CLEVELAND — We knew this game was coming … we just didn’t know when.
Eventually the Bills were going to lose a game they should have won.
Coming into Sunday afternoon’s meeting with the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, Buffalo was 6-0 against teams without a winning record … and that’s perfection given the opposition.
But that streak ended when Cleveland scored a late touchdown and stopped that run with an unsightly 19-16 victory.
The immediate damage is tempered by the fact that the Bills, 6-3, would still make the playoffs, if they started today. But three chasers are within a game and a half.
However, the long-range impact of losing a game that was there for the taking is that Buffalo’s failings were on full display.
Second-year quarterback Josh Allen seemed to have a good game, scoring both his team’s touchdowns — a 10-yard run and 1-yard sneak — and though he didn’t thrown an interception, and hasn’t in four straight games, his passing numbers were truly pedestrian: 22-of-41 for 266 yards. His passer rating of 73.8 was third-worst in nine games this year and he fumbled for the 11th time this season, though this time he was bailed out by a diving recovery at the Browns’ 1-yard line by guard Jon Feliciano.
INDEED, Allen admitted, again, “I have to do a better job, plain and simple. Thankfully Jon was in a good enough position to go and get (fumble) that with the hustle he showed. I have to be careful of everyone’s arms trying to hit the ball out. You can’t get that during practice being a quarterback. They’re swinging a lot harder in games and they’re a lot bigger and tougher (than practice).”
He also added, “We have to find ways to complete the ball more … and that’s on me. Taking advantage of the opportunities we have down the field … that’s on me. The quarterback gives your team a chance to win in today’s league … and I didn’t make enough plays for our team.
BUT THE Bills struggles aren’t entirely on Allen.
Buffalo’s rush defense stiffened after intermission, but the Browns put up 118 yards on 11 carries in the first half and running back Nick Chubb finished with 116 yards on 20 tries, nearly six per carry.
Bills coach Sean McDermott said of Cleveland’s ground game, “(The Browns) are good … they have a lot of talent on that team … they have two good back (Chubb and Kareem Hunt) and they moved the ball on us until we settled in.”
As linebacker Lorenzo Alexander noted, “For whatever reason we make a mental adjustment at halftime. It’s not like we come in and make a ton of adjustments systematically.
“We have to be able to come out quicker and stop the run … that’s the only way teams get the ball down the field on us … it’s just not executing … missing tackles … out of the gap, things we’ve done and know how to do.”
Then, too, Buffalo has only 11 takeaways in nine games.
“We’ve had our chances,” Alexander said. “Today we missed covering two fumbles and we dropped a couple of interceptions. We’ve got to start making those plays because they’re so important.”
THEN, OF COURSE, there are the mathematically obvious errors.
Placekicker Stephen Hauschka, consistently dependable through most of his career, on Sunday pulled a 34-yard, chip-shot field goal wide left, then a 53-yard game-tying effort in the final seconds the same way.
In a 3-points loss, those six points stand out.
“I’ve been kicking the ball great in practice … I’ve been really happy where I am right now,” Hauschka maintained. “This is a learning experience … it’s tough, and I’m going to move through it.”
And McDermott made it clear he’s standing behind his kicker.
“We just remain confident and let him know that we remain confident in him and that we expect he’ll bounce back,” the third-year coach said. “I’m confident in Stephen.”
Besides, given the way the game unfolded Sunday, McDermott has more to be concerned about than his place-kicker’s mental state.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)