ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As frustrated Buffalo Bills fans returned home Sunday from New Era Field after watching their team get humiliated 47-10 by the New Orleans Saints, the performances of three former Bills receivers during late afternoon games on the West Coast were hard to ignore.
The Texans' and Giants' defenses who opposed the Rams and 49ers are both among the worst in the NFL, but the juxtaposition between the fireworks on the Pacific and the dud offered up Sunday by quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Bills' offense still stung for many Buffalo fans.
Why are Woods and Goodwin, playing in new offensive systems and with new quarterbacks, both on pace this season to obliterate their career highs set during their four-year careers (2013-16) in Buffalo? Why could the Bills' offense, supposedly boosted by the debut of Kelvin Benjamin and the return of tight end Charles Clay from injury, manage only 56 passing yards Sunday?
Rams quarterback Jared Goff and 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard are hardly Kurt Warner and Steve Young at this early stage of their careers, yet first-year Rams coach Sean McVay and rookie 49ers coach Kyle Shahanan -- both known as up-and-coming offensive minds -- have been able to figure out something that the Bills apparently have not.
Los Angeles ranks third in yards per game (388.9) and second in offensive points scored per game (29.6), while talent-depleted San Francisco ranks 20th in yards (325.9) and 23rd in points (17.4).
The Bills, led by veteran offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in his first year with the team, rank 28th in yards per game (292.0) and 19th in points per game (18.9). Against a Saints defense that ranked 15th in yards allowed per game entering Sunday (326.6), there was a clear problem Sunday for Buffalo's offense.
The Bills had an established quarterback in Taylor, a Pro Bowl running back in LeSean McCoy, a massive wideout in Benjamin touted as a contested-catch machine and a tight end in Clay with whom Taylor has built a three-year rapport. But after a field goal drive to begin Sunday's game, that group managed only 42 more yards and two first downs before Taylor was pulled for rookie Nathan Peterman late in the fourth quarter.
Penalties and lack of success in the running game -- the Bills managed only 2.3 yards per carry after a 36-yard run by McCoy on the opening drive -- compounded the offense's issues. The Bills ran six second-down plays and five third-down plays needing more than 10 yards to gain a first down.
It was on a pair of those third-down plays, with 13 and 15 yards to gain, that the crowd served up some of its loudest boos of the jeer-worthy afternoon. Taylor checked down both times to 250-pound running back Mike Tolbert, who has averaged 3.4 yards after catches this season, for gains of 8 and 9 yards to pull the Bills' offense off the field.
"Coverage [was] deeper," Dennison said Monday of Taylor's decisions. "We were working on high-level throws, they changed their coverage from three-deep to two-deep, everybody dropped. They were at the [first-down] sticks, they were at the levels, and in order to make a first down, you have to get a completion. It's either shoving it down in there deep, risking the ball for an inception or checking it down.
"In hindsight, we talked to [Taylor]: 'Look, sometimes we have to make some chances, just like we said.' [Taylor] took it as, 'We need to find the check down, and maybe we can make a first down running it.'"
Asked why Tolbert was used in that situation instead of the more elusive McCoy, Dennison said, "He was the one in the ballgame at that point in time. That's because it was a rotation. LeSean had taken one deep route. We tried some verticals on the play before, and he was out."
It wasn't only McCoy who seemed to disappear from the Bills offense. Benjamin was targeted three times by Taylor on the opening series, catching the first pass for 9 yards before Taylor overthrew the 6-foot-5 receiver in the end zone and threw behind him on a pattern short of the end zone.
Benjamin did not see another pass thrown his direction until Peterman entered the game. He caught two passes from the rookie fifth-round pick for 33 yards.
"Coverage dictated that," Dennison said Monday. "[The Saints] started out [by covering] him one-on-one. We took our chances, didn't make the plays. ... It's up to me to get him in the right spot to get him the targets and get him the catches. We're working on that one, too."
McDermott plainly tried to manage fans' expectations about Benjamin by saying twice last week that he was only one piece of the offensive puzzle. With more time to practice together, Taylor and Benjamin could develop a better connection during games.
But when looking at a snapshot of the Bills' struggles Sunday despite the addition of Benjamin, as well as the success elsewhere of their former receivers, the picture is not pretty for the increasingly embattled Taylor and Dennison.