TORONTO — The Buffalo Bills headed north for their annual “home” game in Toronto, and then watched what was left of their realistic playoff hopes go south.
Buffalo (4-8) fumbled in Falcons territory on its final drive of regulation and the first drive of overtime to hand the Atlanta Falcons a 34-31 victory Sunday.
“I’m just... I’m just hurting,” said Bills coach Doug Marrone.
After the Falcons (3-9) tied the game at 31 on Steven Jackson’s 1-yard run, his second touchdown of the game, Buffalo rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had 1:22 to march the Bills downfield.
He was well on his way before cornerback Robert McClain knocked the ball out of receiver Stevie Johnson’s hands at the Falcons 30 with 20 seconds remaining.
“Caught it and ran across the field,” Johnson said. “The guy came from behind and ripped it out. He made a good play.”
Still, Buffalo got the ball in overtime and had another big completion end in mistake as Falcons safety William Moore stripped the ball from tight end Scott Chandler after a 22-yard gain.
“Really disappointing,” Chandler said. “You want to be able to protect the ball in that situation and you want to make a play that helps your team win and not the play that turns the tide to make your team lose.”
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant won it with a 36-yard field goal 3 minutes into overtime.
The Bills are 1-5 during the “Bills in Toronto” series in the Rogers Centre, a game that has meant a friendlier, warmer late-season climate for the opposition. This time the loss stings even more, essentially eliminating Buffalo’s hopes for a playoff spot for the 14th straight season, extending the NFL’s longest active streak.
It’s a pain of which the team is keenly aware.
“We want to bring this town, this region, the playoffs and to know that that kind of slipped away on that play is tough,” Chandler said.
Atlanta snapped a five-game skid and won for the first time in six road games this season. Antone Smith also scored on a 38-yard run, while Tony Gonzalez scored on an 11-yard pass from Matt Ryan.
“We went out there and got it done,” said Atlanta coach Mike Smith. “There were times when it looked like we weren’t in the first four quarters, and there was a time there in the fifth quarter where it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, but we did get the strip.”
Bryant also made a 49-yarder that tied the game at 17 at the end of the half.
The Bills squandered a 14-0 lead and were unable to hang on while ahead 31-24 against an opponent already eliminated from playoff contention.
Jackson’s score came a play after Bills cornerback Nickell Robey was flagged for interfering with Harry Douglas in the end zone. The penalty came with Atlanta facing third-and-goal from 11.
Atlanta receiver Roddy White had 10 catches for 143 yards to nearly double his season total. Ryan went 28 of 47 for 311 yards and a touchdown.
Fred Jackson scored twice for Buffalo, who will also finish their ninth straight season without a winning record. Fellow running back C.J. Spiller had 149 yards rushing and a score.
There was plenty of entertainment in the sixth installment of the yearly Bills In Toronto series at the domed Rogers Center.
The Beach Boys, minus leader Brian Wilson, played the halftime show, and even embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford showed up, causing a stir late in the first quarter. Ford, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor,” arrived with just over five minutes left wearing a No. 22 Fred Jackson jersey just as Buffalo’s running back scored on a 4-yard run.
“I appreciate him showing his support for me, you know, wearing my jersey,” Jackson said. “With all the things going on, that still means a lot.”
Few fans at midfield in the first level behind the Falcons’ bench saw the score, with many of them fixated on Ford’s arrival. Ford was flanked by his two personal security guards and with police officers and stadium security nearby. As he settled into his VIP-section seat, he was spotted munching on - what else? - a Buffalo chicken wing.
And as in the past, the series continues to have difficulty generating buzz in Toronto or draw a full house. The announced paid attendance was 38,969, well short of the stadium’s NFL capacity of 46,470, not including suites. There were large pockets of empty seats in the upper bowl.