The Buffalo Bills came to Toronto holding onto faint post-season hopes, but did nothing to help their cause on Sunday’s visit to the Rogers Centre.
After a dramatic afternoon of back-and-forth football, costly turnovers in crucial late-game moments cost the Bills in a 34-31 overtime stinger to the lowly Atlanta Falcons. The loss dropped Buffalo to 4-8, dashing dreams the Buffalo squad still had of running the table to seize the AFC wildcard spot.
Despite a 149-rushing-yard day by Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller, and a six-sack day by the team’s defence, the Bills couldn’t put away a Falcons squad coming in with just two wins this season (none on the road), a team already eliminated from the playoffs. Instead it was quarterback Matt Ryan’s Atlanta team overcoming the odds for the win, finishing with 28-of47 passing for 311 yards and a touchdown.
The Bills have mustered one victory during their now-six visits to Toronto, a place they affirm repeatedly pales to the intimidating, frigid, home field vibe of their Ralph Wilson Stadium. Spiller called this the loudest game he’s seen played in Toronto, yet it was well below capacity with 39,869 fans, many of them loud red-jersey-wearing Falcons supporters.
“It definitely stings, the opportunity we had in front of us, for the game to come down to the end like it did, it’s tough,” said Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel. “I mean it was a crazy game. Football is a game of making plays, honestly. We had the opportunity to make them and we just didn’t today.”
Buffalo struck first, when a 77-yard scamper from Spiller set up a one-yard touchdown push by Manuel, who would finish the day 18-of-32 for 210 yards and a touchdown.
The Bills rookie quarterback was then drilled by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and left the game briefly. But he returned to finish the drive, which ended in another touchdown -- a four-yard run by Fred Jackson.
But then running back Steven Jackson busted loose for the Falcons, rolling in for a 27-yard major.
The Bills answered with a field goal from Dan Carpenter.
Falcons running back Antone Smith then rumbled 38 yards through the Bills defence for the score, cutting Buffalo’s lead to three. To end the half, Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal to tie the score.
As the second half began, an Atlanta team used to the cozy confines of a dome wrestled for control. Ryan tossed to receiver Harry Douglas, who bounced through the grips of several Bills some 13 yards. Ryan eventually hit tight end Tony Gonzalez with an 11-yard scoring pass to put Atlanta up 24-17.
Later in the third, the Bills forced Ryan to fumble, and Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso recovered. The Bills turned it into points, as Manuel hit Jackson with a short pass on the next drive, and the running back did the rest, high-tailing 21-yards toward the end zone to knot the game again.
Buffalo quickly took back the lead. First, Manuel’s deep ball to receiver Robert Wood moved the Bills down the field, before Spiller bumped outside on a 36-yard run for the touchdown
The Falcons roared back to tie it at 31 with 1:28 remaining as Jackson once again busted through on a one-yard run. Then when the Bills got the ball back, receiver Stevie Johnson caught a ball which was forced loose by Atlanta cornerback Robert McClain and recovered by the Falcons to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Falcons kicked off first, but once again, the Bills were crushed by a turnover. Manuel connected on a deep pass to Scott Chandler, but Atlanta safety William Moore punched the ball out of the tight end’s arms, and corner Robert Alford recovered it. The Falcons drove down and won on a 36-yard field goal by Bryant, their first road victory of the year.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or a rookie - you catch the ball and you tug it,” said Johnson of the two turnovers, both by Bills veterans. “It wasn’t like we had the ball loose or outside of our body. They made good plays and we have to commend them on it.”
The Bills now sit in last place in the AFC East, two games out of second place with four games left and will finish their ninth straight season without a winning record. There are five AFC teams ahead of them in the wildcard hunt with 5-7 records or better. Sunday’s result was very damaging.
“You have to let the fans down and you really hate to let your teammate down, but that’s part of the game,” said Chandler. “We want to bring this town, this region, the playoffs. To know that kind of slipped away on that play is tough.”