Daily Archives: November 11, 2012

Rookie WR takes blame for ruinous Bills ending

HELMETS

It was right there for the Buffalo Bills.

An unlikely upset victory over arch-nemesis New England.

In Foxboro, where the Bills’ last victory had been one stadium and 12 years ago.

To improve to 4-5 and drop the Patriots to 5-4, and thus put Buffalo right back into the fight for the AFC East title.

And to …

Oh, why bother dragging this out. You know where this is going, so let’s just get there.

Trailing 37-31 with 28 seconds remaining, the Bills had the ball at the Patriots’ 15-yard line. Whereupon quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a dart into the end zone – straight into the waiting chest of Patriots safety Devin McCourty.

Interception, ball game, 37-31 final.

It was a tragic ending for a Bills team that, despite being flagged for an infraction seemingly every third or fourth snap, had played so much better in so many ways than it had in its demoralizing 52-28 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium in late September.

The most vexed Bills player, of course, was Fitzpatrick – he always is. He played valiantly and effectively. Until that season-crushing interception, he was 27-of-39 for 337 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

His ill-fated pass was intended for rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham who, from the right side, slanted toward the post.

“They were playing cover-2,” Fitzpatrick said. “(McCourty) was the deep-half safety (on that side). I thought I’d be able to get it to T.J., but I was unable to.”

The Bills-fan corner of Twittersphere instantly went all torch-and-pitchfork on Fitzpatrick butt at game’s end. But we tweeted at the time that it didn’t appear to be Fitzpatrick’s fault.

And it wasn’t.

Fitzpatrick sure didn’t say so – he protected Graham in his post-game comments.

And Bills head coach Chan Gailey was non-committal, saying “it depends on the look” where the receiver is supposed to take his post route in such a circumstance, so “I’ll have to watch the film to see what the depth of that thing was.”

But to his credit, Graham – the North Carolina State product with all that speed and not much polish – stood in the Gillette Stadium locker room and told reporters the gaffe was all on him.

He said he should have cut his route in front of McCourty, rather than behind him.

“That was a rookie mistake,” Graham said. “It was a good pass … I take blame for that one.

“That might be why I don’t get on the field much, I guess, (because) I make those mistakes.”

Perhaps Graham would not have even run that route had Donald Jones not been hurt on the final drive. So was running back Fred Jackson after taking a wicked hit. Gailey said he wasn’t sure what type of injury Jackson might have sustained.

Speaking of Jackson, someone must have reminded Gailey – the playcaller for the Bills offence – that he has on his team maybe the best 1-2 punch in the league at running back, in C.J. Spiller and Jackson.

Despite trailing in the second half by one or two scores, as they had a week earlier in Houston when Gailey called few running plays, this week the head coach nicely mixed in draw plays and handoffs.

Combined, Spiller and Jackson had 11 carries in the second half for 74 yards – successful enough to keep the Patriots defence off-balance and crouching up to guard against the run. That provided both time for Fitz to throw and more room for his receivers to get open.

The rightfully maligned Bills defence had set up the importance of the offence’s final drive by, amazingly, stopping Tom Brady and the Patriots offence after a long, late fourth-quarter drive – forcing a field goal that kept the Bills within six.

At this rate of improvement, the Bills defence will shut out the Pats in 2043.

To be fair, two Bills defenders appeared to play very well: defensive tackle Kyle Williams (who was credited with half a sack, three QB hits and a tackle-for-loss) and rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who in a few instances of press-man coverage foiled Brady’s throws.

So now New England is 6-3, and Buffalo is 3-6.

There’s no time for the Bills to stew over this one; Miami comes to town on Thursday night.

Still, it’ll be a hard one to let go.

“I had every idea we were going to score and win the ballgame by one,” Gailey said. “I mean, that was my total thought. I knew we were going to do that.”

Scarred Bills fans, and longtooth NFL observers, correctly figured otherwise.