Some second-day thoughts on the Bills’ crushing 23-21 loss to the Patriots on Sunday afternoon at The Ralph:”
COULD we stow that talk about the game being close only because New England was disinterested playing a perpetually struggling team it has dominated for a dozen years ... one with a new coach and starting a rookie quarterback?
It was the season opener for both teams. Do you really think the Pats played sans the adrenaline rush that every player feels when a new NFL campaign begins?
To be sure, New England didn’t play well and was ripe for the upset. But to suggest the only reason it was a close was a product of apathy by the Patriots does coach Doug Marrone and his young Buffalo roster a major disservice.
THERE ARE Bills’ critics who disagree, but it’s hard to find fault with the play of first-round draft pick EJ Manuel in his first start at quarterback.
His numbers were solid in an admittedly simplified offensive game plan against an elite foe.
He completed 67 percent of his passes (18-of-27) for 150 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a laudable 105.5 passer rating.
In comparison, Pats’ QB Tom Brady was 29-of-52 for 288 yards with a pair of TDs a pick and a pedestrian 76.4 rating.
Brady, a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, won the game but it could be reasonably argued that he didn’t outplay Manuel.
What’s clear is that the Bills’ first season-opening rookie starter at QB since Joe Ferguson in 1973, wasn’t awed. The game wasn’t bigger than him and he played poised, calm and composed.
WOULD THAT Stevie Johnson showed those same traits.
Buffalo’s nominal No. 1 wide receiver did catch an 18-yard touchdown pass from Manuel who had such a perfect touch on the throw that it was as if he handed the ball to Johnson.
Of course at crunch time, as usual, Stevie came up small.
With the game in the balance — Buffalo was up 21-20 with five minutes to play — Manuel, being blitzed, threw toward Johnson in the left flat.
The pass was a bit off-target but catchable.
It clanged off Johnson’s hands, the middle play of a killer three-and-out that preceded the Pats’ game-winning possession.
Certainly it wasn’t an easy reception, but one that an elite wideout makes.
Johnson persistently doesn’t make those plays ... much like other journeymen.
Worse, he bolted after the game ... gone like smoke in the wind.
Johnson’s apologists will say he felt too badly about the loss to talk.
But a leader does.
Center Eric Wood, running back Fred Jackson and defensive tackle Kyle Williams were there for every question.
It’s more likely Johnson realized his role in the defeat and didn’t want to man-up about it.
He didn’t Monday, either, telling the media that catch was “tougher than what it looked.”
Way to be accountable Stevie.
BY THE way, if you thought defensive end Mario Williams was inactive Sunday, you clearly missed his one tackle and single assist.
Let’s see, $100 million for six years, about $1 million a game, or $500,000 apiece for those two stops.
ONE BILLS hater told me Buffalo’s defense is even worse this year under Mike Pettine than last season with Dave Wannstedt in charge.
The 431 yards total offense and 158 rushing yards surrendered to the Pats are more than the 2012 averages of 363 and 146, respectively.
But that conclusion is flawed.
Buffalo’s biggest problem defensively was the amount of time it spent on the field.
The offense, running its hurry-up attack and unable to generate consistent drives, lost the time-of-possession battle by a staggering 15 1/2 minutes. New England ran a numbing 89 plays to Buffalo’s 61.
Despite that disadvantage, the Bills’ ‘D’ posted an impressive stat ... it surrendered only 4.8 yards per play, significantly better than last year’s 5.6.
Buffalo also forced three takeaways ... last year the Bills averaged a mere 1.3 a game.
Finally, the Patriots’ two touchdowns were gifts from the Bills’ offense.
C.J. Spiller and Marquise Goodwin’s fumbles let Brady drive a mere 16 and 32 yards for those TDs.
Spare me that “the defense is worse this year” talk ... especially after one game.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)