Rapid Reaction: Bills 20, Bengals 23

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Updated: October 2, 2011
Bills+Bengals+Football

Now that I’ve had the chance to cool down a bit from the way the Bills just lost that game, here’s my attempt to rationalize what we saw today…

Bills fans are hot over two particular calls that were reviewed by the officials, and went the Bengals way both times. The first call came at 8:53 on a Buffalo 3rd and 1 near midfield. On a quick slant, Steve Johnson made, by the looks of all camera angles, a good catch, which would have extended a Buffalo drive to possibly make a Cincinnati comeback more difficult/impossible depending on how the drive resulted. The ball looked to be firmly in Johnson’s hands, never came loose, and then a line judge from the opposite side of the field came running over signaling incomplete, slapping the ground, and generally making a bigger spectacle of his call than the actual play, similar to the way basketball refs get when they make charging calls. Blowing a call is one thing, but if you are going to make a giant ass of yourself the way the ref did and overturn 3 other officials who didn’t see the ball touch the ground, you  had better make sure you get the call correct. As for the review, an endzone camera caught Steve’s hand clearly underneath the ball. I suppose you could make the case it wasn’t indisputable evidence to overturn, but I can’t imagine how it couldn’t have been catch, and regardless it should have never been ruled incomplete in the first place.

The second review came on what wound up being the Bengals game winning drive. On a 3rd and 3 with 53 seconds left, Andy Dalton scatted out to the right sideline amidst a closing Marcel Dareus. Dalton dove forward at the first down marker, and it didn’t appear clear either way whether he made it or not (despite Tasker’s certainty that he had gotten the 1st down). The refs spotted the ball after a measurement, the ball was inches short, and Cincy appeared ready to go for it. Soon enough, word for review came down, and after a few minutes referee Gene Seratore came out to the center of the field announcing that the ball would be marked at the 46, giving Cincinnati the first down.

This was a call I didn’t agree with; I thought it should have been 2/3 to the 46, which may or may not have been enough for a first down. The problem is given the context of the previous call, there was no clear evidence either way that Dalton had progressed the ball further than where they had originally marked it; it at least was not nearly as clear as evidence that Steve Johnson had caught his pass. If there isn’t going to be a standard as to what is and isn’t indisputable evidence, the least we should expect is that the refs are going to be consistent from call to call. That clearly wasn’t the case this afternoon, and why Bills fans feel slightly violated at the moment.

This leads to another issue. Expect to be chastised and lectured by the local  media and beat writers in the coming days when they explain to you how it’s not the refs fault the Bills lost that game, it’s Buffalo’s fault. I completely agree with that assessment, as you will see a little bit later. Buffalo’s defense was a joke in the second half and let a rookie quarterback who mostly played like a rookie quarterback come back on them. I’m not arguing that those two calls cost Buffalo the game. However, with the first call completely botched and the second not consistent with the review process for the first, the referees denied Buffalo two opportunities to turn the game in their favor. Fitz could have lead the Bills down the field for a clock eating touchdown drive to put the game out of reach after the Johnson incomplete call,  he could have thrown a pick 6, or something in between. Yet by making a foolish call and following to handle the missed call incorrectly, the refs denied the Bills the chance to put the game away. And that gives fans a right to be frustrated at the refs, no matter how poorly the Bills finished that game.

But don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about how bad the Bills played. Here’s what I’m feeling about the loss we just saw…

  • One of the things I’ve heard is that the way the Bills lost was like a relapse into the specific impending doom feeling Bills fans have gotten used to with the past decade. I couldn’t disagree more; I just think our defense sucks. This wasn’t an embarrassing snatch a loss from the jaws of victory game, like the Losman roll out fumble against the Jets in 08 or the McKelvin Kick off fumble against the Pats in 09. We just got outplayed.
  • George Wilson either picks the ball off or give up a huge play. Wilson has made big interceptions both weeks, and gotten beat badly by tight ends for TDs and tons of yardage. Outside of the one interception, Gresham was a huge mismatch against Wilson, and ‘the governor’ was simply outmatched. Throw in some inconsistent run containment, and you have Wilson’s week in a nutshell. Actually, Wilson provides probably the best personification of our defense: makes big plays, but is poor in coverage and inconsistent against the run.
  • And how about that run defense. I think the mesmerizing fashion the Bills won their first 3 games had distracted us from the big issue that is our mediocrity against the run (particularly on the edges). Many people have been getting on Merriman’s case for not causing as much as a ruckus as they would have liked over the first few games. I’ve been ok with it, and think he’s done decent pass rushing, if not outstanding. My far bigger issue with Merriman is his play against the run. He’s struggled to set the edge, often completely ignoring contain responsibilities to try to make a play in the backfield. Our entire defense has struggled with this, and it’s particularly disappointing considering how much better our run stopping personnel should theoretically be. George Edwards has his work cut out for him.
  • Despite this, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus probably both had their best games of the season. Williams finally showed the bust we’ve gotten used to from him, and Dareus “little boyed” the Cincy RG all day.
  • I thought the offensive line generally played decent. They gave up a sack and some pressure, but did ok, especially considering the strength of the defense they were going up against. If you’re looking for a few positive things to take from today’s game, one place to start is that the line’s better than expected play appears not to be a fluke through 4 weeks.
  • Fitzpatrick on the other hand, well, that’s a good reminder that FITZY IS NAWT TOM BRADY!! Fitz looked slightly off without making any egregious errors. Half the time I think his lack of flow was due to Cincinnati’s defense being completely deserving of that #3 spot the entered the game at, and the other half the time I had no idea. There were at least 3 plays where Fitz just made a completely inaccurate toss for God only knows why.
  • Expect to here much about “the Bills now know what it’s like to give up a lead!” and “ANOTHER streak is over!” Neither thing really means anything, the Bills just got beat by a good team, and sportswriters are lazy.
  • Finally, somewhere deep down in my subconscious, I think I don’t mind that the Bills lost this game. I don’t think the media coverage had anything to do with it (though I don’t think it helped either), I think the bandwagon was getting a little bit delusional, and this game is a good reminder that the Bills have some serious issues to sort out going forward. And I’m not trying to sugarcoat things, but there’s a difference between losing because you are unorganized and unprepared to play winning football and losing a hard fought game to a good team that’s better than their given credit for. I’m firmly in the second camp.

That’s all I have for now, stay tuned to Buddy Nixon for some additional analysis about the game (but not too much), and remember, we’re still 3-1.