AFC East: 2013 Week 14 BUF at TB

TAMPA, Fla. -- Well, at least it was a nice trip to sunny Florida.

For the impressive amount of Buffalo Bills fans who traveled to watch Sunday's 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that was their solace -- because what they witnessed sure wasn't pretty.

Falling to 4-9, the Bills now risk stumbling through the final month of the season, which would all but erase any of the promise they had built up since training camp.

Yes, this is a "rebuilding" season for coach Doug Marrone, a first-year coach, and EJ Manuel, his rookie quarterback. But to "build" a team requires progress, something that even Marrone admitted wasn't evident Sunday.

"We let down ownership. We let down the fans. Hell, we had a bunch of fans down here. We really did," Marrone said after the game. "It's important for us. Sometimes it's very difficult for those fans to see, on the outside, of what's progression and what's not progression. And that's a difficult thing.

"I have to give them things that they can visibly see on the field to make sure that they understand that we will be going and we are working towards heading in the right direction."

There were positive signs earlier this season. The Bills nearly knocked off the New England Patriots in their season opener. They had an edge-of-your-seat comeback win over the Carolina Panthers. They took down the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and they played an undefeated Kansas City Chiefs team tight.

But now there is evidence of regression. Marrone spoke about "battling adversity" in the early going, when it seemed like the Bills were fending off injuries at nearly every position. But this team is now healthy. This is the roster that general manager Doug Whaley assembled in the offseason and it's one that will stay mostly intact into next season.

It's troubling, then, that the Bills were defeated in resounding fashion Sunday with the coach and players they hope will produce a contender.

"We got a lot of guys that are going to be back next year. We need to learn to win with this group. We got the talent," center Eric Wood said. "We just got to learn each week to come out and prepare and come out to win the ballgame. That's all that matters. That will be stressed moving forward."

The breakdowns against the Buccaneers must have hit home for Marrone late in the third quarter. After he successfully challenged to overturn an incompletion to Robert Woods, the Bills gave the 9 yards gained by the catch right back to Tampa when Wood and tackle Erik Pears were called for back-to-back false starts.

Marrone, a former NFL lineman, came up through the ranks coaching offensive lines. So if there's any position where you wouldn't expect costly penalties and the seven sacks it allowed Sunday, it would be the offensive line.

In the preseason, the Bills had a notable penalty problem. They were the NFL's most-flagged team through their first two contests, which was understandable. It was a new coaching staff, a new scheme, with young players. But being penalized 11 times for 114 yards Sunday was a flashback the Bills didn't want to have at this point.

The question now is, how will the Bills respond to their latest stumble? After Sunday's loss, Marrone turned the locker room over to his players, few of whom have experience playing for winning teams. The three team captains -- Wood, Fred Jackson and Kyle Williams -- have spent their entire careers in Buffalo. None has ever played in a playoff game.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesEJ Manuel was sacked seven times and threw four interceptions during the Bills' loss in Tampa.
When Wood said the following about the offensive line's performance, a red flag went up: "[It was] bad, but you show me any offensive line that played good when you're down 21 points in the second quarter. I'd love to see it."

That's an attitude that will keep the Bills' wheels stuck in the mud and one that Marrone, who experienced winning in New Orleans, and Whaley, who had been with several winning teams in Pittsburgh, need to snuff out.

Up next for the Bills is another trip to Florida next weekend. Their opponent will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have won four of their past five games and will be primed to push the Bills to another season with double-digit losses.

"I'm sure fans are going to start throwing in the towel and saying we're the same old, same old Bills. They have every right to do that. That's fine," Jackson said. "That's what they have the right to do. We're going to keep working. This thing is far from over for us. We still have a lot to play for this season and we're going to continue to do that."

That's the way the Bills need to approach their final three games. But Marrone has a saying plastered on the walls of the Bills' practice facility that reads, "Don't confuse effort with results." So if the 2013 Bills want to be known as a resilient team, it will have to show on the field.

"I learned that we have a long way to go," Marrone said. "I learned that we have to take more accountability, when you start trying to find the good things and mitigate feeling [bad]. I can't stand up here and make excuses. I can only promise you that we're going to work harder. We're going to get this thing fixed."

