF's charts also show why Scott Chandler, the Bills' second-leading receiver, rarely is asked to protect the quarterback.

He has played 416 snaps, but only 25 of them in a pass-blocking role. He has allowed a sack and three pressures.

Bills enter last quarter of the season quite healthy

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills will be healthy for Sunday's road game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bills coach Doug Marrone announced only receiver Marquise Goodwin (calf) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (Achilles) are on the final injury report, and each is probable.

Tight end Scott Chandler was back at practice after his wife gave birth to another girl Thursday night. Chandler will make the trip to Tampa.

Marrone revealed Thursday that newly signed tight end Tony Moeaki likely will not play Sunday.

Does Tony Moeaki signing put Scott Chandler on notice?

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills don't have any injuries at tight end.

But, on the sudden, they decided they needed to bring another one aboard.

The club's decision today to cut running back Tashard Choice and sign tight end Tony Moeaki doesn't sound promising for Scott Chandler's future.

Chandler lost a costly overtime fumble in Sunday's 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. As Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski wrote in Tuesday's paper, the Bills have a difficult decision to make when Chandler's contract expires after this year.

Moeaki said the Bills reached out and signed him within 24 hours.

"This all happened pretty quickly," Moeaki said this afternoon at One Bills Drive. "I'm just trying to catch my breath here and get started."

Moeaki, 26, said "every day I will look at as a tryout, just trying to prove myself."

The acquisition is reminiscent of the Bills claiming injury-prone pass-rusher Shawne Merriman off waivers from the San Diego Chargers in November 2010. It's a low-risk tryout for the final few weeks of the season.

Injuries have limited to Moeaki to 15 games over the past three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A preseason knee blowout ended his 2011 campaign. He suffered a broken shoulder in preseason this year, and the Chiefs released him from injured reserve in October.

While playing at Iowa, he dealt with a broken hand, dislocated elbow, wrist surgery and multiple foot surgeries.

"Injuries happen, and they happen at bad times," Moeaki said. "I'm not worried about them. They have a great training staff and strength and conditioning staff here. I'm just going to work with them and get ready to go."

Moeaki declined to discuss how many tryouts he had or with which teams, but he said he underwent "a couple physicals" before landing work.

Tony Moeaki a productive TE when healthy, which isn't often

By Tim Graham

Three days after tight end Scott Chandler fumbled in overtime, the Buffalo Bills have signed Tony Moeaki.

Moeaki, the Kansas City Chiefs' third-round draft choice in 2010, is a productive tight end when healthy. But he seems to be hurt more than he's active.

Moeaki broke his shoulder in the preseason. The Chiefs released him from injured reserve in October and has been a free agent. The Bills had an opening after they cut running back Tashard Choice.

Moeaki battled a slew of injuries at the University of Iowa (broken hand, dislocated elbow, wrist surgery, foot surgeries). But he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and three touchdowns as a Chiefs rookie.

He missed the 2011 season with a torn left knee ligament that preseason. He returned last year to post 33 receptions for 453 yards and a touchdown.

Analytics site shows EJ Manuel is NFL's least-accurate passer

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills essentially are into evaluation phase for the rest of the season.

No player needs to absorb experience over the last four games more than rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

The Bills and their weary fans still are learning about Manuel, who missed four games while recovering from a knee injury. He has looked good at times, and showed a flair for the dramatic with his game-winning touchdown drive against the Carolina Panthers in Week Two.

But one area of concern is his accuracy. Analytics site ProFootballFocus.com says Manuel has been the NFL's least-accurate passer this year.

Manuel ranks dead last out of the 30 quarterbacks who've handled at least 50 percent of their teams' pass plays. When the field is broadened to include quarterbacks who've handled 25 percent of their teams' pass plays, he is tied for 36th out of 38, ahead of only St. Louis Rams backup Kellen Clemens.

PFF's "quarterback accuracy percentage" metric takes a deeper look than standard completion percentage.

PFF gives the passer credit for dropped passes and does not consider the following incompletions: throwaways, spikes, batted passes or attempts while being hit.

Manuel's adjusted accuracy percentage is 66.4 percent, two-tenths of a percent worse than that of New York Jets rookie Geno Smith, who has completed 29 passes over his past four games.

On Manuel's 249 attempts, PFF counts 15 drops (he gets credit for a completion on those) plus two throwaways, one batted pass and four while being hit (he doesn't get faulted for any of those).

PFF's data tags Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for a team-high five drops, although that total also includes passes thrown by Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel. Tight end Scott Chandler and receiver Robert Woods have four drops apiece.

But Manuel is in decent company at the bottom of PFF's chart. Tom Brady is ranked 20th, Colin Kaepernick 24th, Andrew Luck 25th, Eli Manning 26th and Joe Flacco 27th.

Aaron Rodgers ranks first, followed by Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

Doug Marrone: 'I'm struggling' to deal with anxiety of 4-8 record

By Tim Graham

Doug Marrone admitted that some questions provide a fleeting moment of relief.

When reporters remind him this was supposed to be a rebuilding season anyway or ask about the bounces that could've put the Buffalo Bills in the middle of the playoff race, Marrone conceded those are easy exits ramps to escape his angst.

Marrone, though, said he's not like that.

Marrone closed his eyes, rested his head in one hand and kneaded his forehead while fielding questions at Sunday's postgame news conference. He was glum again this afternoon for the postmortem of a 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto.

"My expectations are extremely high," Marrone replied at One Bills Drive today when asked about acceptable growing pains. "I'm very disappointed in myself, with where we are, and it starts with me.

"I've got to find a way to get it better because I really believe that if I come across as the head coach and don't have those expectations, then we'll fall short of our goals at the end. I want to make sure that we're accountable, starting with myself, and keeping those things extremely high and keep fighting for that. We can do that.

"That's where I'm struggling. We have players here that are capable of winning games. We have coaches here that are capable of winning games, and we're not getting that done. That's where I'm struggling, to get ourselves over that top and creating that consistency."

The Bills, like many teams, break down their season schedule by quarters and try to win each four-game set. The Bills are entering their final quarter and have gone 2-2, 1-3 and 1-3 over their first three quarters.

The Bills have not been mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet, but their chances are microscopic. Plus, three of their last four games are on the road.

Marrone spoke today like a coach who's motivating his players not to pack it in.

"There has to come a point where you have to go forward and work and get the foundation right," Marrone said. "It's a work in progress, and I don't want to be that guy that stands up here and says that, but it is what it is.

"We're not satisfied, obviously, with the record or where we are. Being competitive and playing close is not what we do. What we're here to do is to win. At the end of the day, we haven't gotten that done consistently."

The Bills are 1-5 away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. They haven't won consecutive games since Weeks Two and Three last year, but they've had their chances to win more than four times.

They should have beaten the Falcons on Sunday, but late fumbles from Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler ended their hopes. The also lost the New England Patriots on a field goal with five seconds left, fell to the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime and had the Kansas City Chiefs on the ropes but gave up a pair of defensive touchdowns to lose by 10 points.

"It's difficult," Marrone said. "It gives you a moment of relief to think 'What if? What if?'

"But, for me, the way I handle things, it gives me high levels of anxiety. It hurts me that we collectively -- players and coaches, and it starts with me -- can't get it over the top where you can start that run."

Points after: Falcons 34, Bills 31 OT

81172 McCoy Sports Bills  2

By Tim Graham

TORONTO -- Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' demoralizing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Rogers Centre ...

What it means: The Bills, trying to keep their playoff hopes alive, took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but allowed the Falcons to tie the game at 17 by halftime. The Bills led 31-24 in the fourth quarter, but let the Falcons tie it again and then fumbled away the victory in the closing seconds. With a Miami Dolphins victory over the New York Jets today, the Bills are in last place and two games out of second place in the AFC East.

Play of the game: Stevie Johnson caught a third-down pass for what would have put the Bills within Dan Carpenter's field-goal range, but he fumbled at the Falcons' 30-yard line with 10 seconds left in regulation time. Without that fumble, tight end Scott Chandler wouldn't have fumbled on the first overtime possession.

