First quarter: C.J busts out
It didn’t take long for C.J. Spiller to get on track. The Bills’ speedy back bolted up the middle of the field on Buffalo’s second play from scrimmage and ripped off a 77-yard gain to the Atlanta 5.
It was the longest non-scoring run in team history, surpassing a 75-yard run by Terry Miller in 1979. It also was the longest run in Spiller’s career. Spiller had 29 rushing yards in the last two games combined.
Just two plays later, the Bills scored a touchdown when EJ Manuel rolled out on a bootleg pass call. He was looking for tight end Scott Chandler, opted against throwing and raced for the pylon. It was a 1-yard TD run.
Key plays: Fred Jackson powered over the goal line on a 4-yard run to give the Bills a 14-0 lead with 5:00 left in the quarter. … The Bills got first-quarter sacks from Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes. … Atlanta scored on a 19-yard run by Steven Jackson.
Injury scare: Manuel went down to the turf after a big hit from Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and trainers had to come out to look him over. He had the wind knocked out of him. Weatherspoon was called for a 15-yard penalty because he led with the helmet on the hit.
Second quarter: Futile pursuit
The Bills’ defense has a problem with overrunning rushing plays. They made third-string Falcons back Antone Smith look great on a 38-yard touchdown run that pulled Atlanta within 17-14 with 4:55 to play.
It was just the fifth rushing attempt in four seasons for Smith. He rushed for 2,253 yards in a college career at Florida State. Smith was undrafted in 2009. Smith, used mostly on special teams, had just one carry his first three seasons and four carries this year before Sunday.
On the touchdown run, Bills linebacker Manny Lawson got blocked by Falcons receiver Roddy White, and linebacker Kiko Alonso got caught way over near the right sideline when Smith cut back up the numbers.
Key plays: Dan Carpenter kicked a 29-yard field goal for Buffalo. Atlanta got a 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant on the final play of the half.
Second guess: The Beach Boys performed at halftime. It was embarrassing. The crowd could not have cared less. Toronto fans don’t need contrived entertainment at halftime.
Home-field edge? After six years it’s hard to say the Bills are making the Rogers Centre their house. There were roughly as many fans in red Falcons jerseys as in Bills jerseys. The crowd noise might have been in favor of the Bills by a 60-40 ratio. But the cheers were loud when the Falcons scored.
Third Quarter: An old reliable
It wasn’t hard to figure out where Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was going to look on third and goal from the Buffalo 11 early in the third quarter.
He hit 37-year-old Tony Gonzalez on a slant, and the big tight end got position on cornerback Ron Brooks to make the catch in the end zone. The TD put the Falcons ahead, 24-17.
It was Gonzalez’s 108th career touchdown, which ranks sixth in NFL history. Gonzalez has 22 more TD catches than the No. 2 tight end on the all-time list (Antonio Gates) and 46 more than the No. 3 tight end (Shannon Sharpe).
Key plays: The Bills got a 21-yard TD pass from EJ Manuel to Fred Jackson. The screen play tied the game, 24-24. It came one play after Ryan fumbled a snap and Kiko Alonso recovered. Guard Doug Legursky got out in front of Jackson on the play, and Jackson put a great move on rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant at the 10 to get clear up the left sideline and coast into the end zone.
Slow O: Aside from the Jackson TD, the Bills’ offense had two three-and-outs and a four-and-out drive.
Fourth Quarter: Losing the handle
Fumbles are a problem for the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills blundered their way out of scoring threats at the end of regulation and the start of overtime thanks to fumbles.
The first, by Stevie Johnson, came at the Atlanta 30 with 20 seconds to play and eliminated the chance of a winning field-goal try. The second, by Scott Chandler, came at the Buffalo 45 and led to the Falcons’ winning field goal.
Buffalo has lost 10 fumbles on the season. Only three teams (Denver, Minnesota and the New York Giants) entered Sunday with 10 or more fumbles.
Key plays: Matt Bryant’s 36-yard field goal won it. The Bills got a 36-yard TD run by C.J. Spiller to go ahead, 31-24. Atlanta tied it on a 1-yard Steven Jackson run.
Zebra report: Atlanta’s tying TD came after Nickell Robey was called for pass interference in the end zone on an incomplete pass. Both he and the receiver jostled. It wasn’t a foul. The officials missed an illegal formation call on the Falcons on the play before the winning kick. Both receivers to the left of the formation were lined up on the same yard line.