Losing on opening day is tough enough, but losing on the final play of the game is too much to take. Take in the fact that the Bills have to beat the Jackonvilles of the league at home to be considered a post season contender and what you get appears to be similar to the Bills of 2003.
The Bills seemed to dominate this game statistically, the mundane, conservative offense wasn't scoring points but they were moving the ball while the defense just dominated the Jaguars. The Bills seemed in control of the game despite only having a four point lead late in the fourth quarter. If any of a number of plays went the Bills way near the end of the game, they win it. Instead a crushing loss that leaves fans wondering if we aren't in for a repeat of last year's 6-10 season.
With the Bills leading 10-6 they start moving down the field but a holding call on Chris Villarial moves the Bills back, and instead of trying a 51 yard field goal they decide to punt and get a net gain of just 13 yards. That was better than would have happened if Rian Lindell missed another field goal, his 42 yard miss earlier is just one play that could have made the difference in this loss.
The Jaguars, who had only 145 yards total offense in the first 57:52 of this game marched down the field 80 yards to the dramatic, leaping, heartbreaking touchdown reception by rookie Ernest Wilford. His catch left the 72,000 fans in stunned silence. What is more shocking is he caught it in triple coverage. Neither Takeo Spikes, Izell Reese or Coy Wire could knock it down.
That was the theme of that drive as the touchdown catch was the third fourth down conversion on the drive. On a fourth and 14 play Leftwich connected with the venerable Jimmy Smith on another jump ball for 45 yards. Nate Clements had a beat on it but instead of just knocking it down for the win, he inexplicitly went for the meaningless interception. If he knocks it down, game over. In between those crushing plays the Jaguars converted a 4th and 2 at the Buffalo 13 on a six yard crossing pattern completion.
The Bills seemed to control the tempo of the game, they did commit to the running game most of the day and Drew Bledsoe seemed comfortable and efficient in this game, and was only sacked one time. He also connected on a 17 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Eric Moulds for the lone Buffalo touchdown. The offense only scored 10 points but had countless of other opportunities. Moulds fumbled the ball away in the fourth quarter at the Jacksonville 12. He also botched a lateral from Bledsoe at midfield as another drive got moving. Lindell had the missed field goal and the team wouldn't even try another one from the 50. Then there was the return to the Gilbride era. For all the talk of smash mouth football when they had a third and goal from the one, they tried a play action play and Bledsoe was sacked, forcing them to rely on Lindell for 25 yarder that he made.
Both scores were setup by two takeaways from the defense, Reese ended the safety interception streak with a pick that setup the Lindell field goal as the Bills couldn't punch it in from the three yard line where Reese went out of bounds. Clements did have one pick also that setup the only touchdown.
Defensively the Bills shut down the Jaguars all day until the final fateful drive. The Jaguars managed only two field goal drives and the Bills just stymied them with solid pass protection while holding Fred Taylor pretty much in check.
The bottom line is when the game was on the line the team didn't deliver. Mike Mularkey talks so much about adding toughness to this team, that was one of the reasons Gregg Williams was fired, because the team wasn't tough enough. Well they showed in this loss that they aren't a mentally tough team no matter how much lip service it got in the off season. This game was going to be an early barometer to see if the team had a chance to make the playoffs, it doesn't look like it will be easy to reach the six games they won last year. To make the playoffs in the NFL you have to beat marginal teams at home. This loss is a crushing loss because of how they lost and because you can't let these games get away in the all too short NFL season. The Bills did let it get away and it could have a long term effect on the team all season long.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the Bills crushing opening loss to the season: