Buffalo Bills Can't Put St. Louis Rams Away; Lose 15-12

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIDecember 9, 2012

Buffalo Bills Can't Put St. Louis Rams Away; Lose 15-12

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    The Buffalo Bills had the lead for the majority of the home game against the St. Louis Rams, but the Rams rallied in the final minute of regulation to win 15-12.

    The game was an offensive struggle for both teams, as each squad wound up with five drives of the three-plays and out variety. St. Louis went three and out in four of its first five drives of the game, yet still won. 

    Coming into this game, both teams had a losing record—the Rams (5-6-1) and the Bills (5-7)—with the loser likely being eliminated from the postseason. 

    The Bills were needing help from other teams, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals both lost, setting the stage for the Bills to inch that much closer with a win.

    As it turns out, the Rams are now 6-6-1, and the Bills fall to 5-8 and at best, can hope for a .500 record. This will mark the 13th straight season that Buffalo fails to qualify for the postseason.

Biils Inactives, Injuries and Roster Moves

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    In case you haven't been paying attention lately, the Bills have been making a number of transactions lately to compensate for a number of injuries. The area that has been hit the hardest has been along the offensive line and at cornerback.

    Buffalo has placed starting tackle Chris Hairston on I.R. this past week. Hairston was starting for Erik Pears, who is also on I.R. The Bills have a total of five offensive linemen now that had to go to injured reserve.

    Besides Hairston and Pears, you have C Colin Brown, G Chad Rinehart and T Zebrie Sanders. Eric Wood has a torn MCL, and he may wind up joining the other I.R. linemen soon.

    The bottom line is that the Bills are forced to start David Snow and Sam Young today. Whenever you replace 40 percent of your offensive line in one week, you can expect a few things to go wrong. Today was the first NFL start for both Snow and Young, and that was a huge factor in the game.

    At cornerback, Terrence McGee is the only player that went on I.R.. There are a number of corners that have been injured and forced to miss time such as Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers. These injuries forced the Bills to play rookies Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks and T.J. Heath last week against Jacksonville.

    With respect to recent roster moves, here is the latest and greatest:

    Gone from the active roster: Hairston and DE Chris Kelsay moved to I.R., LB Kirk Morrison released and safety Delano Howell was claimed off the practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts

    Added to the roster: CB Heath (Jacksonville State), OL Chris Scott (Tennessee), G Keith Williams (Nebraska) was promoted from practice squad. The Bills have recently added three players to the practice squad; DT Corbin Bryant (Northwestern), OL Adam Grant (Arizona) and OL J.B. Shugarts (Ohio State). 

    For the Bills inactives today against St. Louis: QB Tarvaris Jackson, CB Aaron Williams, CB T.J. Heath, C Eric Wood, OL Chris Scott, WR Marcus Easley and DE Mark Anderson.

    St. Louis didn't dress WR Danny Amendola, which took away a key target from Sam Bradford.

1st Quarter Review

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    One of the interesting highlights of this game was that both defenses were in the top 10 at creating sacks. The Rams are No. 4 in the league with 34, while the Bills are No. 9 with 30. The team that was able to apply the most pressure was likely to come out on top, and that is what happened today.

    It didn't take long for the Bills to find out that the offensive line would have its share of struggles today. With Sam Young and David Snow making their first NFL start for the Bills, you knew there would be some issues with debuting two new linemen against the improving Rams front seven.

    On the second play of the opening drive, Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked by Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers. The Bills wound up three and out and punted the ball away.

    The Rams, in turn, had their own problems with the Bills' pressure. They also went three-and-out on their opening drive, as they wound up doing on all three drives of the first quarter. The Bills defense was so dominating that the Rams offense only gained three yards in the entire first quarter.

    The Bills opened up with two different three-and outs to open the game. On their third drive, the Bills drove the ball 62 yards in 10 plays, which resulted in a 35-yard Rian Lindell field goal. The key play was a third down and three to go at the Rams' 17-yard line. Once again, Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced to throw the ball while being pressured, and underthrew an open Donald Jones.

    On the next Bills drive, they again drove down the field, this time getting the ball down to the Rams' 14-yard line thanks to a 34-yard pass to Steve Johnson. On the final play of the first quarter, Fred Jackson fumbles on a simple dive play, and St. Louis ends the drive with the fumble recovery.

    Two Bills drives into the red zone result in one field goal. This has been repeated far too often in the second half of the season for the Bills and is a big reason why the team is now 5-8.

    The Bills ended the quarter up 3-0.

2nd Quarter Review

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    In the second quarter after the fumble recovery, the Rams finally get a first down, but have to punt. The Bills go three-and-out, and punt.

    On the Rams' next possession, Mario Williams sacks Bradford and strips the ball from him. The ball, however, bounced right back up to Bradford, so in the span of a few minutes, the ball bounced the wrong way for the Bills two different times. That is how things have gone for most of the year.

