Well, my first trip to Buffalo wasn't one I'd like to remember, that's for sure. Other than the fact that the Texans didn't turn the ball over, they made a ton of mistakes, especially in the first half. Yet, as they tripped all over themselves for the first 30 minutes, they still tied the game at 21 in the fourth quarter with a shot to win it late in the game.
But, the Bills executed down the stretch, while the Texans let a couple of opportunities slip through their fingers. Literally. Here are my observations from the day in Buffalo.
- After the Texans had tied the game at 21, the Bills ended two drives the same exact way with near interceptions. Those interceptions could very likely have been pick sixes.
- On the first one, cornerback Kevin Johnson read an out route on the Bills' sideline perfectly, made a brilliant break on the ball and…couldn't squeeze the pigskin. With all his momentum heading the other direction, Johnson could've taken that one to the house. It wasn't a clean catch as he truly took it out of the receivers' hands, but he thought he should've picked it off.
- Fast forward to third down on the very next Bills drive…Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor eyed a slant route in the middle of the field and safety Andre Hal read the route immediately. He broke on it and this one would've been a no-doubt, pick six. There wasn't a blue jersey between Hal and the end zone. He just couldn't extend his arms long enough to make the catch. That one…man, that one, Hal will see in his sleep. He'd have made a house call, yet again, if he could've just made that one catch.
- Credit is owed to Tyrod Taylor and his play making throughout the day. He made two brilliant throws for TDs - one fade route to Sammy Watkins and one back shoulder fade to Robert Woods. The game winner was an easy touch throw and that made three for the day. Add in his touchdown on the option run in the second quarter and he accounted for all four Bills touchdowns on the day.
- Johnson didn't have the best game, in fact, it was one of his less memorable this season. What I liked about the rookie was even after he was replaced by Kareem Jackson in the Texans base unit, he fought through it the rest of the game and came up the key pass breakup noted above. He wanted the pick and the Texans needed the pick. At a minimum, the pass breakup got the ball back to the Texans worst case. But, I liked how he responded in the second half to the adversity he experienced early.
- Drew Dougherty and I talked about this on the way home…Jadeveon Clowney had a strong game. He got another sack, drew a holding call on the Bills offensive line and also had a tackle for a loss. The Texans outside backers had a difficult time setting the edge in the first half, but when Clowney got on the field in the second half for the majority of the snaps, that essentially stopped on the spot.
- Special teams units were not very good throughout the day. Three penalties on punt coverage cost the team 15 yards of field position. There was an illegal touching penalty as well early in the game. But, the one moment that was more costly than any other was Keith Mumphery's inability to catch a Bills punt in the fourth quarter. When the ball hit, it rolled to a stop…18 yards deeper into Texans territory. Nick Novak missed an extra point. Tough, overall day for the Texans special teams units and it needs fixing before the Patriots get to town next Sunday night.
- Marc Vandermeer, Andre Ware and I have joked, on and off the air during the game, about throwing the ball to rookie offensive lineman Kendall Lamm when he enters the game. Well, yesterday was that day. I was standing a few feet away from where Lamm was awaiting the ball and it felt like the throw from Brian Hoyer was in the air for a year. The big fella snatched it and held on after getting tackled for a first down. Great play call.
- Later on that first scoring drive, the Texans were in a third and relatively long situation. DeAndre Hopkins lined up wide on the Texans side of the field. He was the lone receiver on that side. The Bills put Leodis McKelvin up in press coverage on Hop then put cornerback Ronald Darby seven yards directly behind him. They just weren't going to let Hopkins beat them. Until he did when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.
- On that same play, Hoyer noticed how the Bills were aligned with those two on Hopkins and the front with only five defenders in the box. He checked to an inside handoff to J.L. Grimes for a first down. Grimes carried Bills defenders for about eight to ten yards. That got me pretty fired up and it got the team going as well.
- Two plays later, the Bills were late reacting to their defensive play call and Hoyer quick snapped them. He caught me off guard too; I was writing down a note about the play prior when he threw out to Ryan Griffin who sprinted for an easy touchdown. Griffin got in the end zone for the second straight week. That scoring drive had a third down throw to Lamm, a third down inside run by Grimes who carried Bills defenders ten yards and a quick snap/smoke screen to a wide open Griffin for a score. After last year when the Bills defense completely shut down the Texans offense, it was a solid way to answer the Bills first score.
- Oh and the Bills were irate on the sideline on Griffin's touchdown catch and with good reason. The two WR to the left side, nearest the Bills sideline, were not set when the ball was snapped. The refs gave the Texans a bit of a gift on that one and it was necessary.
- The focus on Hopkins allowed Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington the opportunity to get open against single coverage throughout the day. Shorts finished with six catches, while Washington had a strong day catching the rock in the middle on option routes and on the sideline against man/single coverage.
