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Immediate reactions: Browns 37, Bills 24

blog by Nick Mendola  • 

Now that’s just not fair to a fan base that’s been slugged in the gut more times than Butterbean. The Buffalo Bills without EJ Manuel are a little like the aforementioned boxer: a carnival curiosity. You watch because, really, who knows what weirdness is on the horizon?

But it was also unfair to what was turning into a really good football game, even after Cleveland had lost their starting quarterback. What do you want to make of an undrafted rookie tossing shots against a Cleveland defense that’s quite decent? Zip-zero unless he succeeds. TJ Ward’s interception return for a touchdown had an air of inevitability to it.

Make no mistake about it: your Buffalo Bills are a better football team than the Cleveland Browns with both starting quarterbacks in the house. Toss in a kid who’s never faced an NFL defense in meaningful football and the only promise is that of a loss.

—I just wrote an article for Bills Digest last week on how Aaron Williams’ performance against the Ravens was an incredibly-pleasant surprise, so I don’t feel bad talking about the other side of the coin. Aaron Williams was a crime scene against the Browns, looking like a more muscular Justin Rogers. This is apart from the soon-to-be-mentioned penalty below. His coverage was miserable. An argument can be made that if he made just one more (?) play, the Bills still have a look at this game. Instead, he made closer to zero plays. Negative plays? Aaaaaah!

—So let’s talk about stupid. It’s a rough word; One not to be thrown around casually. Yet so many things about the Buffalo Bills performance in the first half was just that.

*Timid play-calling - I’d be surprised if the only non-passing plays was called “run straight-ahead.”

*Horrific clock management - For a team that prides itself on getting snaps and getting them quickly, their operation during the final minute was haphazard and lacked any urgency for a team that just puked up a 10-point lead to be down seven.

*Awful penalties - Aaron Williams’ mindless late hit kept a Cleveland drive alive that led to 3 points. Da’Norris Searcy’s end zone holding on a receiver who’d already stepped out of bounds was almost as absurd. And then there was Doug Marrone’s challenging an unchallengeable play (presumably he wanted to challenge the call on Searcy since the foul happened after Cameron stepped out of bounds).

Just awful. It was like watching every other Bills team and it hearkened back to the Jets game. Would the second half play out the same for Manuel and the Bills? If only we were allowed to find out. Thanks, Knee.

—By the way, Travis Benjamin was already in the red zone during his punt return trip for six, but how many times have we seen “block in the back” calls only to have a two-handed shove on Jonathan Meeks’ name plate ignored? Hey, refs, it was only the last man who could’ve tackled the punt returner. Did the pink hankie in your pocket cause confusion? Ugh.

—Kiko Alonso is a monster. The hyper and well-timed runs into the backfield are one thing, but a linebacker leaping both lines to stop a play at the 1-yard-line? Can we harness his energy and give Niagara Falls a break? Wow. Buffalo: your middle linebacker has arrived.

—I know I’ve been hard on Stevie Johnson lately. I also know they scored one play later, but I kinda want my No. 1 receiver to catch the ball in his breadbasket whether he’s been held or not.

—Full marks to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and not just for the three touchdowns. Both were dealing with injuries that would’ve sidelined a bunch of running backs and both gave tremendous efforts. If either, dinged up or not, were in the place of Willis McGahee, Cleveland waltzes.

—Dan Carpenter hit another 50-plus yard field goal. He’s missed a total of one kick this season. If you’re trying to win this year, you consider keeping him around.

—About Jeff Tuel. No beef, but for those of you who thought EJ Manuel looked like your stereotypical rookie quarterback this year just got your comeuppance. Woof.

—Man, let’s hope Manuel’s injury isn’t anything that can’t be mended within 10 days. If the injury is going to last a while, however, do you consider signing a veteran quarterback? Wasting this defense would seem a shame, even with the suspect secondary. Stephon Gilmore’s going to come back, as is Ron Brooks. The Bills defense is going to win a few ball games on their own, so why not double your odds?

—Think Shawn Powell was spooked by having two punts returned for heaps of yardage? He punted very poorly for much of the remainder on the evening (his last blast was pretty decent).

—Side note: let’s get rid of kickoffs in the NFL. They make a long game longer.

—I’ve officially reached the age where night games hold little allure because I get tired (and apparently quite cranky).

—Finally, I watched this entire game on a British feed from Sky Sports. Just like they do with the other football, the commercial interruptions are quite minimal and it’s pretty great. Because the game feed comes from the NFL Network, the majority of commercial breaks feature a 3-man studio crew breaking down the last drive or two. The guys weren’t the best, but it’s a reminder of what can be added to a broadcast by pundits who aren’t giving Dan Marino verbal noogies and saying things like, “Bill’s not gonna like this—chortle chortle—but I gotta pick against the Steelers.”


Stat-line I liked:
Bills defense, 5 sacks
— Two for Mario, 1.5 for Jerry Hughes, one for Kyle and a half sack for Jamaal Westerman. Google him.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
Travis Benjamin, 7 returns, 179 yards
— When a player sets a positive franchise record against your club, life usually isn’t good. It wasn’t.

Game ball:
— Twelve more tackles and always around the ball. Star’s born.

Next week:
Cincinnati at home. If EJ’s ready to go, I feel good. If he’s not, 2-4 is all but certain.

So frustrating. Soooooooooooooooooo frustrating. You want to lose with your best.

TAGGED: brandon weeden, buffalo bills, cleveland browns, football, fred jackson, immediate reactions, jeff tuel, nick mendola

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