Until it's fixed, the Bills faithful will have little more than the sunshine to enjoy when they travel to watch their team play.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's time to take a step back.

That was the message from Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone after rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had his worst outing of the season Sunday, throwing four interceptions in a 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I think we've been giving him more and more. Now it's a point of where you have to re-evaluate that. He's been going fast with his progression and now we just have to look at it and get him started again," Marrone said. "It's not starting over -- don't get me wrong -- [but] we've got to look to see what we can do and probably cut down what we're doing."

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's EJ Manuel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel struggled against the Bucs, throwing four interceptions while taking seven sacks.
It's been an up-and-down season for Manuel, characteristic of most rookie passers, but his performance away from Ralph Wilson Stadium has been consistently poor.

Manuel is 0-5 in games played outside of Buffalo, while his completion percentage dips from 65 percent at Ralph Wilson Stadium to 53 percent at other venues. However, the 16th overall pick in April's draft downplayed location as a factor after Sunday's game.

"I'm not going to say because I'm not at the Ralph I played bad, or because we're on the road [I] played bad," he said. "Just didn't do well today. Very, very, very frustrating for me. But it's still a learning curve and just have to move on."

The Buccaneers sacked Manuel seven times Sunday, but that still wasn't the most the rookie was taken down this season. The New York Jets sacked him eight times in Week 3.

"We didn't do a very good job up front at times," coach Doug Marrone said. "You saw us having to escape the pocket. I think that's very difficult."

Center Eric Wood, however, was defensive about his unit's performance after the game.

"Bad, but you show me any offensive line that played good when you're down 21 points in the second quarter," he said. "I'd love to see it."

A reporter later followed-up, asking if Wood thought an offensive line couldn't play well, down three touchdowns.

"It's pretty tough," Wood responded. "You let a talented dffensive line tee off on you, play after play, they're going to get home. You have to be able to ... if you're not close, and you gotta do obvious passing downs -- first, second, third down -- they're gonna get home. That's how it generally works."

To Wood's point, a big part of the problem for the Bills' offense was their inability to keep second and third downs at manageable distances, a result of an ineffective running game that gained 67 yards on 22 carries.

What wasn't the problem, Wood noted, was crowd noise. It was hardly a hostile environment for Manuel and his offensive line.

"Crowd wasn't a factor today," Wood said. "Shoot, you couldn't tell who made a good play, there was so many Bills fans down here."

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

December, 8, 2013

TAMPA, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

What it means: This one was ugly. The Bills didn't come to play, and it showed. Bobby Rainey's 80-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game set the tone as the Buccaneers cruised to an easy win. The Bills drop to 1-5 on the road and are now tied for the second-worst record in the AFC. If their late-season slide continues, it will be a troubling sign for the rebuilding efforts of coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley.

Manuel hits new low: This was EJ Manuel's worst game of the season. He was intercepted four times, although there is some question as to whether a third-quarter pick by Lavonte David was instead a fumble by Robert Woods, who was hit hard by Darrelle Revis on the play. Manuel finished 18-for-33 for 184 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. His 31.2 passer rating was a season low, and he is now 0-4 on the road with the Bills. It's far too early to write off Manuel in Buffalo, but the Bills need to start thinking about insurance if he plays poorly into next season.

Stock watch: Falling: Offensive line. It was a pitiful performance from all facets of the offense, but the play of the offensive line in particular has to sting Marrone, who has a background coaching the position. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for just 34 yards on 16 carries, while Manuel was sacked seven times. It's tough to pin all of that on the front five, but they were also called for a slew of penalties in the game. One embarrassing third-quarter sequence saw Marrone win a challenge that confirmed a 9-yard catch by Woods, only to have that yardage lost on back-to-back false-start penalties by Eric Wood and Erik Pears.

What's next: The 4-9 Bills will return to Florida next weekend to square off with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have won four of their past five games. It's another road test for Manuel and the young Bills, and one that could further solidify Buffalo's position near the top of the first round in the 2014 draft.