- During last week's mic'd up session, J.J. Watt noted how much he was getting beaten up and the number of Saints hitting him throughout the day. Unfortunately, the Bills hit him with everything and everyone they had on the day. The one time Watt got loose for a sack, the Texans were ticketed for holding in the secondary, which negated that sack. He had a couple of tackles for a loss on the day and was a menace in the run game, especially in the second half. But, the Bills, like they did against Hopkins, weren't going to let Watt beat them, especially after what he did to them last year at NRG Stadium.
- I haven't seen the film as I'm doing this on the flight home, but there didn't seem to be many issues attributed to the unfortunate loss of RG Brandon Brooks. The Texans ran the ball relatively well with Oday Aboushi in for Brooks and a banged up Ben Jones at center. Hopefully, Brooks will rebound health-wise and then work on getting back on the field for Sunday night.
- The run game slowed in the second half but on the team's only scoring drive of the second half, DeAndre Hopkins had his best drive of the game, catching three passes, including the game tying touchdown. He had another one handed catch which seems to happen just about once a week. He won't tell you that he played a great game, though, as he wasn't able to hang on to a couple of key passes throughout the game. Now, those catches would've been outstanding grabs, but we're so used to seeing him make those catches regularly that it's still a bit shocking when he doesn't come down with the pill every time.
- I've never seen Nate Washington lose his cool much on the field but he seemed truly angered by something that happened in the first half. Hoyer was in the gun and quickly called a time-out with the play clock about to hit zeroes. But, just after he called time out, I noticed that the play clock read :24…:23 and so on. Hoyer went to the refs to ask them about it. Bill O'Brien did the same. They had a point; the play clock cost them a time out and the refs didn't make the adjustment.
- Hopkins, on the same drive, got a 15-yard penalty after Chris Polk's touchdown. It cost the Texans 15 yards on the kickoff and helped the Bills gain field position. The Bills then scored on the ensuing drive. Bad timing and completely unnecessary.
- Chris Polk turned into another solid performance, rushing 12 times for 61 yards. He ran behind his pads with some oomph throughout the game. He then got in the end zone for the Texans second touchdown of the first half. On the route, he started to the middle of the field on a circle/angle route, but then he realized that the flat was wide open. So, he whirled around, caught the pass from Hoyer and got into the end zone. I gave him credit for reading the defense and adjusting on the fly to, in essence, "make a play." I asked him about it after the game trying to prop him up and he told me "yeah, I screwed up and then I saw the flat open so I just ran over there." So much for me doling out some props…I kid, I kid, but the effort he showed, after the catch, to power through a tackle and get into the end zone was much needed at that point in the game.
- As I mentioned above, this was my first trip to Buffalo and to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Outside of NRG Stadium, that was the loudest crowd I've heard, inside or outside. Much is made about the noise inside Lucas Oil Stadium, but BY FAR, the Bills fans were loud at the right times, even to a point where their defense couldn't communicate to one another when the Texans offense was on the field.
- I would've liked some snow, though. I expected worse, much worse, from Buffalo's Mother Nature.
- Before the game, I walked out on the field as I typically do when I arrive at a visiting stadium. When I walked out on the field, I saw what I thought was some bad field painting. As I looked down the 30 yard line, I saw two different white lines. I instantly thought of JJ Watt telling Vince Wilfork about the guy being drunk in Richmond on Hard Knocks. So, I walked over to take a picture and tweet something about just that. Then, I realized that it was just the frost on the field. Sometimes my idiot-ness amazes me.
- Speaking of Wilfork, at first glance, he had a solid ball game taking on the Bills interior. He made a number of plays versus the run, especially in the second half. He often occupied two blockers at the point of attack, but broke free a few times to join in on tackles for little to no gain.
- Bills safety Bacarri Rambo may have made the most important play of the day for the Bills defense. Cecil Shorts ran an in route just beyond the first down marker. Hoyer threw a dart and it appeared Shorts would make the catch. But, as Shorts started to bring the ball into his body…BOOM! Rambo timed his hit perfectly and dislodged the ball from Shorts' hands. Last year in the first game of the year, Hopkins burned Rambo, then playing for the Washington Redskins, and I hoped that the Texans would "catch" him again. But, it didn't happen as Rambo and his safety partner Corey Graham were outstanding in the Bills' win.
- The Texans played their worst game in a six weeks, yet tied the score at 21 in the fourth quarter on the road against a physical team like the Bills. That's no moral victory and it's not meant to be one, but to have a shot to win that game with one drive in the fourth quarter was unexpected, given how the game played out over the first 45 minutes plus of action. There were just too many mistakes, and Taylor's playmaking, to overcome on this day.
Welp, it's on to New England and Sunday Night Football. See ya' then.
The Texans faced the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Week 13.