Rodgers and Brady can wait: Bills coach Marrone's most pressing concern is Manning, Broncos



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ORCHARD PARK, New York — Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady can wait.

Rather than peeking too far ahead at the Buffalo Bills' daunting closing stretch, coach Doug Marrone is focused solely on his team's most immediate concern: Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

"You're way ahead of me," Marrone said Monday, a day after a 26-10 win over Cleveland. "I'm not looking at the last quarter (of the season), I'm just looking at this upcoming game. And our challenge is we're playing one of the best teams in the NFL."

Having won two straight, the Bills (7-5) are in the thick of a tightly contested AFC playoff picture, and enter December with a winning record for the first time since they were 7-5 in 2000.

On the downside, they will be hard-pressed to stay in the mix with a schedule that features three 9-3 division leaders — Denver, on Sunday, Green Bay, on Dec. 14, and a season-ender at New England — and rounded out with a game at Oakland (1-11) on Dec. 21.

Bring them on, defensive tackle Kyle Williams said.

"If it's daunting and you're worried or you're scared about it, I don't want to play with you," Williams said. "It's a challenge obviously. Great players. But we feel like we're pretty good players, too."

The defense's readiness shouldn't be a concern. It's producing at an elite level in leading the NFL with 48 sacks and ranking in the top 10 in nearly every statistical category except fourth-down efficiency. Opponents have converted 4 of 8 fourth-down chances, which puts Buffalo 15th.

It's the offense's lack of consistency that continues to be a worry, and raising questions as to how quarterback Kyle Orton and Co. might be able to keep pace with some of the NFL's most potent offenses.

"I think we need our offense to be consistent to match up against anybody really," Marrone said.

That's not been the case for a unit whose production is starting to dip.

After averaging 331 yards through its first nine games, Buffalo has managed just 287 yards in its past three.

The Bills are having difficulty gaining first downs, having topped 20 in a game just three times this year. Their red-zone production has been an issue all season.

After scoring just one touchdown on five red-zone opportunities against the Browns, the Bills have managed just 18 TDs on 44 drives inside an opponent's 20.

And Buffalo's one-time strength of a running attack is producing at a pedestrian pace in averaging just 98 yards rushing.

The troubles were particularly evident against Cleveland. After being shut out in the first half, the offense scored one touchdown and four field goals.

"None of us were happy with our performance in the first half, and even some of the things in the second half," Marrone said. "It goes back to the same thing: We've got to be able to finish."

The Bills' defense instead continued bailing out the offense.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown. The defense didn't give up a point on either of Buffalo's two turnovers — both Orton interceptions. And it forced six punts, while allowing the Browns to cross midfield just four times.

NOTES: WR Sammy Watkins (hip) and DT Marcell Dareus (hip) continued playing despite being hurt against the Browns. Marrone said it's too early to determine whether either will miss practice time this week. ... Marrone gave his players the day off Monday. ... The Browns converted just 3 of 12 third-down chances. The Bills have gone 14 straight games since allowing an opponent to convert more than half of its third-down opportunities.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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