Buffalo Bills Playoff Hopes All but Done After Loss to Indianapolis Colts

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIINovember 25, 2012

Buffalo Bills Playoff Hopes All but Done After Loss to Indianapolis Colts

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    The Week 12 matchup between the Buffalo Bills at the Indianapolis Colts featured two teams that are battling for their playoff lives. Coming in to the game, the Colts were 6-4, while the Bills were chasing them at 4-6.

    Indianapolis only scored 20 points, but for today, that was enough, as the Colts defense was able to hold the Bills to only 13 points. By defeating Buffalo 20-13, the Colts are now looking better for a playoff spot at 7-4, while the Bills have the faintest of playoff hopes at 4-7.

    Buffalo had three extra days of preparation coming off of its Thursday Night Football game last week, but it was Indianapolis that looked like it was better prepared team for this game. It seemed ready for a number of the Bills' favorite plays, constantly forcing Buffalo into 3rd-and-long throughout the game.

    The Bills defense played well enough to win, but the offense just wasn't able to keep the chains moving enough or wasn't able to convert enough drives when it got down close to prove that it deserved  to win.

    It has been 12 years since the Bills made the playoffs. After today's outcome, it is now looking like it will be 13 years.

What Kind of a Test the Bills Faced Against Indianapolis

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    The Colts have been playing inspired football, as the team has rallied behind new head coach Chuck Pagano, who is battling leukemia. They are a very tough team to play right now, especially at home.

    The Colts came in to this game with the No. 5 overall offense in the NFL. Their passing attack, led by rookie quarterback sensation Andrew Luck, is averaging 283 yards per game. They are ranked No. 8 in the NFL, so the Bills pass defense (ranked No. 18) was tested in this game.

    The Bills run game is ranked No. 8 in the NFL, averaging 140.8 yards per game. The Colts run defense is ranked is No. 21 in the NFL, allowing 119.8 yards per game.

    The Indianapolis Colts defense has come up with just six turnovers all year, which is the lowest total of any defense in the league. The Bills could have had a chance to pull off an upset, but were unable to avoid turnovers. The Colts were favored by a field goal coming into this game.

Injuries and Inactives

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    Buffalo declared that DE Mark Anderson and CB Aaron Williams would be out for this week. The Bills welcomed DE Chris Kelsay back, as well as RB Fred Jackson.

    Besides Anderson and Williams, other Bills players that were inactive were QB Tarvaris Jackson, CB Crezdon Butler, OT Thomas Welch, LB Kirk Morrison, and WR Marcus Easley. 

    For the Colts, they declared TE Coby Fleener and CB Vontae Davis out due to injuries. Other Colts inactive players were DE Clifton Geathers, TE Dominique Jones, OL Tony Hills, LB Mario Harvey, and DT Josh Chapman. 

    The Bills hope that Kelsay can bounce back to form to apply some pressure on the opposite side of Mario Williams. Between Kelsay, Kyle Moore and Shawne Merriman, the Bills need more from the other defensive end, since the other defensive linemen are doing a better job of getting into the backfield.  

1st-Quarter Review

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    The Bills were able to force the Colts to punt on their first drive thanks to Kyle Williams coming out like a beast in the first half. The referees missed an obvious holding call against Williams in the opening drive.

    After the Colts punted, the Bills came up with a three-and-out when C.J. Spiller whiffed on his pass protection assignment, which resulted in Jerrell Freeman sacking Fitzpatrick.

    The Bills punted and rookie T.Y. Hilton returned the punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, the Colts were up 7-0. You can consider that one play the margin of victory if you wish. Because that seven points was all the difference in the game that Indianapolis needed.

    Garrison Sanborn had a chance to tackle Hilton early on in the return, and he whiffed in the open field. It was the first Colts punt return touchdown since 2007.

    Buffalo responded by executing a nice wide receiver screen pass to rookie T.J. Graham for 24 yards, and a Spiller run for 20 yards brought the ball into the red zone. But once again, the Bills' inability to cash in the red zone chances came back to haunt them. Buffalo had to settle for a 33-yard Rian Lindell field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.

    The Colts' next drive stalled out due to a Mario Williams sack, and the Colts punted the ball down to the Buffalo 1-yard line. The quarter ended with the Bills trailing 7-3 and pinned deep in their own territory.

2nd-Quarter Review

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    The Bills were able to pick up only one first down before needing to punt the ball again. This time, Nigel Bradham put a big hit on Hilton, and the rookie fumbled the ball. Corey McIntyre recovered the fumble.

