The Bills had just scored 10 points in the blink of an eye to cut the deficit to six points early in the second half. And as the San Diego Chargers punt team trotted onto the field after Buffalo's defense came up big, you wondered if maybe, just maybe, the Bills were on the verge of making a game of this and possibly putting an end to their five-game losing streak.
But faster than you could say "fake punt" San Diego regained control of the game.
Instead of snapping the ball to the punter, the hike went to the up back, Eric Weddle.
The Bills wound up being caught with their pants down and Weddle ran around left end for a first down.
The Chargers went on to score 21 unanswered points - one of the touchdowns coming on yet another pick-six by back-peddling Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick - and kept alive their slim playoff hopes with a 37-10 victory.
December continues to be the most wonderful time of the year for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who now has a 22-2 record with 46 touchdown passes and just 14 interceptions in month No. 12.
And it continues to be the cruelest month of all for the Bills, who will be out of the playoffs for a 12thconsecutive season.
Buffalo, now 5-8 after a 5-2 start, has dropped to 20-31 in games played in December since 2001. (Of course, there also have been plenty of bad Septembers, Octobers and Novembers during that span, too.)
Fitzpatrick had a dreadful afternoon, completing just 13-of-34 passes for 176 yards. He didn't throw any touchdown passes, unless you count the interception safety Steve Gregory returned 26 yards for a score to make it 30-10. Fitz's other pick, on an underthrown ball that bounced off the back of a defender and into the arms of Weddle, also set up a San Diego touchdown.
Since signing his contract extension earlier this season, the Bills quarterback has thrown eight TD passes and 10 interceptions - three of which have been pick-sixes. Before signing the contract, he had 12 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
The Bills have been outscored 194-77 during their losing streak and are a minus-eight on the takeaway/giveaway chart in that span.
"I think (our players) are down, yes,'' Chan Gailey said after watching his record as Bills head coach drop to 9-20. "I'd hate to go all the way to 'demoralized.' I think they don't have any confidence right now as a football team. I thought we were making progress the last two games (close losses to the Jets and Titans). I really did. Then, we went out and played just awful today."
Clearly the injuries to key players such as running back Fred Jackson, center Eric Wood and defensive tackle Kyle Williams haven't helped. But other teams have suffered through a spate of injuries, too, and haven't fallen off a cliff the way this Bills team has.
And now you have to wonder if Buffalo will win another game this year. It would seem that next Sunday's game at the Ralph against a Miami Dolphins team also going nowhere might be the last, best chance of avoiding a nine-game losing skid to end the season. I say that because the following week the Bills will host the Denver Tebows before closing on the road against a New England Patriots team that might need that game to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Plus, the banged-up Dolphins will be coming to town with former Bills flop J.P. Losman taking over at quarterback. (The devolution of this season has been painful enough. Imagine, though, the pain of watching one of your former No. 1 draft picks beating you on your home turf.)
I like Fitz, I really do. But I'm beginning to seriously wonder if he's the long-term answer everybody thought he might be. If I'm Buddy Nix, I'm taking a very close look at the quarterbacks available in next April's draft.
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, has just been published by Triumph Books and is available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Another bad day at the office for Gailey and his staff. Grade: D
OFFENSE: Fitz turned it over twice, and the Chargers cashed the picks in for 13 points. C.J. Spiller (12 carries, 46 yards) never got out of second gear. Stevie Johnson had a big day with four catches for 116 yards, but that was about it as the offense failed to produce a touchdown. Grade: D-minus
DEFENSE: Philip Rivers gave them a gift TD when he lost the handle on the ball in the end zone and Brian Scott recovered. But that was the only major gaffe by Rivers, who threw for three scores. Tight end Antonio Gates tortured the Bills with seven receptions for 68 yards and two scores. Ryan Matthews rushed for 114 yards.Grade: D-minus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Alex Carrington blocked an extra point and Dave Rayner booted a 37-yard field goal. But the Bills failure to anticipate and stop the fake punt was a game-changer. Grade: D-minus
OVERALL: Don't know about you, but this six-game tailspin feels worse than the 0-8 start last season. Ending with a nine-game losing streak - a distinct possibility - would be a huge downer. Grade: D-minus