A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Senior Sports Columnist
This is how you lose an absolutely-gotta-have-it football game that will likely cost a playoff berth.
The Bills wrote the primer on Sunday afternoon in a driving rain at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
This was a game where Buffalo decidedly outplayed the Eagles, with the NFL’s top record (now 10-1). The Bills led 17-7 at halftime and had outgained Philadelphia 276-99.
Indeed, Buffalo was still up, 24-14 early in the fourth quarter. When it was over, the Bills had outgained the Eagles 505 yards to 378 and had a 13-minute edge in time of possession.
But this was to become another in a series of epic Bills’ losses.
Sunday’s 37-34 overtime defeat was just one in a miserable series over the past eight games … as in five losses by six or fewer points.
Eliminate the 24-18 defeat by Cincinnati, it’s not a game Buffalo deserved to win.
But the other four — 25-20 to the Jaguars in London, 29-25 to the Pats in Foxboro, 24-22 to Denver in Orchard Park and last night’s debacle were giveaways.
The reality is the Bills are 2-6 in one-possession games, the lone wins a 14-9 decision against the Giants that required a blown officiating call in the end zone, and a failed Hail Mary that fluttered barely incomplete that would have been the winning touchdown for Tampa Bay. Both of those survivals came on the game’s final play at Highmark Stadium.
In short, quit that “they’re still mathematically alive for the playoffs,” mantra, this team is going nowhere at regular-season’s end … except home.
And rightfully so.
IT’S BECOMING tiresome hearing coach Sean McDermott lauding his team’s “character, strength and toughness.”
This season has proven it has none of those.
How do I know?
Because it can’t muster the backbone and resilience to close out tight games.
For myopic fans, it’s important to remind them their team is two plays from being 4-8 and even at 6-6, Buffalo must win at least four of its last five games to get even a sniff of the postseason. However, its brutal schedule includes the Chiefs, Dolphins and Chargers on the road and Dallas in Orchard Park.
Seven AFC teams make the playoffs and Buffalo currently occupies the tenth spot, despite the national TV broadcasters incessantly maintaining “this team is better than its record.”
IT’S CLEAR that McDermott is a big part of the problem. His decision to nudge former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier aside and take over as play caller has been an unmitigated disaster.
Twice he’s been bitten by killer play calls.
Against Denver, he called full blitzes on consecutive plays late in the game and while the first one worked, the second left a Broncos receiver free to race into winning-field-goal range. And when the first attempt failed, the Bills offered a second chance by having 12 men on the field. That one was good.
Then, yesterday afternoon, with the Eagles down by three in overtime but driving for the tying field goal, McDermott again opted for another full blitz. This time elusive Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts took off, virtually untouched, for the 12-yard, game-winning touchdown run.
BUT, IN THE law of unintended consequences, McDermott seems so distracted by his defense that his normally substandard game-day decision-making — does anybody waste more timeouts? — becomes even worse.
Ponder this stat.
In the first half, the Bills committed 11 penalties — a hold against tackle Dion Dawkins was wiped out by fouls on teams — and those 10 were called in a span of 22½ minutes.
Quarterback Josh Allen was tagged for intentional grounding, guard Connor McGovern and Dawkins for holding, center Mitch Morse and tackle Spencer Brown for false starts, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips for encroachment, cornerback Rasul Douglas for defensive holding, defensive tackle Ed Oliver for illegal use of hands and special teamers Siran Neal and Baylon Spector, for facemask and holding, respectively.
Ten penalties in less than a half is on coaching my friends.
However, that wasn’t all.
Among the handful of drops for the Bills was a virtually sure TD by running back James Cook on a perfectly-thrown ball and a miscommunication between Allen and wideout Gabe Davis in overtime that would have won the game had the latter gone where the QB expected in the end zone.
Then there was the place-kicking.
Normally dependable Tyler Bass had a 34-yarder blocked and a 48-yarder miss wide right. Those are punitive when a game edges into overtime.
Then, too, Buffalo was a bit unlucky too. The defense stiffened at the end of regulation and forced the Eagles to “settle” for a 59-yard field goal attempt in the driving rain and a crosswind. Philly kicker Jake Elliott nailed it with room to spare.
Other notes from the Bills most galling loss of the season … and that’s saying something this year:
— Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs at the end of the first half marked his 20th straight game throwing for a TD. However, he was also intercepted by Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, his first of the season.
— Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts’ 1-yard “tush push” touchdown was his 10th rushing score of the season, making it three straight years he’s run for double-figure scores, an NFL record for QBs.
— Buffalo’s initial takeaway was an interception of Hurts by middle linebacker Terrel Barnard, his team-leading third. Later, Hurts fumbled on a handoff when hit by Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer with defensive end Greg Rousseau recovering.
— Buffalo’s sacks of Hurts were recorded by defensive tackles, Linval Joseph and Tim Settle, their first as a Bill.
— The Bills lost three points when Tyler Bass’ 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Eagles defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
— Philadelphia’s lone sack of Allen was registered by end Brandon Graham, his third of the season.
— Buffalo activated two players from the practice squad: cornerback Ja’Marcus Ingram and wide receiver Andy Isabella.
— The Bills inactives were safety Taylor Rapp (neck), cornerback Dane Jackson (concussion), wide receiver Deonte Harty, linebacker A.J. Klein, tackles Germain Ifedi and Alec Anderson and defensive tackle Poona Ford.
— Two key starters were inactive for the Eagles, tackle Lane Johnson (pre-game groin issue) and tight end Dallas Goedert (forearm). During the game, Philadelphia also lost defensive tackle Fletcher Cox to a groin injury.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Want to see more news and sports writing like this and keep this site free! Our paypal HERE
More from Chuck: