Immediate reactions: Falcons 34, Bills 31 in OT
blog by Nick Mendola • December 01, 2013 @ 8:36pm
When EJ Manuel made strong throws to try and lead Buffalo on consecutive game-winning drives, Scott Chandler and Stevie Johnson killed the Bills playoff hopes with late fumbles.
That’s it. You watched the game. You saw it. Now let’s talk about this brutal bomb of bitterness North of the border…
—You’re going to have to trust me that I wrote the following paragraph BEFORE Johnson went late-game stinker:
I refuse to acknowledge Stevie Johnson as a top-flight wide receiver until he contributes a game without 2-3 “pointing-at-the-quarterback-to-tell-him-I-know-that-was-my-fault” moments. The most-glaring error on Sunday was a 3rd down play on the drive after Atlanta took their first lead when a lofted pass down the left side fell between his hands. It wasn’t an easy catch, but elite players do that for you. Can’t get there with him.
Now let’s include another late puke job from Johnson, who yakked the ball up after Manuel found him and No. 13 dashed into long field goal range for Dan Carpenter. Oh, then he didn’t protect the ball… ensuring no victory in regulation for the Bills.
And while in a way I feel for the guy (he seemed close to tears as he started his post-game remarks), if you’re trying to build a winner and lose a game like this, which of the following quotes do you want coming from your players?
JAIRUS BYRD ON WHERE THE LOSS RANKS: “Because of all that was in front of us, this is at the top. The road ahead, we looked at it and the way we came in, this is definitely at the top.”
KYLE WILLIAMS ON ALL THE CLOSE LOSSES IN HIS TIME: “The frustrating thing is you get frustrated for your teammates and you hurt for your teammates. It’s easy to be in the catbird seat and looking down on it and say, ‘same old (expletive)’ or whatever it may be. I feel bad for the guys because of all the works goes into it, what guys play through, all the hours they put into it and a lot of times games like this become a punchline, like it’s funny. And it’s not. To us, it’s not. It’s frustrating but at the end of the day I believe with everything in me that I’m going to do the right things and I’m going to play as hard as I can and then on the back end of this for me, it’s gonna be that much better.”
SCOTT CHANDLER ON FUMBLING AWAY A HUGE CHANCE: “We want to bring this town, this region the playoffs and to know that that kind of slipped away on that play is tough. That’s part of what we do. We put ourselves out there. If you want to be a guy who’s making plays for your team, then you’re going to have to deal with the disappointment when you don’t make the play.”
STEVIE JOHNSON ON HOW LONG THIS GAME WILL STICK: “I don’t like what I’m about to say but we’ve been here before. It’s not going to stick with us. Once the day’s over with, it’s over with. We’ve gotta move on to Tampa Bay.”
Sometimes, it’s cool to admit that a loss is out-of-the-ordinary… especially when everyone else on the team (that I talked to, at least) was calling it brutal, if not the worst of their careers.
—This was my first in-person experience for the Bills in Toronto series, an annual event I had avoided up until now. It stung watching Ted Rogers and, to a lesser extent, Ralph Wilson guffaw about their money-making machine a few years back and that press conference was enough to keep me away (and I like Toronto alright. It was the principle of the thing, friends).
So what did I find in Toronto? A building that really tried to make it a home game for the Bills, but just couldn’t. For one thing, what decent traveling Falcons fan is going to turn down a reason to go to exotic Toronto? If the Bills were playing the Falcons in Mexico City, I know I’d be interested.
But the fact remains that Toronto NFL fan has never wanted to steal the Bills. The proof was in the bizarre melange of NFL colors in the stands on Sunday. Of course there were the many Bills and Falcons shirts, but how about 17 other NFL team apparel just from my walking around the outside of the venue and peering out into the seats from the press box:
Broncos Peyton Manning jersey
Redskins “World Champions” jacket
Cowboys Emmitt Smith jersey
Dolphins Cameron Wake jersey
Steelers Troy Polamalu jersey
Patriots Tedy Bruschi jersey
Vikings Jared Allen jersey
Packers Aaron Rodgers jersey
Ravens Ray Lewis jersey
Jaguars Maurice Jones-Drew jersey
Rams Kurt Warner jersey
Colts Marvin Harrison jersey
Giants Phil Simms jersey
Saints Drew Brees jersey
Raiders Howie Long jersey
Bears hooded sweatshirt
This was far removed from the occasional weirdo wearing a Dolphins jersey to a Bills/Jags game in Orchard Park; It was a symptom of the sick. If the Bills want a home-field advantage up here, they’ll need their fans to salivate at the chance to see their team up here… and it’ll take a crazy-good record to offset the long-held ill humour for the Bills in Toronto series.
Oh, they played football? Cool. Let’s talk about that…
—My, how Matt Ryan operated on the final drive of regulation. Sure, he received plenty of help from a Bills defense who gave away yardage on multiple penalties, poor tackling and mediocre-at-best coverage, but the Boston College product moved down the field with relative ease, with the exception of a big Corbin Bryant sack. Yet even after that play he bounced right back with a consecutive completions to ageless Tony Gonzalez.
And then, the penalties! First Harry Douglas turned a Falcons 4th and goal from the 1 into a 3rd and 16 with a personal foul, only to have Nickell Robey give all of the years back on a pass interference call. Steven Jackson punched it in to ensure another pressure point for EJ Manuel. Opportunity for judgment… we’re off!
—Facing a third down after nearly being picked on a long throw intended for TJ Graham, Manuel hit Scott Chandler on a play that’s become quite familiar: a lofted ball with a linebacker in coverage. But… fumble. For the second-straight potential game-winning drives, glory was ripped from the Bills and their rookie quarterback. It feels unfair for a quarterback-starved town to not be able to slide this feather into its cap.
—Manuel was fine overall. He could’ve been better but he did enough to win the game with mostly good decisions and decent accuracy. He could’ve been punished with a pick when he missed Scott Chandler early in the fourth quarter, but for that mistake you could exchange the several occasions when his receivers didn’t make plays on well-thrown balls. The QB grade: B-
—77-yard run by C.J. Spiller through the middle of the field, caught by Desmond Trufant. It was a career-long run for Spiller and it gashed the league’s fourth-worst rushing defense early. The longest non-scoring TD run in Bills history, surpassing a 75-yard run by Terry Miller in the 70s. Showing my age: I have zero idea a man named Terry Miller played for the Bills, let alone was electric enough to post a 75-yard run.
Later, he added a 36-yard run through a massive hole provided by Kraig Urbik and the offensive line, moving him to—at the time—149 yards on the day. These were the numbers Bills fans—and fantasy players—were expecting all year from Buffalo’s explosive running back. After 97 yards in the first quarter, it took him a bit to throw some more yards on the pile.
—Marcell Dareus knifed through the Falcons line on a 2nd and 5 play early in the first quarter to drop Steven Jackson for a 4-yard loss and Jerry Hughes put an exclamation point on the defensive series when he hit Matt Ryan moments after the Falcons QB caught the ball from center.
—Manuel was briefly removed from the game after taking a helmet-first hit to the gut that initially had personnel signaling for the cart. However, it was only a hand-off from Thad Lewis before Manuel returned.
—The Falcons didn’t get their first down until drive No. 3, where they gained 11 yards on a first-down pass to Tony Gonzalez. That drive is where Atlanta found some momentum, picking up two first downs and 15 yards due to a Mario Williams roughing the passer call. By the time the drive was through, Steven Jackson had rumbled 27 yards to halve the Bills lead to 14-7.
It was just the first of Atlanta’s big gains on the ground and an unwelcome reminder of the terrible last few years attempting stopping of the run. With 4:49 to go in the half, Antone Smith took advantage of a wandering Kiko Alonso and went off left tackle for a 39-yard score.
—The press box was thrown into a bit of a fit when embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford made the scene in a Fred Jackson jersey, eating wings and apparently stealing the season seat of Toronto indie rocker Matt Mays. I don’t have much to add except that his B-list appearance was not half as bad as the halftime act, the Brian Wilson-less Beach Boys. Their act is a crime.
—It was a rough first half again for Stephon Gilmore, who was victimized by Roddy White on a 3rd-and-10 just before the two-minute warning for a 22-yard gain. It was one of a couple third-down hiccups for a corner who was expected to have a break-out season as a lock-down DB before an arm injury cost him game time and, seemingly, game shape.
The second half featured a non-burned wrong by Gilmore, as his illegal hands to the face gave the Falcons a first down on their first drive of the third quarter, after Alan Branch had chased Matt Ryan into a third down.
Worse? When Gilmore came out of the game with an injury—he would return—Ron Brooks replaced him and got beat by Gonzalez just two plays later on a third-down, 11-yard touchdown toss across the middle of the field. That’s why benching Gilmore is not an option, as Jay Skurski noted on Twitter.
—Roddy White only had 209 receiving yards coming into this game and if it went on much longer he would’ve passed that figure. He was certainly in some sort of Beast Mode and the Bills will be happy to wave goodbye to him for a while.
—To be fair to the secondary, Leodis McKelvin made more good plays than bad at the other corner position.
—Streaker! During a Falcons punt downed inside the five-yard line, a plaid-clad man dashed a solid 55 yards before peacefully giving himself over to the Canadian authorities. Oddly enough, the refs didn’t blow the play dead nor have Atlanta rekick, which would’ve been a boon to the Bills.
—Two sacks for Hughes in the first half… and Buffalo is as close as you’d like to being a clubhouse leader in the “Who won the Kelvin Sheppard trade?” debate.
—Fortunately, the Falcons continued their trouble under center on the ensuing series, fumbling the ball into a scrum of Bills. Kiko Alonson recovered.
One play later, Fred Jackson made Desmond Trufant look like a Little Loop miscast on a 21-yard deke-and-dash to paydirt. The game was again tied.
—The Bills pass rush was on it all day, picking up six sacks, and no success shone brighter than Mario Williams third-down sack with 13 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. It was Mario’s first sack since Oct. 27 versus New Orleans. He now has 12 sacks this year, tied for his second-best output in a single year. He posted 14 in 2007.
—Manny Lawson was a huge pick-up for the Bills. When healthy, he’s made a big play in seemingly every contest in which he’s played.
—Buffalo dodged a late bullet when Ryan found Kiko Alonson covering Antone Smith on a long pass. He fired a catchable ball to the goal line and Smith saw it go through his hands.
Stat-line I liked:
Bills offense, 6.4 yards per play
— That’s dynamite. Really.
Stat-line I didn’t like:
Besides the fumbles? Third-down defense
— Falcons were 10-of-19 on third down in regulation.
Spiller and the D-line
— He made a couple electric plays and the Bills closed the pocket down quickly for most of the day.
To Tampa and an improving Bucs team that just suffered a 27-6 setback against Carolina. It’s rookie versus rookie, but Buffalo’s first-year QB will be on the road. Tampa Bay has won its last two home games, including a 41-28 win over the Falcons. This’ll be a tough and tight one, but Buffalo may be pret-ty deflated. Give me the Bills, 17-16.
Regardless of venue and outcome, that was a fun game. Plus, it was much warmer for me to cover the game… which is nice.