For the third time in the last four years, the Buffalo Bills will be entering the offseason on a losing note. The team took steps in the right direction this season and has a young group of players to build around. However, there is one thing that hasn't changed this year, and that is the Buffalo Bills can't win in New England.
For the 13th year in a row, the Bills are not able to get a win in New England and still don't have a win in Gillette Stadium. In the 12 prior games, the Bills have lost by an average of 13.75 points per game, and history seems to repeat itself with Buffalo losing 34-20.
These are the five biggest takeaways from the Bills loss to the Patriots.
Marcell Dareus was suspended for the first quarter of the Miami Dolphins game last week for violating team rules. It looks like he didn't get the message as he was suspended for the first half against New England for once again violating team rules, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 tweeted about the future of Dareus with the organization. If he is being suspended for only chronic lateness, then it seems to be a bit of an overreaction to think he won't be on this roster next season.
If there are more serious issues being addressed with these suspensions, then it wouldn't be surprising to hear Dareus' name being floated around the trading block this offseason. With Alex Carrington returning next season, Alan Branch could slide inside to play alongside Kyle Williams to fill the void left by Dareus.
After a dominating performance against Miami, the Bills had the eighth-ranked defense in the NFL in terms of yards. Their pass defense was close to elite, giving up only 210 yards per game. Teams were beating this defense on the ground, where they were giving up close to 120 yards per game.
The Patriots knew this and set the tone early to run the ball. The Bills defense gave up 156 yards on the ground over the first 20 minutes of the game. New England finished with 267 yards rushing and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
The reason the Bills have struggled in the run is because of their linebacker corp. Kiko Alonso is a rising star at middle linebacker, and Manny Lawson has played well for the most part setting the edge. The team needs to find one or two more linebackers who can be tough against the run, shed blocks and make tackles.
The Bills special team has done a good job for a majority of the season covering kickoffs. Entering this game, it ranked eighth in the NFL, giving up an average of only 21.2 yards per attempt. Unfortunately, this unit struggled against New England.
Shane Vereen started out returning kicks for the Patriots, returning the first two for an average of 22 yards. Bill Belichick saw the success LaGarrette Blount was having running the ball and decided to make a switch.
The move paid huge dividends for the Patriots as Blount averaged 72.5 yards on two returns. Before this game, the longest return Buffalo had given up this year was only 50 yards, and Blount surpassed that total both times.
Each of his returns came after Bills touchdowns and took away any momentum Buffalo gained, thus reinvigorating the Patriots. It shortened the field for the Patriots offense and allowed it to build a lead back up quickly.
These types of mental lapses have plagued this organization for years and need to be corrected if the team hopes to take the next step next year.
The Bills defense has excelled in forcing turnovers this season. Early in the year, the Bills were giving up a ton of yards to opponents but were able to stay in games because they were forcing turnovers. The defense stopped giving up the yardage, especially in the last three games, so the lack of turnovers wasn't as important.
In this game against New England, the defense was getting gashed and was giving up yards in bunches. This wouldn't have been as big of a problem if it was able to force turnovers. It had chances Sunday, forcing four fumbles; however, it couldn't recover one.
The defense did force one turnover, an interception late in the fourth quarter, but at that point, it was a little too late. The Bills defense will need to figure out a way to be more consistent next year and not give up big-yardage totals.
The Bills traded for Thad Lewis before the season by sending reserve linebacker Chris White to Detroit. This move paid huge dividends as Lewis ended up starting five games for an injured EJ Manuel. He played well over those games and finished the year with a 2-3 record.
Lewis finished the year averaging 218.4 passing yards per game with five touchdowns and only four interceptions. He did a good job playing within the offensive system and not making bad mistakes.
One of the issues for the Bills' front office this offseason is to find a capable backup for Manuel, who has had three knee injuries in his rookie season. In my opinion, Lewis has shown enough that the coaching staff would be comfortable going with him as the backup. Both quarterbacks have similar skill sets, and if Manuel goes down, the team wouldn't have to adjust the offensive game plan too much.