You have to feel for them, these Buffalo Bills, because they’re obviously playing their hearts out every Sunday and they continue to have nothing to show for it except a big, fat bagel in the win column.
Sunday afternoon in the Kansas City wind tunnel that was Arrowhead Stadium, Buffalo took another favored opponent to the limit, forcing overtime for the second consecutive week. But with this Bills team it doesn’t seem to matter if the game is four or five periods long. It’s just means they are going to prolong the agony, which they did again today losing to the Chiefs, 13-10, on a 35-yard field goal by Ryan Succop as the final seconds ticked away.
The Bills thought they had this wild game won several times – especially midway through the extra session when Rian Lindell split the uprights from 53 yards, only to discover that Chiefs coach Todd Haley had called a timeout a split second before the ball was snapped. Lindell’s second attempt – the one unfortunately that counted – had the distance, but fluttered like a Tim Wakefield knuckleball and bounced harmlessly off the right upright. (It should be noted, too, that two snaps before Lindell’s attempts, Ryan Fitzpatrick barely overthrew running back C.J. Spiller in the end zone on what would have been a game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass.)
Following Lindell’s misses, the Chiefs marched down the field and appeared to have the game wrapped up, but the Bills were afforded new life when the wind pushed Succop’s 39-yard attempt wide left.
Buffalo moved to the Kansas City 42, but on third down Fitzpatrick was pressured into throwing the ball away before he was outside the tackle box resulting in a 15-yard intentional grounding penalty and a punt. That set up the decisive drive and the field goal that kept the Bills imperfect record intact at 0-7.
“It hurts,’’ said first-year Bills coach Chan Gailey, who is two losses shy of tying Jim Ringo’s franchise mark for the worst start by a rookie head coach. “You can’t explain it. It makes you sick in your gut.”
Especially when you have come oh-so-close the past two weeks.
“I feel bad for our guys because they’re trying,” he said. “I’ve got to teach us how to get over the hump.”
Or to stop thinking, as Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson put it, that “Here we go again.”
Since the beginning of sports, good teams have found ways to win and bad ones have found ways to lose. And the Bills continue to find strange, heart-breaking ways to lose.
A week after lighting up the Baltimore Ravens highly rated defense for close to 400 passing yards and four touchdown passes, Fitzpatrick struggled. Still, he managed to engineer a clutch drive late in the fourth quarter that was capped by a four-yard, game-tying touchdown strike to Johnson – who tied a club record by recording a scoring reception in five consecutive games. Fitz also threw a bad interception near the end of regulation after Roscoe Parrish’s daring punt return gave the Bills the ball at their 48 with 1:17 remaining.
The wind clearly wreaked havoc with passes, kicks and punts throughout the day, contributing to Fitzpatrick’s so-so stat line (24-for-48, 223 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception) and the missed field goals by Lindell and his counterpart. But Fitz also was hurt by the pressure brought by the Chiefs front seven. He was sacked three times for minus-32 yards and hurried into several incompletions and that aforementioned costly intentional grounding penalty. His offensive line didn’t do him any favors. There was a huge drop-off in the unit’s play from the week before, as evidenced by the O-line’s weaker protection and foolish penalties.
But, while the Bills offense sputtered, Buffalo’s Swiss-cheese defense finally turned in a solid effort, snapping a streak that had seen them yield 34 or more points in five straight games. I was particularly impressed with the play of nose tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Paul Pozluszny, each of whom may have played the best games of their respective NFL careers. Williams recorded two sacks and finished with nine total tackles, while Poz broke up a pass and recorded 18 tackles, 11 unassisted, and had half of a sack.
Yes, the Bills were shredded for 274 yards rushing and were burned again in overtime by a tight end (in this instance, rookie Tony Moeaki). But they actually made some stops in this game, forcing the Chiefs to punt six times and stopping them cold on a fourth-down in the first quarter. Yielding just 13 points in 11 possessions should be good enough to win.
If you are looking for another positive – the Bills remain the leader in the race for the next April’s top draft pick – Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. However, they might wind up getting a run for their money by the Dallas Cowboys, who were supposed to contend for a Super Bowl title but have only one more victory than winless Buffalo.
The Bills will have a decent shot at beating the Chicago Bears next week at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. And they have a winnable matchup at the Ralph against the Cleveland Browns in early December.
Whether you follow them or not, you have to take your hat off to the Bills. They certainly haven’t quit on Gailey. It isn’t easy to keep coming back for more when you’re nearly halfway done with the season and you have nothing to show for it but a big, fat bagel in the win column.
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills since 1985 and has written five books about the team, including the recently published, Buffalo Bills Football Vault: The First 50 Seasons, which is available at any book store, the Bills team stores and Amazon.com. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .