TORONTO — And so ended the Bills’ faint playoff hopes.
You can spare me the “if this, and this, and this happens...”
This team, on its faux home field, proved it not yet has the talent, the heart nor the Canadian fan support to end its woeful streak of now 14 years without a post-season berth.
Hopefully, the Bills’ management is enjoying the windfall of cash it receives from playing in the Rogers Centre. Just wondering, though, if it’s worth the team’s 1-5 — and counting — record in a venue where apathy is the operative word.
As so many Bills losses have been in recent years, this one was excruciating ... a 34-31 overtime defeat by Atlanta that Buffalo appeared to have won on at least four occasions.
Worse, the Bills were trying to do it in an environment where it seemed nearly half of the crowd was rooting for the Falcons.
APPARENTLY, nobody told Atlanta, 2-9 and going nowhere, it was supposed to quit after falling behind 14-0, 10 minutes into the game.
Then, after the Bills fell a touchdown behind midway through the third period, they not only rallied to tie, but also took the lead ... up seven with barely 90 seconds to play.
But, on a drive kept alive by three Buffalo penalties — an offside, an illegal contact and a marginal pass interference call on rookie cornerback Nickell Robey against Harry Douglas in the end zone — the Falcons tied it.
Then, just as first-year quarterback EJ Manuel seemed to have driven Buffalo into position for the game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation, wide receiver Stevie Johnson fumbled at the end of a catch at the Falcons’ 29-yard line.
Buffalo’s final shot came in overtime.
Manuel again threw a perfect ball, this time to Scott Chandler, but as he crossed into Atlanta territory, the tight end was stripped of the ball and the Falcons recovered, starting their drive to the game-winning field goal.
AFTERWARD, normally composed Bills’ coach Doug Marrone was gracious, but clearly distracted by what unfolded and devastated emotionally.
“I’m hurting,” he said. “I mean, I am. I’m mad ...I’m not going to sit here and come across smiling and everything. I’m upset ... there are words I cannot use to describe how I feel.
“I told the players, we’re going to get to a point where it’s not going to come down to (officiating) calls or a drop. It’s not going to come down to this or that.”
He maintained, “We’re going to work our tails off and become good enough where that stuff doesn’t matter and we don’t have to sit here and make excuses or feel the way we feel. I’m hurting ... I’m just hurting.”
SO ARE Bills’ fans, of course.
Since Buffalo last made the playoffs in 1999, Buffalo has lost 49 games by less than a touchdown, 34 by three points or-fewer, seven of them in overtime.
And Chandler is all too familiar with the frustrations of the Buffalo faithful.
“You hate to let the fans down ... and you really hate to let your teammates down,” he said.
“It hurts. We want to bring this town, this region, the playoffs. To know that it kind of slipped away on (my fumble) is tough.”
Yet, even in the disappointment, Marrone wouldn’t blame the fact the Bills had sold a home game and, in effect, the weather advantage and the fan support at “The Ralph.”
“Absolutely not,” he said. “You have to play and make plays. I think when you’re out there, and even when you’re coaching, you really don’t know what’s going on (with the crowd).
“I think people think that players feed off the crowd ... and that may happen, but basically you have to feed off each other. I thought (Sunday’s crowd) was good ... they were on our side. The fans of Toronto did a nice job ... they were loud.”
But defensive tackle Kyle Williams, the Bills’ longest-tenured position player, didn’t totally agree.
“We’re beating a dead horse ... the same questions always (about playing in Toronto),” he said, however quickly adding, “at the end of the day, we were in perfectly good position to win the ballgame, no matter where we were (playing).”
(Chuck Pollock the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)