There’s been a lot made of and speculated about the Buffalo Bills' final offensive drive in their 19-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Field in Cleveland.
Head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll both had a chance to address the situation with reporters during their Monday afternoon press conferences.
“The plans weren't really to huddle at that point,” McDermott said of the final sequence after running back Devin Singletary was tackled inbounds with 54-seconds remaining. “It was to go to the line, and get the third down call off and then save the time out there. Those are situations we practice every week, as you guys see us out there from time-to-time in two-minute, and we didn't execute well enough. So, we'll go back and look at that again this week.”
Quarterback Josh Allen and the offense originally went to the line of scrimmage to run a play, but backed off in order to huddle. By the time they broke the huddle and snapped the ball from the Browns' 35-yard line, there were only 26-seconds left, wasting 28 valuable seconds off the clock and brining up a 3rd-and-4.
“We were in a two-minute play, we wanted to get it to our best ‘gotta have it’ type of play that we have,” Daboll said of huddling. “We ran it earlier in the game. We threw it to Dawson [Knox] on a little under route, where he picked it up on 3rd-and-2, and you know, on this play, they played blitz-zero and failed to connect.”
Blitz-zero means the Browns had no free safety, played man-to-man on Bills receivers, then blitzed a player at the snap. The Bills had three receivers lined up to the left of Allen, which is where the blitz came from. On the other side, he had John Brown matched up one-on-one with a Browns cornerback. Allen audibled to a pass down the sideline to Brown, but it fell incomplete.
“You want to try and get the best play that we could have prepared for that situation,” Daboll said. “It was a bunch play (meaning three receivers bunched on one side). They max blitzed it. Josh signaled to [John Brown] and we didn’t connect, so that’s about what it was.”
As the play is unfolding, wide receiver Cole Beasley appears to be open on a much shorter route to the left side, where he would have been able to convert a first down. However, Daboll said that’s a quick decision that has to be made by Allen, and he made it.
“He has to make a split-second decision when you have all those people up at the line of scrimmage in there, and the blitz, he has to make a quick read on that. We had a three-man route combination over to the left, and he had a one-on-one with John to the right and threw it up there, and we just didn’t connect on it.”
When McDermott was asked about that third down play, he said, “without getting into too much strategy, we had a play call right there, we didn't execute, obviously give ourselves a chance to extend the drive right there.”
At the time Singletary was tackled, the Bills still had one timeout remaining, but elected not to use it.
“Those are situations that can go either way,” McDermott said when asked if he thought about using the time there. “With the way we practice it, the analytics part of it as well, that bakes into it, where you’d want to save it basically from one-second left on the clock to 30, if you just have one, if you're holding one, to give yourself a chance. Whether it's to go win the game, to get to kick a game-winning field goal, whatever it is. So, like I said, our operation, it was not our intention to huddle at that point. We had to huddle, and that's something we can look at going forward here.”
McDermott was then faced with a decision to either attempt a 53-yard field goal to tie the game, or go for it on fourth down and try to gain four yards to keep the drive alive. Ultimately, he settled for the field goal attempt by kicker Stephen Hauschka, which fell short and wide-left.
“You always want to have a chance to win the game,” McDermott said. “If you go from fourth down and you make it, great. You give yourself a chance to win the game at the end of the day. If you don't convert, you never really give yourself a chance to win the game. So, you want to give your players a chance to win the game. I thought we did that at that point. That moment, I felt like it was the right thing for our team.