    The referees gave the Bills the ball after the fumble, but the play went up to the booth for review. Eventually, the decision came down to overturn the ruling on the field, and the Colts retained possession.

    That was just how things would go for Buffalo all day long.

    The Colts' drive was immediately halted when Buffalo CB Justin Rogers intercepted Luck at the Buffalo 47-yard line. Kyle Williams put some strong pressure on Luck on the play, and that was the ideal way the Bills defense was envisioned to operate this year. It unfortunately hasn't worked out that often.

    Two straight runs by Spiller picked up 23 yards. On a 2nd-and-7, Fred Jackson lost four yards. Fitzpatrick gets sacked on 3rd-and-11, and the Bills are forced to make a decision with the ball at the Indianapolis 34.

    Rather than try a 52-yard field goal inside the dome, the Bills punt. That is the kind of conservative call that a team makes when it is trying not to lose. Some teams play to win, but that doesn't always seem to be the case under Chan Gailey.

    The Colts wind up driving the ball down thanks to Andrew Luck scrambling on two consecutive third downs to pick up key first downs. They settled for a 25-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to make it 10-3 with 4:08 left in the half.

    Fitzpatrick hits Stevie Johnson with a long pass, but Johnson is unable to take it to the house. He settles for a 63-yard gain. Once again, the Bills get in the red zone and can't score a touchdown, settling for a 31-yard Lindell field goal to cut the lead to 10-6.

    The Bills are very much in the game with 2:16 left in the half.

2nd Quarter Continued

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    With 2:06 left, the Colts wind up stalling on their drive and punt the ball to Buffalo inside the Buffalo 10-yard line with less than a minute left. Buffalo decides to run its two-minute offense even though it is backed up inside its own 10-yard line. Two incomplete passes on the first two downs not only kills the clock, but allows the Colts to keep their timeouts.

    Buffalo winds up punting, and the Colts get the ball at their own 49-yard line with 32 seconds left. The above illustration is another example of how badly Gailey manages the clock and why the Bills are so miserable in the final minute of each half.

    With that much time left, Luck drives the Colts down the field. They complete a pass to Reggie Wayne at the Buffalo 2, and Jairus Byrd is able to strip the ball away from Wayne. For some reason, there is no official review done in the booth, even though the ball was clearly out of Wayne's possession before he hit the ground.

    The Colts spike the ball with one second left in the half and kick a field goal to go back up by a touchdown at 13-6. The half should have ended with the Bills trailing 10-6, but the blame goes entirely to Gailey for mismanaging the clock once again.

3rd-Quarter Review

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    Buffalo opens the second half with the ball. Buffalo drives to midfield and Fitzpatrick is faced with a 3rd-and-5 at the Colts 48. He throws a pass directly at Colts LB Moise Fokou, who luckily drops the easy interception. The Colts were last in the NFL at creating turnovers with six, and that play is a good reason why.

    After Buffalo punted, the Colts start a drive from their own 13. A key play was a third-down completion to Donnie Avery. The Bills strip the ball from Avery, and it bounces directly to another Colts receiver, who happens to be directly in the path of the fumble. It just wasn't the Bills' day.

    Later in the drive, Marcell Dareus sacks Luck, doing his best impersonation of Ndamukong Suh. Faced with a third down and 17 yards to go, the Bills don't put any heat on Luck, and he has all day to wait until Reggie Wayne breaks free in his pass route. Wayne's catch gives the Colts a crucial first down, and they wind up scoring on a eight-yard touchdown pass from Luck to Hilton. Colts up 20-6.

    The Bills respond with a three-and-out, and things are looking bleak. The Bills defense responds, however, with their own stand, and a Mario Williams sack forces the Colts to punt the ball back. A nice punt return from Leodis McKelvin is wiped out by an illegal block in the back by rookie Ron Brooks. 

    Just before the quarter ends, Spiller breaks off a long 41-yard run to the Colts' 37-yard line, so the Bills are in business at the end of the quarter, still trailing 20-6.

Fourth Quarter Review

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    Eventually, the Bills drive down to the Colts' 13-yard line, when Fitzpatrick hits Donald Jones, who runs down to the 1-yard line before he is stopped. Kyle Williams comes in to play fullback (Corey McIntyre left with an injury), and the Bills try to run behind Williams with Fred Jackson. That doesn't work, so Fitzpatrick throws to TE Lee Smith, who catches the one-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 20-13.

