The Bills lost their second “Monday Night Football” appearance of the 2021 NFL season against on Monday against the Patriots, a game in which the weather had a greater impact than any individual player or coach.
That still didn’t stop Bills fans and neutral NFL observers from criticizing Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, whose coaching decisions again came under scrutiny on the Monday night stage.
No single play or decision by McDermott stood out more than others in the Bills’ 14-10 loss, but rather myriad decisions and lack of in-game adjustments that helped contribute to the Buffalo defeat. That it happened against rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who attempted just three passes all game, only makes the loss seem that much worse.
With that, here are McDermott’s coaching misfires that helped contribute to the “Monday Night Football” loss to New England:
Porous rush defense
New England gave no indication it would pass the ball on Monday. Patriots coach Bill Belichick clearly didn’t want to place Jones in a position to throw in weather that included 25-29 mph winds with gusts that jumped to 40-50 mph.
Despite no attempts at deceiving the Bills defense, however, New England largely did what it wanted to on the ground, paving over the league’s 12th-ranked rush defense for 222 yards and a touchdown off 46 carries. Damien Harris rushed 10 times for 111 yards and a 64-yard score while Rhamondre Stevenson rushed 24 times for 78 yards. Brandon Bolden also scored a successful 2-point conversion in the first quarter off a 2-yard toss sweep left.
McDermott had no answer for the rushing attack, schematically or otherwise, letting the Patriots get 4.8 yards per carry. That’s including negative rush attempts by Jonnu Smith (minus-1) and Mones (minus-5). Without those rushes detracting from the total, New England averaged 5.65 yards per carry. The Bills’ inability to stop the rush ultimately proved the difference in the matchup.
McDermott’s untimely challenge
McDermott cost his team a timeout — and one final shot at attempting a go-ahead score — when he challenged the spot of the ball on a fourth-and-1 sneak by the Patriots late in the third quarter. It appeared as if Jones had made the line to gain on the fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak, and there wasn’t nearly enough video evidence to suggest otherwise.
The play predictably stood as called on the field, costing the Bills their first timeout of the half. Their second timeout came on first-and-goal at the New England 6-yard line with 8:08 left to play. Buffalo was unable to score despite two treks deep into New England territory, leaving itself only one timeout past the two-minute warning. Those untimely timeouts — especially as a result of the challenge — cost the team a chance to get one final shot at a go-ahead score as the Patriots victory knelt their way to the win.
Field goal attempt in windy weather
Unlike his Patriots counterpart, McDermott trusted his kicker to attempt a field goal in blustery conditions in Buffalo. The ill-fated decision came on the Bills’ penultimate offensive drive, when Tyler Bass’ 33-yard field goal into the wind veered right of the post to keep the score at 14-10.
A successful field goal would have made it a one-possession game. Instead, Buffalo was forced to attempt a touchdown on its next drive, which ultimately ended in a turnover on downs after Josh Allen’s pass was deflected.
It’s worth noting Belichick did not have his kicker attempt field goals against the wind, electing to go for a (successful) 2-point conversion instead of the point-after attempt. He did, however, allow Nick Folk to boom a 41-yard field goal with the wind at his back.
Those decisions ultimately proved the difference in the game. Speaking of which: Why didn’t McDermott go for the 2-point conversion in the Bills’ lone touchdown?
Bils’ PAT instead of 2-point conversion
Buffalo got a lucky break late in the first quarter following a N’Keal Harry muffed punt. That gave the Bills a short field at the Patriots 14-yard line, which they immediately turned into points with a 14-yard touchdown connection between Allen and Gabriel Davis.
Here’s where the issue comes into play: Why not attempt the 2-point conversion to tie the game instead of vying for the (successful) point-after attempt? Had McDermott gone for the former, it would have placed Buffalo in a position to need only one successful field goal attempt late in the game to tie the Patriots (the Bills drove into the red zone twice in their last two drives, getting as close as the Patriots’ 6- and 13-yard lines, respectively).
McDermott may have had more faith in his offense to put up points against the Patriots, but he perhaps should have realized the weather would not let up and that prioritizing points over potential future scoring opportunities was more important. Even if the 2-point conversion failed, the Bills would have remained in the same position: needing two field goals or a touchdown to go ahead of New England. The risk-reward favored a more aggressive approach.
Josh Allen not more involved in run game
The wind clearly had an effect on the play-calling by both teams, though not nearly as much for the Bills: They still allowed Allen to attempt 30 passes on the night. He completed 15 for 145 yards and a score. That willingness to get the ball in Allen’s hand was admirable. But McDermott should have found ways to incorporate more designed quarterback runs into the Bills’ offensive game plan.
As it stands, Allen finished the game leading all Bills rushers with 39 yards on just six attempts, including a 21-yard scramble. His size and mobility would have been difficult to defend, even for the Patriots’ third-ranked pass defense. But McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll allowed Allen to air it out despite the horrid throwing conditions, instead of letting him take a more dual-threat approach.