Bills player of the game: Toronto's crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford, showed up to the game in a Fred Jackson uniform, and Jackson lived up to the endorsement. Jackson scored a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown for only the second time in his career. The first time was in 2010 against the Detroit Lions. Jackson gained 78 yards from scrimmage.

Spiller strikes: C.J. Spiller made a pair of gargantuan runs. On the Bills' second play from scrimmage, he ran 77 yards to set up a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, he scampered 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Spiller finished with a season-high 149 rushing yards.

Falcons player of the game: Ankle and hamstring injuries have made Roddy White's season a colossal disappointment. His best game had been four receptions for 45 yards. Versus the Bills he caught 10 passes for 143 yards and midway through the third quarter accounted for 101 of Matt Ryan's 179 passing yards.

Turning point of the game: Kiko Alonso got off to a hot start with five takeaways in his first four pro games, but he didn't have another until today. With the Falcons seemingly seizing control of the game in the third quarter, Alonso recovered a botched snap. One play later, Jackson scored on a 21-yard catch-and run to tie the game at 24.

Sack attack: The Bills sacked Ryan six times, thrice on third down to force a punt. Jerry Hughes notched two sacks. Manny Lawson, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Corbin Bryant had one apiece.

Preliminary injury report: Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore needed assistance on the field with about 9:30 left in the third quarter because of a cramp and came out of the game long enough for replacement Ron Brooks to get beat by Tony Gonzalez for a touchdown. Gilmore returned to action. ... Linebacker Arthur Moats left the game in the second half with an undisclosed injury.

Coming up: The Bills will travel three times in their final four games, including two straight in Florida. They will visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 15.

Third-quarter analysis: Kiko Alonso's fumble recovery sets up score

By Jay Skurski    

TORONTO -- Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso caem through with a huge play today just when the Buffalo Bills' defense needed it most. 

Alonso recovered a fumble by Atlanta running back Steven Jackson, giving the Bills the ball at the Falcons' 21-yard line.

On the next play, running back Fred Jackson took a short completion of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to the end zone, tying the game at 24 after Dan Carpenter's extra point. To that point, Buffalo had run only seven offensive plays in third quarter, and managed just one first down.

The Falcons had taken their first lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to tight end Tony Gonzalez. That completed a 10-play, 56-yard drive.

Three and out: The Bills started the second half the way they ended the first, with a three and out on their first possession of the third quarter. Manuel attempted to find tight end Scott Chandler on a third-and-7 play, but the ball was knocked away by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

Gilmore gets burned: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore continues to struggle for the Bills. Gilmore was beaten by Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas for a 13-yard gain on a play that looked like it was going to be a touchdown, but was reversed after a replay review. Douglas beat Gilmore inside, then bounced off a hit from safety Jairus Byrd before diving for the goal line. Earlier in the quarter, Gilmore took an illegal-use-of-hands penalty, giving Atlanta a first down when it would have been third and 14.

Stats watch: The Bills held the ball for only 3:52 in that quarter, compared to 11:08 for Atlanta. The Falcons went 4 of 5 on third down, while the Bills were 0 for 3.

Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods had 23 targets in first Jets game

By Tim Graham

The last time the Buffalo Bills played the New York Jets, quarterback EJ Manuel targeted Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods 23 times.

Johnson and Woods have been ruled out for Sunday's rematch in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Bills coach Doug Marrone said they would go with their four healthy receivers.

T.J. Graham, Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley will need to pick up the slack. Goodwin is the only one of that group with a touchdown this year. Easley made his first NFL catch last week.

Tight ends Scott Chandler and Chris Gragg will be even more important. Gragg also caught his first NFL passes last Sunday, but one of them was a touchdown.

Johnson leads the Bills with 41 catches, 471 yards and three touchdowns. Woods is second among wide receivers with 26 catches, 349 yards and two touchdowns.

« Older Entries
Advertisement

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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

Subscribe

Advertisement