    There is still 11:30 left in the game, so there is plenty of time for Buffalo to get back in the game.

    The Colts are faced with a third down and three yards to go when Mario Williams gets to Luck for his third sack of the game. That was a big play by Williams, and all of the momentum is now with Buffalo. It is time for Fitzpatrick to make a stand and lead his team.

    The Bills start to drive down the field until Fitzpatrick throws an interceptions to Colts S Tom Zbikowski, who starts to bring in back over midfield, only to be stripped of the ball by a tackle from Stevie Johnson. Johnson somehow manages to recover the fumble, so the Bills wind up with new life at their 43-yard line.

    But the reprieve is wasted when the Bills aren't able to pick up a first down. They have to punt the ball away to the Colts with 3:22 left in the game. Starting with the ball at their own 5-yard line, the Colts find a way to run out the clock with some runs and a key pass to squash any comeback hopes the Bills had.

C.J. Spiller Only Gets 14 Rushes

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    Fresh off the win in Thursday Night Football against Miami, when C.J. Spiller was asked to carry the ball more than 20 times, it seemed like Chan Gailey and the Bills were finally getting it. Give the ball to Spiller at least 20 times, and you increase the chances for him to make big plays.

    Today, the Bills went back into playing dumb with their star running back and gave him only 14 rushes for the game. Spiller still picked up 107 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per game. Why is it so hard for Buffalo to follow through on something so simple?

    Instead of handing the ball off to Spiller, the Bills brain trust instead opted to have Fitzpatrick throw the ball 33 times, of which he only completed 17 of them. His passer rating was 65.2, and the Bills wound up going 4-of-13 on third-down conversions for the game.

    With a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Colts wound up converting on half of their opportunities (eight of 16). For any neutral observers, it would be fair to say that Luck looked more like the veteran quarterback, while Fitzpatrick looked more like the rookie with his errant passes.

    When the Colts needed a big play, Luck would find Reggie Wayne, who had eight receptions for 102 yards. When Fitzpatrick needed to come up with a big play, his passes would miss the mark. He had several chances for long pass plays, but his touch on deep passes continues to hold the team back.

Buffalo Offense and the Game Plan

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    Bills fans have been hearing about how innovative Chan Gailey is as an offensive coordinator. With the extra days to prepare for the Colts, you would like to think that there were some new wrinkles that he would have created for the Colts game that they hadn't already prepared for.

    Instead, it seemed that the Colts knew what the Bills were calling throughout the game. The game was broadcast by CBS, and they flashed up on the screen the following stat. With 3:40 left in the third quarter, the Bills' average distance up to that point on third down was 9.5 yards to go.

    Think about that for a second. On first down and second down combined for the majority of the game, the Bills were gaining an average of half of a yard on the first two plays of every new series. That is just dreadful offense, dreadful play calling and dreadful game planning. For a team battling for its playoff existence, it was just not acceptable.

    Obviously, some changes have to be made. This game certifies that something has to be done. Whether or not Chan Gailey is made to be the fall guy or that Ryan Fitzpatrick loses his starting QB job, something has to be done. Today's performance was not acceptable.

    It is understandable if we are talking about going up against the 49ers, the Bear, the Steelers or the Texans defense. But this was the Indianapolis Colts we're talking about. They are ranked No. 20 overall defense because they are not that good. But by Buffalo only scoring 13 points against them, they made the Colts look like a top-10 defense today.

Where Do the Bills Go from Here?

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    With a 4-7 record and five games left, the Bills would have to win all five to finish at 9-7. That kind of a record has historically not been good enough to get a team into the playoffs.

    So, the reality is that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey will be looking at the final five games as an audition for the 2013 team. Of course, we have no guarantee now that Gailey will be still around next year to coach the team.

    As a veteran team with close to three years under Gailey, you would think the Bills were capable of stringing together some kind of a winning steak together, as they did to begin the 2012 season. If the best the team can do is the two-game winning streak from Weeks 2 and 3, then the Bills have clearly taken a step backwards this year.

    Pretty soon, there will be more talk about who the Bills are looking to draft and what will be their draft position. The talk should have been who their first-round opponent would be in the playoffs, but this is a team that has let us down far too often.

    If it's not the defense, then it's the offense. If it's not the offense, then it's the defense. Whatever the situation is, it is getting very old.

    The Bills host Jacksonville next Sunday, so we will see if there are some positives to discuss after next week.