ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' banged-up offense shouldn't be immune from blame for Sunday's 41-25 loss to the New England Patriots, nor should a special-teams unit that allowed a 73-yard kickoff return to Danny Amendola escape criticism.
But for all of the buzz this past offseason about Rex Ryan's defense being "fully pregnant" and "all-in" after a disappointing 2015 performance, that talk hardly meant anything when the Bills were trying to show they can stack up with their long-dominant division rival, New England.
A year after Tom Brady threw for 466 yards in Buffalo, the most ever against the Bills' defense, he looked equally comfortable Sunday in New Era Field. Brady completed 22 of 33 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns before being pulled from the blowout in the fourth quarter.
"We made way too many mistakes, mistakes we haven't made all season," Ryan said after the game. "Against a guy like Brady, he makes you pay anytime you have a mistake."
Ryan is right about Brady, but Bills fans don't want to hear that. Ryan was brought to Buffalo as a defensive guru, and he sold his twin brother Rob -- an addition to his staff this season -- as a top-tier coach. When Ryan & Ryan faced their biggest test of the season in Brady, they failed.
Making matters worse is that Buffalo has been mostly healthy on defense. They lost NFL sacks leader Lorenzo Alexander to a hamstring injury in the second quarter, but he was replaced with first-round pick Shaq Lawson, who was expected to be the starter to begin the season. Their only other missing starter was safety Aaron Williams, and his absence showed on a 53-yard touchdown catch by former Bills receiver Chris Hogan in the first quarter.
Top cornerback Stephon Gilmore trailed in coverage on the play, but even before Hogan trotted into the end zone, Gilmore was turning around and looking for his missing safety -- Jonathan Meeks -- to hound.
"It's just 10 guys playing one thing and somebody else playing something else," Ryan said. "And even if you're not singing out of the same hymnal, it looks bad and sounds bad."
Blame should fall mostly on players for not being ready, but responsibility extends beyond that. Scouts must identify players who will be prepared, and coaches must create a culture where preparation is expected. The Bills have succeeded in that area with veterans such as linebackers Alexander and Zach Brown, as well as running back Mike Gillislee, but something was clearly lacking Sunday with other players, especially on defense.
The Bills entered Week 8 as the NFL's 18th-ranked defense, allowing 360 yards per game. They allowed 357 yards to the Patriots but proved weak in the red zone, where the Patriots went 3-of-4 in scoring touchdowns. Buffalo also allowed New England to convert 9 of 13 third downs, including two conversion plays that resulted in touchdowns.
Ryan might try to write off Sunday's performance in the coming days as the product of Brady and another MVP-level outing from the Patriots' quarterback. But looking at the big picture -- including Miami's Jay Ajayi rushing for 214 yards last Sunday against Buffalo -- there should be cause for concern in the Bills' defensive meeting rooms.
Until it's proved otherwise, Ryan is captaining a mediocre defense for the second consecutive season.