The Buffalo Bills proved that they are a mentally tough team by nearly battling back from a 14-point deficit against the New England Patriots, but they also proved that they are not fundamentally sound by falling behind, failing to close the gap and falling 37-31 to their AFC East rival.
There were a lot of costly mistakes.
The Bills committed 14 penalties for 148 yards, five of which gave the Patriots first downs. It started early, with three penalties turning a 3rd-and-1 on Buffalo's opening drive into a 3rd-and-21, which the team failed to convert.
Those flags were at their worst in the first half, when the Bills collected 10 of them for 119 yards. The validity of many of the flags could be questioned, but regardless, the Bills had chances to win and failed to capitalize because of the other, more costly mistakes: turnovers.
"You turn it over at the one and you turn it over on our half of the field, they get a short touchdown out of it," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said (per BuffaloBills.com).
"We are not good enough yet to not play extremely well and win. We've got to play extremely well to win. We're not there yet. There are some other teams that can do that. We're not. We're not one of those teams. We are capable of getting there, but we have not gotten there and it's my job to get us there. We can't turn it over three times and win ball games most of the time."
The turnovers were not the fault of the coaching staff. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was responsible (in the eyes of the stat sheet) for two of the team's three turnovers, a sack-fumble in the first half and the game-ending interception.
The sack-fumble came as a result of miscommunication on the offensive line, allowing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to get through the middle. The interception, however, was on the fault of wide receiver T.J. Graham. The rookie ran the wrong route, cutting behind Devin McCourty when he should have cut in front of him.
Had he done the latter, it would have been an easy catch. Because he did the former, it was an easy catch—but for the wrong guy.
To Fitzpatrick's credit, he put the team in position to win the game, overcoming a bad day from the defense and from those around him on offense. They showed their potential at times against the Patriots. Fitzpatrick said after the game (per BuffaloBills.com):
"Offensively that's the kind of team and the kind of game plan and the stuff that we want to do. We got our guys the touches. We got some play action throws with the way they were playing downfield a little bit. Got Scott involved, Stevie involved, Donald did some good stuff. We've just got to find a way to pull it out at the end."
He's right in those aspects (and although he didn't mention running back C.J. Spiller, the Bills finally got him involved with 19 touches for 131 yards).
What Fitzpatrick doesn't touch on is what kind of team the Bills lined up against; that being one of the league's worst pass defenses. He also didn't touch on what kind of team the Bills revealed themselves to be in turning the ball over and committing costly penalties.
Fred Jackson, like Fitzpatrick, falls into the category of having done so much to help his team fight back, but not enough in the key moment, coughing up a fumble at New England's 1-yard line that killed a potential scoring drive.
Regardless of who gets the blame, though, well-coached teams with talented players often don't make those kinds of mistakes.
It appears the Bills, right now, are neither a well-coached team nor one in possession of enough talented players to win the close games. Changes are coming soon, and they are likely subtractions. With the quarterback and the head coach in focus, the math shouldn't be too hard to do.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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