    The Rams punted after another three-and-out drive. The Bills drive to midfield, and stall, ending in another punt. St. Louis tries to put a drive together before the end of the half, but Bryan Scott deflects a pass, and Bills rookie CB Stephon Gilmore makes his first interception of the season. Gilmore races down the sideline and goes into the end zone for a touchdown.

    However, Bills DE Kyle Moore was called for holding, which negated the touchdown. The player that Moore was trying to block was a non-factor in the play, which turned out to be a turning point in the game. His lack of discipline costs the Bills four points, which would be critical later on.

    Buffalo starts with the ball at the Rams' 49, and it drives down to the Rams 23. Instead of trying to throw the ball towards the end zone with the final minute of the half ticking down, the Bills call a draw and screen play to Fred Jackson in successive plays that result in a gain of one yard collectively. The Bills wind up settling for just three points again with a 40-yard Rian Lindell field goal. 

    The half ends with the Bills up 6-0, but they could have been up 21-0 if they could figure out how to finish off drives. 

Halftime Stats and Adjustments

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    At halftime, the Bills had outgained the Rams' 174 yards of total offense to just 71 yards. Buffalo had nine first downs in the first half to just four for St. Louis.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick was very accurate in the first half, completing 17 of 21 passes for 158 yards. No touchdowns and no interceptions. What is surprising about the high percentage completion total is that the Rams were applying big pressure and laying Fitzpatrick out with a number of QB hits in the first half.

    As for the Rams, they were only 2-for-8 on third downs in the first half. Bradford only completed five of 13 passes for 35 yards, as the entire Bills defense put on a swarming effort to shut out the Rams in the first half. The Rams running game wasn't much better, gaining only 36 yards on 12 rushes.

    The Bills held the ball for 18:29 compared to just 11:24 for the Rams. But, by only scoring six points in spite of dominating the first half, the Bills gave the Rams the ability to believe that they could come back in the game. If you allow an NFL team to hang around, they can catch fire.

    St. Louis made some adjustments to its offensive attack at half time, while the Bills tried to figure out how to get their running game working. The Bills ran the ball 11 times for just 16 yards. That miserable average was a combination of the Rams defense, and the Bills starting two green linemen, which is a bad combination.

3rd Quarter Review

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    In the opening drive of the third quarter, the Rams' adjustments at halftime paid off. They converted all three third-down opportunities (one on a penalty by Stephon Gilmore) and wound up scoring on a one-yard dive by Steven Jackson. Just like that, the Rams had their first lead of the day, 7-6.

    The Bills offense rose to the occasion and responded with what would turn out to be its only touchdown drive of the day. Fitzpatrick was able to recover his own fumble on a sack, and Fred Jackson made his best play of the game by hurdling a Rams defender to convert on a big third-down play.

    The Bills were able to get the ball down to the red zone. With the ball at the Rams' 2-yard line, Fitzpatrick made some nice play fakes and then found a wide-open TE Lee Smith for an easy touchdown pass. Fitzpatrick continued his accurate passing day by completing all six passes on the drive for 56 yards.

    The loss of Eric Wood was finally realized when David Snow made a bad snap on the extra point attempt. The errant snap resulted in a desperation two-point attempt that failed miserably. The botched play took a little bit of the luster off of the Bills' touchdown drive, so now the Bills are only up 12-7.

    The two scoring drives to open the second half took up almost 12 minutes of the third quarter. The Rams converted a third down when DE Shawne Merriman took an inside pass rush and Bradford took off on the vacated right end side of the Bills defense for an easy scramble first down. The Bills, however, stop the Rams' drive, and the quarter ends with the Rams needing to punt. Buffalo is up 12-7 with one quarter to go.

4th Quarter Review

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    With the playoff hopes hanging in the balance of the fourth-quarter outcome, Buffalo saw its chances improve greatly on the first play when the snap sailed through the hands of Rams punter Johnny Hekker's hands. Hekker races back to retrieve the ball (another bounce of the ball that went the Rams' way) and is somehow able to get off a punt back to the line of scrimmage.

    The Bills are presented a golden opportunity to add to their 12-7 lead. Fred Jackson runs for 12 yards to the Rams' 37. But the offense only picks up three yards on its next three plays to take it to the 34. Chan Gailey passes up on the 52-yard field goal by Rian Lindell, who happened to kick a 51-yard field goal at home in the prior game in worse weather conditions.

    Gailey opts to punt instead, and that served as another turning point in the game. The punt is downed at the Rams' 3-yard line thanks to a great special teams play by Mana Silva.

    The Rams pick up a first down, but wind up punting the ball away. The Bills wind up with two chances to run off some significant minutes of the fourth quarter (sandwiched by another Rams drive of three and out), but only pick up a grand total of four yards on six plays. The lack of the killer instinct by the Bills is another major problem with this team.

    Since the Bills can't put the Rams away, St. Louis winds up with a starting point of its own 16-yard line with less than five minutes left in the game. It winds up converting on two different third downs, and once on 4th-and-1 yard thanks to a sensational catch by Austin Pettis. That was one of the nicest catches you could imagine for a 4th-and-1.

