Some reflections on Monday night's 25-24 loss at New England, one of the most depressing defeats in Bills' history.
- Most of the blame for the loss has been put on cornerback Leodis McKelvin (related story, this page) for returning the kickoff after the Patriots' second touchdown, fumbling, and setting up New England's game-winning score.
But there's plenty of responsibility to go around.
Trailing 24-19 with 2:06 to play, even though the Pats had all three timeouts remaining, there was a chance New England would have tried an onside kick.
Hence, the Bills had a "hands" crew up front, rather than the normal blockers.
That said, when the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski kicked deep, it's easy to say McKelvin should have downed it in the end zone.
But the second-year cornerback admitted when he caught the ball, he wasn't sure if momentum had taken him into the end zone or if he had stepped into that area on his own.
If it was the latter, and he had knelt down, it would have been a safety, making it a three-point game with the Bills' free-kicking to the Pats who had all their timeouts, plus the two-minute warning, needing only a field goal to tie.
Ideally, the Bills wanted McKelvin's return to get the game to the two-minute warning and for him to go down before there was any chance of a fumble.
The real question is, did head coach Dick Jauron or special teams assistant Bobby April make that clear to McKelvin?
They didn't need a 33-yard return fighting for extra yardage that resulted in a fumble - McKelvin had already bobbled the previous effort - but rather a 20-yarder that gave Buffalo the ball after the two-minute mark.
- There's a perception that the Bills dominated this game.
Had they won, it would have been a steal.
Even before the last two drives, New England had a 329-267 edge in yardage, 63-43 advantage in plays and 33-22-minute margin in time of possession.
Buffalo also benefited from two specious officiating calls against the Pats and a struggling first half by quarterback Tom Brady.
In short, the Pats were primed to lose … and the Bills let an unexpected victory get away.
- To be sure, a loss is a loss, whether it's 25-24 or 38-10, but NFL teams get only 16 chances to win in the regular season and this was a golden opportunity wasted.
Still, on the upside, Buffalo opens at home on Sunday against the rebuilding Buccaneers and a win would go a long way toward blunting the memory of what should have been, and wasn't, at Foxboro.
But a loss in Sunday's game…
- Defeat notwithstanding, it didn't happen because of the limited use of wide receiver Terrell Owens or the absence of suspended running back Marshawn Lynch.
Owens, as is his wont, dropped the first pass his way, made two catches and lost another when he was flagged for interference.
He declined to talk with the media after the game, and while it may have been because of the bizarre nature of the loss, you could do worse than suggest it was because Randy Moss, his literal opposite number on the Patriots, caught a career-high 12 balls and notched his 60th 100-yard receiving game, second all-time in NFL history.
And Freddie Jackson did a pretty good Lynch imitation.
He rushed for 57 yards on 15 carries, slightly below Marshawn's standard. But Jackson also caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, a combined 140 rushing and receiving yards that Lynch has exceeded only once in 28 career games.
- And, oh by the way, the offensive line did better than might have been expected. Buffalo averaged nearly five yards on 19 running plays and surrendered only two sacks on 22 dropbacks, until the game's final series when the Pats sold out on the pass rush.
Left tackle Demetrius Bell, a rookie in games played, endured two illegal formation and one false start penalty while having a holding infraction nullified by a sack.
But no other Buffalo offensive lineman was flagged all game despite the collective inexperience.
- The worst aspect of Monday's loss was the way it happened, the ending completely taking the focus away from the spectacular interception of a screen pass by end Aaron Schobel that he turned into a 26-yard return for a touchdown. It was one of the most athletic plays by a Bills' defensive lineman in franchise history.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)