In what has recently become a nearly annual blunder bowl for the NFL, the Bills and the Browns managed to put up some points on Thursday night in their primetime showdown.
A game that I joking referred to as the Mistake by The Lake Bowl has been exactly that for the last few meetings. In fact, three of the last five meetings between the two teams (entering Thursday) saw fewer than 20 points scored in the game. That includes the game played in a blinding snowstorm in 2007 and the windswept pillow fight in 2009, two games won by the Browns with a combined 14 points scored.
Thursday night, however was anything but a snoozer. The Bills leapt to an early lead, injured the Browns starting quarterback and had snatched momentum from the home squad. However, a pair of big punt returns, a strong return effort from Brandon Weeden and an injury to EJ Manuel turned the tables on the Bills quickly.
Cleveland’s 37-24 win was sealed with a pick-six off Jeff Tuel but really appeared to be over on Tuel’s first full drive. After stepping in to finish the job for Manuel on Buffalo’s final touchdown drive, Tuel was inefficient and struggled to connect with his receivers over the course of the second half. The interception really served as little more than icing on the loss cake for the Bills as their offense sputtered badly with Tuel at the helm.
It was more of the same from Buffalo’s defense, in both the positive and negative. Willis McGahee was stymied to a 2.8 YPC average and the Browns as a team only managed 91 rushing yards on the day. The Bills front seven added five sacks and offered a quality effort on the night. However, the depleted secondary was picked on yet again with Aaron Williams earning the role of whipping boy against the Browns.
Josh Gordon went off for 86 yards on four catches, Greg Little added a 37 yard reception and Cleveland’s top four pass catchers were all above 12 yards per catch on the night. The defense does deserve credit for keeping Jordan Cameron quiet (three catches 36 yards) despite the assault against the boundaries.
With Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore expected to return next week, and the hope that Leodis McKelvin will be healthy enough for a start should provide some hope for the depleted Buffalo secondary. What’s concerning is what AJ Green might produce against this secondary with two of their three starters just finally returning to game action.
Ground and Pound
Fred Jackson continues to show he has plenty of tread left on his tires. Using him in tandem with CJ Spiller – although Spiller is serving as more of the compliment while hobbled – has rejuvenated the Bills rushing attack. Jackson nosed his way towards 100 yards of total offense yet again and was Buffalo’s feature back for most of the night. Nate Hackett’s commitment to giving his backs more personnel in run fits has yielded tremendous results. With Thad Lewis set to start Sunday, the run game will likely play a major role.
One of the primary complaints being levied in the EJ Manuel injury fallout is how unprepared the Bills are at quarterback to lose their prize possession. Kevin Kolb’s injury history cropped up quite quickly and the Bills settled on a practice squad candidate and an undrafted rookie to fill in behind Manuel. They did indeed work out veteran options but chose against signing any of them – Matt Leinart’s cup of coffee notwithstanding. At least, in that regard, the Bills exercised the thought of bringing in an NFL tested player. Looking at past seasons that have been injury riddled along with the debacle at cornerback this year, the question as to if the Bills are always trying to improve their team comes up quite a bit. Is it a case of not having any available talent on the market better than Tuel, Lewis or even Justin Rogers? Or is it the Bills choosing to stand pat and not overextend themselves? It’s an interesting thought.
Moorman’s Return Overdue
I’m very pleased to see Brian Moorman back in Buffalo. As sad as it may be that the team’s best player for the past 10+ years is a punter, Moorman is a tremendous philanthropist, clearly loves the area and will almost certainly offer an improvement over the streaky punting of Shawn Powell. While Powell’s connection with Dustin Hopkins may have been an interesting story, and his big frame and powerful leg attracted NFL clubs, his consistency was horrid and Travis Benjamin’s two big returns had a lot to do with putting the Browns in front on Thursday. Moorman ought to provide plenty of stability for the special teams moving forward.