    The Bills blanketed the Rams receivers on every pass play and were mere inches away from deflecting every pass. The Rams wind up taking a 13-12 lead thanks to a 13-yard pass to Brandon Gibson over Bills CB Ron Brooks with just 48 seconds left in regulation. The Rams convert the two-point conversion to go up 15-12.

Bills and Ryan Fitzpatrick Have One Final Chance to Pull out the Game

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    The Bills had one final chance to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime. Buffalo started the final drive with the ball at its own 25-yard line with two timeouts and 42 seconds left.

    Just to help set the mood, Fox Sports flashes up on the screen that the last time Ryan Fitzpatrick had led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter was all the way back on 9/25/11 versus New England. Not a very good sign Bills fans.

    Fitzpatrick hits Scott Chandler for a 19-yard gain to the Bills' 42. The Bills let four precious seconds tick off the clock before they decide to use one of their remaining timeouts. In case you weren't aware, the Bills' clock management in the final two minutes is among the worst in the NFL.

    Fitzpatrick then lobs up a deep pass to T.J. Graham that has a very low percentage of working. Of course, that is incomplete, and more seconds tick off the clock. The Rams take advantage of the Bills' inexperienced offensive line, and Robert Quinn then makes a huge sack. The Bills are now faced with a 3rd-and-19 with just 21 seconds left in the game. They have to burn their final timeout, and things are really looking bleak.

    The final offensive play for Buffalo results in William Hayes hitting Fitzpatrick just as he throws the ball. The pass floats in the air to LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and just like that, the Bills' playoff hopes vanish into the air.

    St. Louis wins 15-12, and the Bills fans are still waiting for another Fitzpatrick fourth-quarter rally to occur. Some players are clutch often, and some players are clutch "once in a great while." Fitzpatrick seems to be clutch in the "once in a great while" category.

Bills Lost Antoher Game That They Should Have Won

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    When Buffalo looks back at the 2012 season, it can point to the losses to New England, Tennessee and to St. Louis as games it should have emerged with a win.

    Both teams wound up with 17 first downs in the game. A great effort by the Bills defense was wasted today. The Bills' inability to string any first downs together in the fourth quarter when they were in position to run minutes off the clock proved costly.

    The red-zone issues and the fumble by Fred Jackson were huge plays, as was the penalty by Kyle Moore on the Stephon Gilmore interception.

    Fred Jackson was hurt in the second half, and as of the time of publication, we don't know the severity of the injury. Jackson did have to leave via a cart, which is never a good sign.

    All total, the Bills offensive line hung in there. The Bills were only called for two penalties for the entire game, which is pretty amazing when you consider two linemen were making their first NFL start. When Demetress Bell was getting his feet wet, he could be counted on for four penalties in the first quarter alone.

    The offensive line did give up a total of four sacks and 11 hits on Fitzpatrick. That is to be expected with a defensive line as talented as the Rams are, and with so much inexperience in front of Fitzpatrick.

Bills Players That Stood out Today

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    A number of Bills players turned in solid games today.

    WR Steve Johnson and TE Scott Chandler led the Bills with 71 yards in receptions. Johnson was playing through a hamstring injury, but gutted out another tough performance. Fox Sports flashed a blurb about Johnson playing in his 40th consecutive start for Buffalo. That is the current second-longest start streak for all NFL wide receivers. The leader is Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald, who has one more start at 41.

    The Bills' recent addition to special teams, Mana Silva, looked good all day today on special teams.

    Mario Williams continued his recent strong play with a sack, a tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and stripping the ball from Sam Bradford.

    Marcel Dareus had a big hit on Bradford today.

    Nick Barnett led the Bills with 10 tackles and played a solid game.

    The secondary played a very disciplined game, as it stopped its recent trend of getting hit with lots of pass interference calls. The Bills only had two penalties for the game, which was a step in the right direction.

Final Thoughts

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    Buffalo forgot about C.J. Spiller today, as Spiller was only allowed to have seven rushing attempts for 37 yards. He also caught one pass today for 15 yards. How Buffalo can only give a weapon like Spiller eight touches for an entire game is difficult to understand.

    If you wanted to draw up a game plan for how to remove your best player from the offense, then Chan Gailey pulled this one off to perfection.

    But to be a playoff team, you have to be able to win your games at home, especially against teams that you should be able to beat. The Bills weren't able to do that, for all of the reasons that we highlighted.

    Next week, the Bills will go up to Toronto to face the Seattle Seahawks and their combination of ex-Bills RB Marshawn Lynch and their hot rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson.

    The Bills defense continues to look better with each passing week. It is playing an aggressive style of football, and the defensive line looks like it is meshing more and more. It saw how well the Rams defense performed and will get another good look at a top defense when it faces Seattle next Sunday.

    It is too late for the 2012 postseason, so from here on out, there are players that will be auditioning for 2013. The Bills have to determine which free agents to bring back next year, so there is still a lot riding on the line for the final three weeks.

    Thanks for checking out the presentation.