Bills fumble away playoffs bid at Toronto’s Rogers Centre — and you better believe it, ‘it hurts’

BILLS

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His voice cracked and his eyes welled. Tears didn’t flow, but his emotions sure did.

Head coach Doug Marrone was no different than any Buffalo Bills fan after the franchise’s latest, inexplicable, soul-scrunching loss — 34-31 in overtime to the woeful Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Marrone had just watched his Bills twice fumble away a glorious chance to jump back into the thick of the chase for the final AFC wildcard playoff spot.

“I’m hurting,” Marrone said. “I mean, I am. I am mad. I’m mad. I’m not going to sit here and try to come across and smile and everything, I’m upset. There are words that I can’t use to describe how I feel.”

Fans said them, rest assured.

In the final seconds of regulation, with the score tied 31-31, the Bills fumbled away a chance at a game-winning field goal. Then they did it again, two plays into overtime.

The Bills fell to 4-8 and, in all likelihood, extended their miserable streak of missing the playoffs to 14 years, longest such in the NFL.

The Buffalo locker room — really, the Toronto Blue Jays’ locker room — was achingly sad. Some players could barely lift their heads they were so upset, no one more than Toronto native Stefan Charles. It was the backup defensive tackle’s first time playing in the Rogers Centre, and it had to have been a thrill. But he could barely speak about that or anything afterward. Just couldn’t talk.

If you didn’t care who won, or were among the hundreds and hundreds of red- or black-clad Falcons fans in attendance, it was the most thrilling game, by far, in the six-game Bills-in-Toronto series, which sees the Buffalo franchise relocate one of its eight regular-season home games across Lake Ontario in the name of regionalization.

In front of a crowd of 38,969 — almost 2,000 fewer than last year, and more than 7,000 short of a sellout in the dome’s NFL configuration — the Bills seemingly had the game in the bag two or three times.

Such as when they jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old.

But, as has been the case throughout this young century, the Bills cannot hang on to win games they need to win, usually because of killer gaffes at the worst of times.

Two veteran pass-catchers were the goats on Sunday.

After Atlanta tied the game with 1:28 remaining in regulation, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel led the Bills close to field-goal range.

On 3rd-and-1 from the Atlanta 43, with 28 seconds left, Manuel hit Stevie Johnson on a crosser. Johnson, in his sixth NFL season, scooted down to the 30 — and into placekicker Dan Carpenter’s field-goal range.

But Atlanta cornerback Robert McClain stripped Johnson of the ball, and teammate William Moore, a safety, recovered at the Atlanta 28.

“A guy came from behind and ripped it out,” Johnson said. “He made a good play. I was just running with the ball.

“I knew we had the game sealed with that, but he came from behind and made a play.”
That brought overtime.

BillsThe Bills won the toss, and just two plays in, Manuel hit tight end Scott Chandler — a seventh-year man — on another crosser at about midfield and he turned it up.

But Moore stripped him of the ball (left, AFP), teammate Robert Alford picked it up, ran sideways before lateraling to another teammate, rookie Desmond Trufant, who zipped 18 yards down to the Buffalo 47.

“I didn’t get my hand underneath (the ball) enough,” Chandler said, “and the guy hit it right on the ball, and just knocked it loose. Really disappointing.

“It hurts. You hate to to let the fans down and you really hate to let your teammates down … We want to bring this town, this region, the playoffs. To know that kind of slipped away on that play is tough.”

From there, Atlanta running back Steven Jackson gained 10 yards on three carries and, most importantly, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hit wideout Harry Douglas on a nifty reverse screen for 20 yards. Roddy White was his old, pre-leg-injuries self on Sunday with 10 catches for 143 yards, but that catch and run by Douglas (his sixth of the day) was the biggest of the game.

The fact he didn’t fumble it allowed Atlanta’s field-goal kicker a chance to win the game. Matt Bryant did just that when he drilled a 36-yarder — and punctured the hearts of the NFL’s longest suffering franchise and fanbase.

“I’m hurting,” Marrone said again at the end his post-game news conference. Then he got up, head down, and walked slowly out.

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