For a team that has been so down and out for most of the 2010 season, it’s almost ironic that they lose a game because they don’t go down easily enough. Shawn Nelson’s fumble, which seemed to occur after a clear stop of forward progress, allowed the Ravens to recover and avoid an embarrassing loss to the winless Bills. The Ravens beat Buffalo 37-34 in overtime.
After forcing the Ravens to go three and out in the opening possession of overtime, the Bills started a drive with a first down, and appeared ready to march into Ravens’ territory. Fitzpatrick threw a seemingly harmless pass for a couple of yards over the middle to Shawn Nelson. Nelson was quickly bottled up by Raven tacklers. All forward progress had been stopped, when the Bills’ offensive line started pushing back behind Nelson to try and give the Bills a few extra yards. The NFL, with its demand to protect receivers after last week, allowed Nelson to be sandwiched and pummeled in a pile of bodies for several seconds while the referees were unable to locate their hot pink whistles. Needless to say, Ray Lewis needed just 10 seconds to pry the ball away from Nelson, giving the Ravens the football in Bills’ territory. Compounding the unfortunate events, Geoff Hangartner slammed his helmet on the field, prompting the suddenly reawakened officials to flag him for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, all but assuring a Ravens’ win.
This was a tough loss for the Bills, who were obviously bolstered by their bye week, and the Ravens’ refusal to run the football. The Bills had an exceedingly rare day of effective offense. The last time the Bills had a 300 yard passer, Brett Favre wasn’t even contemplating retirement and probably didn’t know how to text. Two teams, seemingly 13 comebacks, and some sexting self-portraits of his fun parts and his crocs later, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards against the #3 defense in the NFL. The Bills also had 132 yards rushing, allowing them to more than double their average offensive output (251 ypg) going into Sunday’s Ravens matchup. It was a big day for Buffalo’s starting receivers as well, as Stevie Johnson had 8 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown, while Lee Evans hauled in 6 passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bills may not have needed overtime if they hadn’t fallen into some familiar pitfalls. The Nelson fumble aside, C.J. Spiller’s fumble before the end of the first half on a kickoff return allowed the Ravens to turn a 24-13 deficit into a 24-20 momentum shifter. That fumble actually led to three straight Raven touchdowns, as the Bills’ well-documented third quarter struggles continued. Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions, and the Bills had 79 penalty yards.
The defense was not great by any means, but they had played much better than they have in quite some time. Cam Cameron, heavily criticized for being too conservative with a big lead against the Patriots last week, was out to prove he could also be too aggressive, and went away from the running game for no real reason. The Ravens did amass 135 yards rushing, but only ran the ball 29 times, despite carrying for almost 5 yards per carry. It seemed that he had not seen any film of the Bills previous three games, where they were unable to stop the run, even if they knew it was coming. The Bills did use Chris Kelsay predominantly as a down lineman, and while he still wasn’t great, managed to stumble into a sack, and avoid embarrassment out in space. Dwan Edwards played some inspired football against his old team, recording a sack and pressuring the Ravens. Their were signs of a pass rush, sometimes even with just a four man rush, for the first time this season. Donte Whitner proved he is essentially a linebacker, as he was beaten in coverage by Todd Heap badly a couple of times, while he also dropped what might have been a game-ending pick-six when the Bills had a 24-10 lead in the 2nd quarter.
I don’t know how severe right tackle Cornell Green’s injury is, but there may not be a spot for him when he returns. While he was doing his revolving door impression this season, Cordaro Howard played a nice game, standing up to Raven pass rushers throughout this game. The only sack the Bills allowed was on a fourth down play, where Fitzpatrick was behind the line attempting to scramble out of the pocket to gain the yard the Bills needed.
Chan Gailey had a nice offensive gameplan coming into the game, but opposing coaches are continually using him as a punching bag coming out of the half. His in game adjustments leave something to be desired, to say the least. I liked Gailey’s guts in going for it on fourth and one in Ravens’ territory in the fourth quarter, however, he seemed scared to pull the trigger later in the game. His move to punt on fourth and about six in Raven territory when down by 10 with about 10 minutes left to go seemed like a move made by a snake-bitten coach. The move ultimately worked out for the Bills, but I would rather see him be aggressive in that situation. Had the Ravens chosen to run the ball on that series, they likely would have been able to run out a large portion of the clock, and maybe even add to their lead.
Rian Lindell, who has had a reputation of being iffy in clutch situations, nailed a 50 yard field goal with four seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Hopefully this is a sign of improvement for this team, and not just an aberration due to coming off their bye week. While I want the Bills to have the #1 pick at the end of the season, the Bills need to have their young players begin to show there is some sort of core for the future. For those of you keeping track of such things, the Panthers beat the 49ers this week, leaving the Bills as the NFL’s only winless team. The 2008 Lions will have to keep their swill (anti-champagne?) on ice for another week, as the Bills continue their pursuit of infamy.