Some reflections on the Bills’ encouraging, yet disappointing, 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals on Sunday afternoon at “The Ralph:”
THE MOST positive aspect of the game was the performance of Buffalo’s fill-in quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis.
The 25-year-old Duke alum wasn’t perfect, but performed considerably better than most critics would have expected.
After all, he was on the practice squad a week earlier and didn’t find out he was starting against Cincinnati until the Monday before the game ... and that was after the Bills’ failed bid to sign a veteran free agent.
Lewis, who was previously with the Rams, Browns and Lions, from whom Buffalo acquired him for linebacker Chris White in August, played like an experienced pro.
His numbers were better than solid, 19-of-32 passing for 216 yards with two pretty fourth-quarter touchdown passes that tied the game and no interceptions.
His passer rating was an above-average 100.5 and compared favorably with his Bengals’ counterpart, Andy Dalton, whose 26-of-40, 337-yard, three-TD, one-pick effort earned him a 105.9.
Probably the most impressive aspect of Lewis’ performance was his poise. At no time did the game seem too big or too fast for him and, though being sacked five times and losing a fumble on an ill-considered pass-fake during a scramble, he never seemed flustered.
ONE ASPECT of Lewis effort was also overlooked.
His only previous NFL action, let alone start, was in last season’s finale for the Browns against the Steelers, then the league’s top defense.
For the Bills, he had done little more that imitate the opposing quarterback on Thursdays, when teams put in their defensive schemes.
Thus, until last week, Lewis hadn’t worked much with Buffalo’s receiving corps.
Hence, even without the Bills’ top receiver, Stevie Johnson (sore back), he didn’t seem to notice.
He had no preconceived favorite target, and that’s a good thing.
Lewis connected four times with second-year pro T.J. Graham, who had caught only six balls in the first five games, and a mere 31 all of last season.
There were whispers that the third-round draft pick was a bust.
But he didn’t appear that way Sunday, averaging nearly 19 yards on his quartet of receptions, including a 47-yarder that was the longest Buffalo pass play this season.
Recalling his first completion as a Bill, Lewis said of that long connection, “It felt great. You’ve got to be confident in this league. If I was nervous in any shape, form or fashion, Cincinnati would have ate it up. Getting that first pass pretty much let the defensive backs know that our receivers were coming to play.”
Then there was rookie Marquise Goodwin, just back after missing four games with a hand injury, who had one catch for zero yards coming in.
Lewis connected with him twice, the second one a perfectly-thrown 40-yard TD bomb.
Of that pass, he said, “I saw (Bengals’ cornerback Terence) Newman peeking in the backfield ... he peeked for a second, Marquise released inside, and you want to get the ball to one of the fastest guys on the field.”
Nine of Lewis completions went to four wide receivers who, combined, have two years of previous experience.
And, just when it appeared he might have forgotten about the tight end, he hit Scott Chandler twice in a span of nine minutes, the first a 22-yard TD, the second a 25-yarder immediately preceding Goodwin’s game-tying touchdown with 1:08 to play.
In short, Lewis showed no receiver favoritism, using eight different ones.
And, one other thing. With all due respect to injured starting quarterback EJ Manuel, Lewis showed much more inclination to throw downfield than his predecessor ... though, in fairness, that might be a product of play-calling.
FINALLY, could we let go of that “The Bills should have kicked the field goal on 4th-and-goal at the Cincinnati 1-yard line” talk?
Reportedly TV analyst Boomer Esiason persistently bashed the decision using simple math.
Let’s see, Buffalo lost in OT, but if it kicks the field goal, it wins in regulation.
But, with apologies, to Lee Corso, “Not so fast.”
Start with the fact there were almost three full quarters to go and all manner of factors affecting strategy.
At the time, the Bills’ trailed 10-7 and had the ball 1st-and-goal at the Cincy 2 on the last play of the first period.
Fred Jackson rushed three times but gained only a yard. On fourth down, coach Doug Marrone eschewed the tying field goal and sent Lewis on a rollout. No receiver got open and the QB couldn’t make the goalline, being stopped at the Bengals’ 2.
Cincinnati then went 98 yards for a TD.
Afterward, when asked about the decision, Marrone said, “That’s a thing you (media) guys can look up. I’m not going to get into all the details about percentages ... the percentages you play at that time in the game.”
But I will.
Cincinnati had scored on its first two possessions, gaining 135 yards.
Buffalo answered with a TD in between and had just driven 75 yards.
With no indication the Bills’ defense could stop Cincinnati, Marrone opted for the lead, hoping his offense could gain a yard.
Worse case, barring a fumble, if Buffalo failed, the Bengals would take over virtually the length of the field away from the Bills’ goalline.
And there’s another factor too.
Buffalo had just scored on its first possession behind a quarterback just promoted from the practice squad and the whole offensive unit was amped up. Another TD at that point would not only have produced the lead, but also an enormous emotional lift.
When asked if the decision caused him any hesitation, Marrone allowed, “No, there wasn’t any.”
Nor should there have been
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)