Buffalo Bills vs New Orleans Saints: What coaches, players are saying
ORCHARD PARK – A very short work week is underway for the Buffalo Bills as they try to quickly get ready for their Thanksgiving night showdown with the Saints in New Orleans.
If ever there was a good week for a Thursday night game, this is it for the Bills who desperately want to take their focus away from the way they were manhandled last Sunday by the Colts.
Several players and coach Sean McDermott spoke about that, saying that while in general, games on Thursday are never good for players and coaches, they'll happily sacrifice more prep time and practice for the opportunity to get back on the field rather than having to wait around until Sunday to play.
“Well, I guess there's some bad short turnarounds because you can't really get back on the practice field for all that much time, and then there is some good to it so you can move on and move forward,” McDermott said. “I'm not really sure which one I like more to be honest with you. At the end of the day, no one wants to go through what we just went through.”
It was an inexcusable performance in every way, and coupled with the loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 7, the Bills are now in an uncomfortable and precarious position. Their wiggle room in the quest to win the AFC East is gone because the Patriots have taken over the top spot thanks to their five-game winning streak.
The Bills are facing a Saints team that is in the midst of its own tailspin with three straight losses, so this will be two desperate teams trying to get their act together on a national stage.
I’m at One Bills Drive Tuesday and here’s what’s going on:
Bills will host Panthers on Sunday, Dec. 19
When the NFL schedule was released back in May, the Bills home game against the Carolina Panthers was designated as a TBD – to be determined.
The NFL was waiting to assign a day and time slot for that game and a few others around the league to see how the season was playing out and what teams would look good in a Saturday television window.
It was decided today that the Bills-Panthers will slot in on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. rather than on that Saturday when two games will be played, essentially national TV games because they will be the only ones played at those times.
The Raiders will play at Cleveland on Dec. 18 at 4:30 p.m. on NFL Network, the window that many felt the Bills would get. And then at 8:20 p.m. on NFL Network, it will be Patriots at Colts.
Rookie sixth-round pick Marquez Stevenson has missed the entire season with an ankle injury, but he was back at practice Tuesday and Sean McDermott said the clock has started on the process of getting him onto the active roster.
The Bills have three weeks to bring him up to the 53-man roster off injured reserve, and after Isaiah McKenzie fumbled a kickoff last week that led directly to a Colts touchdown, you have to wonder whether the Bills will try to fast track Stevenson onto the field for Thursday night’s game.
He was fielding kickoffs and punts during practice Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
“Everything’s on the table at this point,” McDermott said.
McDermott was asked if he still had faith in McKenzie who has struggled at times with ball security as he has nine career fumbles since entering the NFL in 2017, though six of those came in his rookie season with the Broncos.
“We always talk about different things roster wise, Brandon (Beane) and myself, and so we look at everything,” McDermott said. “We're confident in Isaiah. He's done some good things for our football team. We all have to improve. That starts with me and goes right on down the line, so each and every one of us needs to improve.”
Sean McDermott said Monday that the vibe around One Bills Drive was “somber” following the 41-15 shellacking at the hands of the Colts. Allen had a different word.
“I’d say focused,” Allen said Tuesday after practice. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself and you can't let one week affect another week. I think it's very fortunate that we have a Thursday night game that we have to turn our attention to because again, we can't let one week turn into two. We're excited to get out there on Thursday and try to be the team that we know we can be. And that's a team that's willing to do whatever it takes to win a football game and going out there and executing and playing situational football and trying to win a game.”
Allen was asked how difficult it can be for a quarterback, who is responsible for so much information, to be ready to play in Thursday games with such a short week of preparation and practice.
“You only have a couple days so you have to kind of fast track third down, red zone, blitz, kind of all in the one day and our guys handled it really well today,” Allen said. “I think we've got a good grasp of what we want to do and how we're gonna handle things. Our guys came in prepared ready to go today.”
It’s difficult for all teams playing on the short week, but while coaches can sometimes get a head start on the next opponent even before the previous opponent has been played, Allen said players can’t do that.
“No, no chance,” he said. “In college, week zero we would kind of focus on week two a little before week one, but that was a week and a half, two weeks in advance. You can’t look ahead in this league; you can't do that.”
The Bills coach earned a victory in his only Thanksgiving Day game as a head coach when the Bills beat the Cowboys in 2019, and he admitted there’s something special about playing on a national holiday, especially one so closely tied to football.
“It’s great when your team is playing on Thanksgiving because of the tradition around playing football on Thanksgiving in America,” McDermott said. “It’s a game where there’s a lot of people at home around our league watching your team play and yet at the same time, I think there’s something special to be said for, it’s just us on the road, obviously some fans, but it brings a team closer together when you’re spending a holiday together. Everybody wants to be home for the holidays, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re together on a holiday I think it brings you a little bit closer as a team.”
That day, Josh Allen stood out and, in many ways, announced himself to the nation with his performance in the 26-15 victory. But McDermott stopped short of believing Allen can glean anything from what happened that day.
“We learn from experiences and I think he learned a lot from that experience playing on the national scene like he did and playing as well as he did,” McDermott said. “Each game is going to be different, though, so I don’t think much that we did in that game will carry over to this game necessarily, but there is something to be said for experience.”
Do the Bills need to use Matt Breida more?
The running back has touched the ball 16 times running and receiving and has produced 121 yards, an average of 7.56 yards per touch with two touchdowns. So yeah, maybe that’s a guy the Bills should be looking to get more involved in the offense, especially given how unproductive Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have been.
“He’s been a resilient player for us,” said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. “Being inactive is a hard thing for almost everybody because of how competitive you are, but he’s kept a good attitude. He’s stayed in his book and understood the game plan. These last couple weeks he’s had an opportunity and he’s made the most of them.”
Breida was active the first two weeks and hardly saw the field. He was inactive for the next six games, then got the call in the last two and has given the offense a little spark, though obviously last week, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Breida’s speed differentiates him from both Singletary and Moss, and for a team that has struggled so mightily in the run game, it seems prudent to see if Breida can change that.
“He’s done something with the ball, right,” said Sean McDermott. “He’s done something when given the opportunity and so that’s earned; I thought he’s done a good job with it. So we’ll see what comes with this week and as we move forward, but he’s done a good job.”
Looks like Tremaine Edmunds will be back
The Bills had their only full practice of the work week on Tuesday, then had a walkthrough Wednesday before boarding their flight to New Orleans and their middle linebacker, who has been out two games with a hamstring injury, was on the field participating fully, meaning he'll be playing.
The news does not appear to be as good for some of the other Bills who have been sidelined. There was still no word on the status of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and offensive tackle Spencer Brown who are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. McDermott continued to point to the league rule that prohibits coaches discussing the status of players in the protocol.
Lotulelei is about to be through his 10-day quarantine period, but with the game on Thursday, he may not be ready to play with almost no practice time in close to two weeks. As for Brown, is it assumed that he is not vaccinated and won’t be eligible to play because of the automatic quarantine.
And then there’s guard Jon Feliciano who has missed the last three games with a calf injury and is eligible to come off the injured reserve list. However, he did not participate in the walk-through Monday or the practice Tuesday, so it appears he won't be ready to play in New Orleans.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.