I really thought I knew what I was going to write about in my article this week. This was going to be one of the easier pieces I’ve written – one I’ve written in so many different ways over the years. This was going to be the standard, “Bills kill themselves with mistakes they can’t overcome, lose a winnable game and find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” article – if you need a refresher on what these look like go back into the Bills Daily archives and just start picking random write-ups of mine – you’re sure to find one without much trouble.
Yes sir, with just over three minutes left in the game the Bills were looking at a touchdown deficit against a team that had just put together two long touchdown drives and showed no signs of slowing down. Looking back at earlier mistakes it was obvious those were going to doom the Bills – other teams might manage to survive mistakes, but the Bills? Looking back at all that had transpired in the previous fifty seven minutes it became obvious the Bills had been their own worst enemy.
Coming into Sunday’s game it certainly felt as if the game was winnable. The Bills had faced and beat better competition than Tampa Bay, although Jamesis Winston and the receiving corps might been the most talented bunch the Bills have had to face, especially when Atlanta’s receivers went out with injuries. With beautiful weather in Orchard Park, I was optimistic that the new Bills could win the game.
The Bills kicked off to a Tampa team that had only scored 3 points in all of their first quarters this year, so it was a bit surprising that they drove all the way to the Buffalo 23 before having to settle for a field goal, Buffalo answered back with a field goal of their own and then allowed another long Tampa drive that resulted in yet another 3 points. In the second quarter the Bills put a touchdown on the board with LeSean McCoy going into the end zone for his first score of the year.
As the clock ticked towards halftime, the new Bills suddenly started to look much like the old Bills, and soon I worried that blown opportunities would sink the team. The Bills recovered a Tampa fumble and drove down for a field goal only to see the sure-footed Stephen Hauschka miss a 41 yard attempt. Buffalo got another turnover with just 23 seconds to go before the half. The Bills ran a play over the middle and advanced to the Tampa 18 and took their final timeout of the half, leaving them with 11 seconds to try a pass into the end zone or on the sideline so that the field goal unit could put up a chip shot field goal if there was no touchdown.
The last play of the first half by Buffalo was truly one of the worst things I have seen in quite some time, and being a Bills fan, that says something. With 11 seconds and no timeouts left but already in short field goal range, Tyrod Taylor threw a pass to Jordan Matthews in the flat that went for 2 yards before he was tackled inbounds – time expired, no points for the Bills. I don’t know whether that play call came from the sidelines or Tyrod, but whoever called it should be punished. Sean McDermott took the blame for the play. Just as I complained about a key sack Tyrod took late in the Bengals game, this was a situation where you have to be situationally aware and know that you absolutely, positively can’t turn the ball over or make a play that doesn’t stop the clock. Shame on the play call. Shame on Tyrod for throwing that pass, Shame on Matthews for catching that ball. Somebody has to use their head and realize that if that pass is just incomplete the clock stops and you kick the field goal. Instead, you have a ridiculous mental meltdown and come away with no points. Horrific clock management – it looked like amateur hour out on the field.
So I went to the half feeling uneasy. The Bills had left 6 points on the table. They had to take timeouts to get the right personnel on the field at least once. Although the defense had held for the most part, Jameis Winston was carving up the defense to the tune of 180 yards and the Bills’ linebackers were struggling in coverage. The new Bills certainly looked like the Bills I’ve been watching for years, and games like this very rarely had happy endings. Admit it – if you’re a long time Bills fan you had some serious doubts at halftime.
The Bills took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown, putting them up by 11. Suddenly this looked like a game they could start to break open and go the Bills’ way – maybe these really were the new Bills. Sadly, Tampa answered right back with their own 75 yard touchdown drive and the lead was back to only 4 points. The Bills kicked another field goal to take back a touchdown lead, but then gave up an easy touchdown when O.J. Howard got lost in the shuffle and waltzed alone into the end zone for a 33 yard score – not a Bill in the same ZIP code, The score was now tied and it seemed as if all the indicators were pointing Tampa’s way.
With just over 3 minutes to play Tampa put up another touchdown to take the lead – yep, here were all those errors coming home to roost. Surely this would be the nail in the coffin that sent Buffalo to 3-3 on the season. I like Taylor, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I had great respect for his abilities to lead a team from behind late in a game and find a way to win – he’s just not that type of hero. Despite my fears of another squandered victory, the Bills drove right down the field for a 3 play 75 yard touchdown to tie the game with 2:32 left on the clock – who were these guys and what had they done with our Buffalo Bills?
On the very first play after receiving the kickoff, Tampa coughed up the football when Tre’Davious White caused and recovered a fumble – mayhem ensued in the stadium, bars and my living room (even though I was the only person there). A team that had been well ahead on the turnover ratio had done it again – come up with a turnover and this one was needed in the worst way. The Bills kicked the winning field goal moments later and I was thinking that these were the new Bills.
OK – I didn’t really breathe or buy-in to the whole new Bills thing until after the final play of the game – anyone who saw a certain playoff game in Tennessee about two decades ago knows what I’m talking about and will cut me some slack because they had the same feeling gnawing at their gut as the last play turned into something that looked a hell of a lot more like rugby than it did football. In the end the Bills had won and it was a good Sunday afternoon.
Again, I don’t really know how to handle this new Bills team. They certainly have been exciting to watch – I’m not sure how many rollercoaster games like that I can take before I have to up my blood pressure meds or my heart explodes. The mistakes the Bills made on Sunday and their poor play in some stretches would certainly have killed Bills teams of the past, but not this one. For now I guess I’m willing to acknowledge that something may really have changed with the Bills – they may really be a changed team and one that finds a way not to lose – whatever the case, I’m having a great time being a fan so far this year.