The Buffalo Bills proved again Sunday they are one of the best teams in the league at letting victory slip out of their grasp.
A touchdown with 48 seconds left in the game gave the St. Louis Rams a 15-12 victory, an all-too-familiar ending for the Bills.
It was Buffalo’s fourth loss by seven or fewer points this season, and it gave coach Chan Gailey a three-year record of 4-8 in games decided by three or fewer points.
“We all know it’s sickening,” said Bills linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “If you were at the game, you saw that. It’s disheartening.”
“That’s the feeling we’ve had too many times this year,” said tight end Scott Chandler. “It’s disappointing. I was just talking to Jairus [Byrd], and he felt like the defense should have closed it out. I felt like the offense should have closed it out. It’s great we’re wanting to take responsibility. But at some point you just got to get the job done.”
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams had to take a deep breath to contain his frustration in summing up his emotions.
“Nobody here, or on earth, gets more disappointed or is more disappointed than I am when things like this happen,” Williams said. “But that’s life in the NFL. There are close games. They’re all close for the most part. They’re all six-, seven-point games. A touchdown, or four or five plays here and there, make the difference in the game. And we are not consistent enough to win late in games.”
Make that just plain not good enough.
Here were some of the reasons the Bills fell to 5-8:
• Running back C.J. Spiller got the ball a mere eight times out of 58 offensive plays.
• The Bills called 41 pass plays and 17 runs. (They fell to 5-23 when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throws 30 or more passes.)
• Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was better than Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter.
• Running back Fred Jackson fumbled at the Rams’ 14 in the second quarter.
• The Bills got the ball at the Rams’ 49 late in the first half and managed just a field goal, thanks in part to some questionable clock management by Gailey.
• They got the ball at their own 49 after a Rams punt went for 0 yards but didn’t convert it into points.
• Trying to milk a five-point lead, the offense went four and out, three and out and three and out on three fourth-quarter possessions.
• The defense, which was mostly excellent, allowed the Rams to convert a fourth-down play and three third-down plays on their 84-yard drive to the winning score.
Gailey defended his use of his running backs.
“We were trying to run the football, and when it was Fred’s turn, it was Fred’s turn to be in there,” the coach said. “Trying to keep them both fresh.”
Nevertheless, the Bills’ best player touched the ball just once in the fourth quarter.
The Rams handcuffed the Bills’ offense with a flurry of blitzes — at least a dozen on pass plays. Four of the Rams’ five sacks came on blitzes against a Bills’ offensive line that was missing two starters.
The Bills could not make them pay, getting only one pass completion of more than 10 yards against the blitz (that was a 23-yard pass to Chandler in the first quarter).
“Obviously they wanted to stop the run,” Chandler said. “They blitzed close to 40 percent of the time coming in anyways, so they probably ramped that up a little bit. You can’t say they didn’t do a good job.”
“They definitely brought a lot of stuff … stuff off the edges,” said center David Snow, who filled in for injured Eric Wood. “They were just trying to create a lot of pressure.”
The Bills penetrated to the Rams’ 34 on their first drive of the fourth quarter. Gailey at first sent out Rian Lindell to try what he thought was a 50-yard field goal. When the coach realized it was 52 yards, he opted to punt rather than go for it on fourth and 7.
On the next Bills possession, Stevie Johnson dropped an open slant pass at the Bills’ 40 on a third-down play.
“It’s a play we ran in practice and I made it in practice,” Johnson said. “But in the game I didn’t make it so, it’s one of the plays we’ve got to make. I put all the blame on myself on that play. That could have given us the first down and who knows for the rest of that drive.”
The Bills’ defense held Rams back Steven Jackson to 64 yards and 3.4 yards a carry. Bradford was 19 of 39 for 209 yards and a passer rating of just 62.9. (Fitzpatrick was 25 of 33 for 247 yards with a rating of 93.9.)
But on the Rams’ final drive, Bradford hit five key pass plays, the last a 13-yard strike on a post pattern to Brandon Gibson.
“It initially started with [Austin Pettis] coming across the middle, and the safeties played low [closer to the line],” Bradford said. “Gibby got behind them and made a great catch in the end zone.”
Bills rookie Ron Brooks had the coverage on that play and on a 15-yard completion two plays before.
“In the back end I feel like the plays they made that led down to the touchdown drive and the touchdown was on me,” Brooks said. “So I take that personal. I don’t like to be caught on, and I definitely don’t like to be scored on, especially to lose the game in that way.”
The Bills’ astronomically long shot to make the playoffs was not extinguished with the defeat. Buffalo plays Seattle in Toronto next week.