TORONTO — Imagine how loud Ralph Wilson Stadium would have gotten had the Buffalo Bills sacked Matt Ryan on the Atlanta Falcons’ first two third downs and took a 14-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.
The moment screamed for some sort of dramatic treatment better suited for a team fighting for its playoff life against the only team to have been mathematically eliminated from the race.
Alas, there was no pandemonium. There was no cleat-on-the-throat response.
Sunday’s game took place not in Orchard Park but in Toronto’s antiseptic Rogers Centre. A neutralized gathering of 38,969 fans – the weakest attendance in the series’ six-year history – watched the Falcons beat the favored Bills, 34-31, in overtime.
“We felt the energy,” Falcons running back Steven Jackson said. “We felt like we had support on the road, and we needed it in a tough game like this.”
Buffalo’s 12th Man, valued enough by the Bills to put him on the Wall of Fame, sat this one out. The Bills are 1-5 here.
“It did feel like a home game,” said Falcons cornerback Robert McClain, who punched the ball out of Stevie Johnson’s arm with 20 seconds left in regulation time, denying the Bills a chance to kick the winning field goal.
“I seen a lot of red jerseys. I seen a lot of Matt Ryan jerseys and even a couple Mike Vick jerseys.”
Also spotted were scores of jerseys with no connection to the game: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Troy Polamalu, Ray Lewis, Tedy Bruschi, Randy Moss, Jack Lambert and so on.
Series organizers would rather see those than the rows and rows of empty seats in the upper deck. The Rogers Centre’s football capacity is about 46,500, not counting suites.
“Having the chance to play in an international game before, I knew the crowd probably would be neutral,” Jackson said. “I knew that we were going to have to bring our own emotion.
“I just talked to my teammates about, ‘Hey, let’s bring our own energy. Let’s be the life of the party.’ ”
Back in Orchard Park, the temperature reached 43 degrees. It rained a little. Winds gusted to 13 mph.
The Rogers Centre was cozy enough not to need a coat. Dancers in Hawaiian shirts greeted the Beach Boys for a few songs at halftime.
“Obviously, I’m not going to hide the fact we are a dome team,” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said, “and it feels a little bit better when you’re inside.
“But I’m all about the attitude and the way we approached this game. The season didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We still have four games left after today, and if we go out there and fight … that’s the biggest difference.”
Asked specifically about the Falcons fans in attendance, Gonzalez said, “I was definitely surprised. We’ll take it. We’ll take anything we can get at this point.”
Ryan noted the Falcons needed to go to a silent snap count on a couple of third downs when the Bills fans got noisy.
All in all, he didn’t seem to mind missing out on The Ralph.
“We had fans for both teams,” Ryan said. “We had a lot of Falcons fans up here today, which was great.
“I had a lot of fun, and I think our organization had a lot of fun, too.”
Rob Ford, Toronto’s notorious mayor, attended Sunday’s game in a Fred Jackson jersey.
“I appreciate him showing his support for me, you know, wearing my jersey,” Fred Jackson said. “With all the things going on, that still means a lot.”
Jackson had a marvelous game. He scored a rushing and a receiving touchdown for only the second time in his career. Jackson first did it in Week 10 of 2010 against Detroit.
Neither team seemed to like the Rogers Centre’s artificial turf.
“The turf was not up to standard where I would like it,” Gonzalez said. “But you adjust. Both teams have to play on it.”
Bills cornerback Nickell Robey said he slipped twice on the Falcons’ game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, giving up a 24-yard catch to Roddy White and 13-yard catch to Darius Johnson to give the Falcons a first down at the 5.
“It was a baseball field, so the traction wasn’t the best traction,” Robey said. “But you had enough to break on the ball, enough to move around.”
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams started. He was added to Friday’s injury report after wrenching his back while getting out of bed.
Johnson and Robert Woods returned from injuries. Johnson sat out a game because of his groin injury. Woods missed two games with a sprained ankle.
There were no significant surprises on the inactive list. Tight end Chris Gragg was scratched after playing six straight games.
Bills coach Doug Marrone finally won his first challenge in the NFL after failing on his first four attempts. The result was a touchdown to give the Bills a 7-0 lead 4:06 into the game.
Marrone threw his red flag to dispute that EJ Manuel had gone out of bounds on a scramble near the goal line. Replays proved Manuel touched the pylon with the ball before he was down.
“That’s the bright spot,” Marrone said. “We got that one right, and that’s good.
“But I’m just hurting. I’m hurting.”