Sunday evening hurt for "Bills Mafia".
There’s no doubt about it, no sugar-coating it. It hurt like many other times before that we’ve been down this road, and boy have we been down this road.
Football. Hockey. Even lacrosse, I think. We’ve seen our sports teams lose in the most dramatic, heart-wrenching, “I can’t believe it!” ways possible several times over the years.
This one was right up there.
But I have to be honest - as shocking as it was, and as much as it hurt then and over a day later, it feels different to me than many of the others.
I’ve been thinking about why. In fact, Sunday night, right before 11 p.m. EST, my Internet went out. We had no TV. Couldn’t watch the final few minutes of the Sunday Night Football game. I had a lot of time to think about and process what happened during the Buffalo Bills' 32-30 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and for some reason (I assure you I don’t normally do things like this), I started ranking - just in my head - some of the all-time heartbreaking losses for this team that I’ve seen over the years.
Of course, there are playoff games and even Super Bowls. Those are on a different level. The stakes are the highest possible. "Music City Miracle", last year against the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card Round, what happened against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XV. I’m not even thinking about those games.
I’m just talking about the regular season heartbreaks.
We have a few we could draw from not too, too long ago. In fact, three on Monday Night Football, all in a manner of a few years.
First, there was the 2007 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, one of the worst morning-after feelings I can ever remember. The 2008 Cleveland Browns game comes the following year, and then the 2009 season opener against the New England Patriots follows that.
Just some examples I want to give you, and also explain why this one feels different. For two reasons, actually.
First, I was absolutely sure in all three of those games that the Bills outplayed the other team most of the night, except for a few big plays. But somehow, some way, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Leodis McKelvin fumbled in 2009. Dallas recovered an onside kick in 2007. The Bills just kept giving the ball to the Browns in 2008, then Cleveland made a 56-yard field goal and the Bills missed a 47-yarder.
I didn’t really feel like that in this one as the game was unfolding. I’ve actually been asking myself, “who was the better team in that game?” Did the Bills outplay the Cardinals? In some ways. They also got outplayed in other ways. This was back-and-forth. Either team’s game. One just made one more play, and it was a miraculous one.
Second, and I think more importantly, for what this game means in the big picture, those other games, as crazy as it may sound because the Patriots game was in Week 1 and the other two came in the first half or midway through the season, there seemed to be a finality to the season that came with those losses.
Yes, of course they still had 15 games to play after losing at New England, but it was the Patriots. It was basically, “if we can’t beat them now, like this, with this lead, when will we ever?” With the Cowboys, it dropped the Bills to 1-4. Against the Browns, they had already lost three in a row headed into that one. In all of those situations, after the immediate punch to the gut, it was more obvious the Bills wouldn’t be making the playoffs, much less winning a division, and people even started to think already about draft position.
Those games, in essence, effectively ended the season for a lot of people.
That’s not what happened here.
You wake up Monday morning, feel awful, even put yourself in a Bills uniform thinking how you would knock that ball down, or rip it out of DeAndre Hopkins’ hands before he hits the ground. But then you can look at the standings. We are 10 weeks into the season. There the Bills are, still in first place in the AFC East. Still the No. 3 seed in the conference. Still with everything in front of them that they set their sites on this season. All of their goals are still within reach.
There’s going to be a lot discussed and debated about the last play of the game. Should the Bills have rushed more players at Kyler Murray? Should they have defenders in different spots on the field in the secondary, guarding against where Hopkins would ultimately land? What about the technique the defensive backs - three of this team‘s best players by the way - used as the ball came down from the sky?
Those discussions and debates are completely valid. That’s what we do. We analyze, dissect, and discuss. That’s what Sean McDermott‘s doing. That’s what players are doing. They’re thinking about all the different ways that could’ve been played, maybe ending with a better result.
But I’m bothered by other things.
The Bills held a 14-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter. They let it slip away. They had every chance to put the Cardinals away, but didn’t. Even after some encouraging signs the last couple weeks, they still can’t run the ball well. They committed some pretty undisciplined and bad penalties that really cost them. Their quarterback led a fantastic drive at the end, but also had just enough inconsistency to hurt them. The punter shanked one on a windless, 80-degree day.
You can talk about the final play all you want. It’s a huge part of the story from Sunday. But if this season starts going sideways and this team finds itself fighting for a playoff spot, looking up at or even having to deal with the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 in a game that means something to both teams, it won’t be because an incredible wide receiver made an incredible catch between three defenders in the desert. It’ll be because of all those other reasons I just laid out.
I still think this is a good team. They’re well coached, they have good players. But they’re just good enough, and sometimes just not good enough in certain areas, to keep us wondering what’s next.
What is next is the bye week, and after that is the stretch run.
There’s no need to panic, but there is need to examine. They can’t go back and stop Hopkins from snagging the ball out of the air, but they can get to work on the reasons they’ve lost three games and figure out how to fix them. Otherwise, we just might be sitting here talking about one of those other types of losses that does represent finality.
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