There is something about the Bills and Nashville Tennessee that lends itself to devastating, controversial losses. The Bills came up short once again in Music City as their faint playoff hopes came to an end in a 28-26 loss. Bobby Shaw lost control of a two point conversion pass that he had control of, when he tried to show the referee he caught the ball. The gaffe of not completing the play was the difference in a very disappointing game.
The Titans dominated the game statistically despite being without QB Steve McNair. His backup, Billy Volek played a solid game in his first career start to lead the Titans to the win. Early in the third quarter, the Titans had more than doubled the Bills in first downs, total yards, and time of possession but amazingly the Bills had a 17-6 lead.
Pat Williams picked up a Volek fumble, his lone mistake in the game, and rumbled 28 yards for a score less than two minutes into the third quarter to give the Bills the 11 point lead. Volek lost the ball when Jeff Posey hit him as he threw the ball.
The Titans went back to dominating the game shortly after that play, when Drew Bledsoe gave them the ball back by fumbling himself, It was his eighth lost fumble of the year, second most in the NFL. A 14 yard pass to TE Erron Kinney that beat Antoine Winfield put the Titans back in the game. The ensuing two point conversion run by Robert Holcombe turned out to be the game breaker.
The Bills still had a field goal lead but there was no doubt that the Titans were in control. They went 58 yards, in eight plays to a 2 yard touchdown pass that gave them the lead. That drive was setup by a controversial 32 yard catch by the star of the game, Derrick Mason. He beat Winfield, who was burned on many plays, with the help of a push off. It was originally ruled incomplete but the officials were indecisive all day long and changed the call.
With the Bills down by four, 21-17, they needed a touchdown. Instead, as usual, they got a field goal. A beautiful one handed third down reception by Eric Moulds and a 17 yard run by Travis Henry set up the field goal to pull the Bills within one point at 21-20.
Henry had several big runs against the number one ranked run defense and was the lone bright spot on offense for the Bills until the final minutes. The defense meanwhile, was tired of being on the field the whole game and gave up a 67 yard touchdown drive in just six plays thanks to another bomb by Volek that made toast out of Winfield. Volek would take it in the final yard himself to give the Titans a 28-20 lead.
After trading punts, and with the Titans helping the Bills out with an incompletion and with Holcombe running out of bounds on another play to stop the clock, the Bills still had a chance. They took over at their own 19 with 2:24 to play and no timeouts left. They hadn't moved the ball all day, but suddenly Bledsoe got hot. He hit Moulds for 15 yards, Morris for 7, and then the big play was a 33 yard catch and run to Shaw on fourth and 2 that put the ball on the Tennessee 25. Morris caught a pass for 11 more and then Shaw caught one for 8 more to put the ball on the six yard line. Bledsoe then threw a pass to the back of the end zone where Mark Campbell made a beautiful reaching grab for the touchdown.
This is where Shaw went from hero to goat. It was a perfect call on the two point conversion play, Bledsoe rolled out and threw low to Shaw in the front corner of the end zone. Shaw went down, got his hands under the ball, cradled it and caught it for the apparent two. That is when he made a fatal mental mistake. He held the ball up to show the referees that he caught it, it flew out of his hands. The rules are explicit in this call, you must complete the play to get credited with the catch, he didn't complete the play and the Bills lost. If he stayed on the ground with the ball cradled, it would have been called a two point conversion or at the very least been given to the Bills on instant replay.
It was an eerie deja vu feeling, as the two point conversion play went to replay, just like another controversial last minute play went to replay in Nashville almost four years ago. This one didn't take long to rule that it was an incomplete pass. The Bills lost and their season is now over.
In all honesty, they were lucky to have a chance to send the game into overtime. They were dominated statistically, and the defense just got plain tired at the end, that is one of the reasons the Titans scored three second half touchdowns. The Titans had the ball for almost 37 minutes and that is because of one huge statistic, third down conversions. The Bills were a paltry 17% offensively on third downs, converting just two of 12. The Titans were 9 of 17 for a 53% conversion rate. That is why the stats were lopsided in their favor. The defense was constantly going on the field as the Bills went three and out six out of 12 possessions. The defense didn't help themselves by staying on the field and letting the Titans convert many third and long plays for first downs.
That was the story of the first half, dominated by Tennessee but a pass interference penalty and two long runs by Henry setup a field goal. A good punt return by Nate Clements setup a touchdown pass to Shaw giving the Bills a 10-6 halftime lead despite being dominated.
Well, now the team only has pride to play for, and maybe they will relish the spoiler role as Miami comes to town next week. In any case, one thing is for certain, the Bills will not "run for the bus", look for them to come out and play hard in the final two weeks. The only thing left for fans to watch for, is the NFL debut of Willis McGahee.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the game: