NFL Preview - Buffalo (4-8) at Tampa Bay (3-9)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Buffalo Bills did almost everything right last weekend except win.
With their playoff chances having just about faded to black, the Bills look to get their upcoming two-game trip to Florida off on the right foot as they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On paper, the Bills put forth a solid effort last Sunday in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons, rushing for a total of 195 yards, scoring four total touchdowns and picking up six sacks.
However, the Falcons were able to keep it a game and rallied back from a 17-7 deficit in the first half. They managed to tie the game with 1:28 left in the fourth quarter on a touchdown that was set up thanks to a Buffalo pass interference penalty on third down.
Buffalo then got the ball to start overtime and tight end Scott Chandler had moved the ball 22 yards on a catch before having the ball punched out and recovered by Atlanta. That led to Matt Bryant's game-winning, 36-yard field goal three minutes into the bonus frame.
"Obviously it was a tough game because both teams were going at each other pretty good there," said Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone. "There was a lot of back and forth there, and at the end we just weren't able to make a play there to pull it out."
E.J. Manuel threw for 210 yards with a touchdown pass to running back Fred Jackson, who also had one of Buffalo's three rushing touchdowns. Manuel also ran for a score and C.J. Spiller highlighted his 149-yard performance on the ground with a score.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes had two of Buffalo's six sacks, but the Bills still lost for the fourth time in five games to fall to 4-8 on the season. That has the Bills two games back of Baltimore and Miami, which are tied for the second wild card spot in the AFC.
"It's definitely top three if not the most frustrating (loss) I've ever been a part of," said Jackson. "To be in the position we were in to try and make up some ground on teams in the playoff hunt and to lose it like we did is definitely frustrating. We're not out of it yet, we've got a lot of work to get done and need a lot of help from some other teams, but guys are going to keep plugging away."
The Bills face an added challenging of trying to bounce back from a tough loss in doing so on the road. Buffalo has lost eight of its past nine as the visiting team dating back to last season and also visits Jacksonville next Sunday.
At 3-9, the Buccaneers don't have realistic playoff chances, but are looking to finish strong ahead of next season. They showed signs of doing so by following up an 0-8 start with three straight wins, but had that run of success halted on Sunday by the red-hot Carolina Panthers, who have won eight straight.
Turnovers also hurt the Bucs in a 27-6 setback to the Panthers. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon lost a key fumble, threw an interception and finished with just 180 yards passing.
Tampa Bay as a whole found little room against Carolina's tough defense, managing just 206 yards of offense.
"Obviously we made too many mistakes, both as coaches and players, to have an opportunity to win that game against a good football team," said Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. "Early in the game we had plenty of opportunities to make it a good football game and we did not capitalize and they did. Again, coaching and playing, this was a team top to bottom loss, starting with me."
Vincent Jackson caught three passes for 75 yards and Bobby Rainey managed 63 yards on 17 carries, but Glennon was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in nine career starts.
Tampa Bay leads this all-time series 6-3, but dropped a 33-20 decision to the Bills in the last meeting in 2009. That game marked the Buccaneers' first-ever trip to Buffalo.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Nagging injuries have prevented Spiller and Jackson from enjoying consistent success this season, but the Bills still rank fourth in football with an AFC- leading 139.2 rushing yards per game. There has even been some explosiveness, with the Bills 38 rushing plays of 10 yards or more ranking third in the conference.
Both Spiller and Fred Jackson were on point last weekend with Spiller notching a career-high 77-yard run early in the game and also scoring from 36 yards out. His 149 yards were the second-highest single-game total of his career and Spiller's 656 yards on the ground lead the club.
"I think he's been working extremely hard, he goes in there and makes the big run and gets nicked up," Marrone said of Spiller's Sunday performance. "Starts limping a little bit and gets himself back in there. It's kind of been that type of season for C.J., but I think you can see he can make some big plays out there. I was happy to see him do that."
Jackson has helped take some of the load off Spiller and his seven rushing touchdowns on the season are a career high. He set his previous personal best of six back in 2011.
The Bills have counted on their run game a lot this season as the passing offense ranks 29th at 198.1 YPG, though Manuel is just one touchdown pass shy of matching the franchise's rookie record of 10 set by Dennis Shaw in 1970.
Tampa Bay's run defense ranks 12th in football at 106.8 yards allowed per game and Buffalo may test it given that the Buccaneers rank first in the league with 17 interceptions.
Linebacker Lavonte David and safety Keith Tandy both have interceptions in back-to-back games.
Two of those picks also have come from cornerback Darrelle Revis as he is putting his lost 2012 season behind him. He has started all 12 games this season after suffering a season-ending knee injury last September with the New York Jets, but has left the past two games early due to injury.
Against the Panthers, he missed the end of the third quarter and all of the final frame with a chest/shoulder injury, but Schiano isn't worried about the ailments nagging his star corner.
"I think he'll be effective," said Schiano. "He's not only a great player but he's a pro, he's a warrior, and he'll fight through whatever discomfort he has to play, if he can play."
Strongside linebacker Jonathan Casillas won't be able to play through his injury as he suffered a torn meniscus last weekend that landed him on injured reserve. He becomes the 14th Tampa Bay player to be put on IR and the first on the defensive side of the ball.
The swarming secondary and safe play by the Glennon-led offense has the Bucs tied for fourth in the NFL with a plus-10 turnover differential. The Bills will try to force the unit into some mistakes on Sunday and lead the NFL with 43 sacks, the most in team history through the first 12 games of a season.
Hughes is second in the club with eight sacks, while end Mario Williams picked up his team-leading 12th sack of the season last weekend. He ranks third in the NFL and is just two sacks shy of his previous career high of 14 set in 2007.
"The pass rush goes hand in hand with the interceptions," said Schiano of the Bills. "They put so much heat on quarterbacks that there're some balls -- if you watch the tape, game after game, and then the cut ups, guys are under duress and they put it up there and they can't realty see and then they get intercepted."
Buffalo is also tied for second in the league with 16 interceptions and faces a challenge this weekend in defending Vincent Jackson, who is 38 receiving yards shy of becoming the first Buccaneers receiver to post consecutive 1,000- yard campaigns since Joey Galloway's three-year run from 2005-07.
It is do-or-die for the Bills, who have done themselves no favors over the past few weeks.
"Mathematically we are not out of this thing," said Marrone. "Even though it may be difficult for you to talk about it, it's still there in front of us. Now, if you look too far down the road, I think you can get yourself in trouble, so all of our focus is on this next game."
That next game is certainly one Buffalo can win, especially if the dangerous pass rush cane get Glennon out of rhythm.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 23, Buccaneers 20
12/05 14:50:53 ET