HOUSTON – You just have to wonder if it’s ever going to happen again. When are the Buffalo Bills ever going to win a playoff game, because if they couldn’t win when they had a 16-0 lead with less than two minutes left in the third quarter, then when?
In what became the latest in unconscionable Buffalo playoff failures, the Bills, dominating for the first 40-plus minutes of the game, unraveled in absolutely epic fashion and lost 22-19 in overtime to the Houston Texans on Saturday afternoon at NRG Stadium.
“We had opportunities to win the game and we came up short,” said coach Sean McDermott. “Not an easy thing, not an easy pill to swallow this time of year. A lot of pain in that locker room.”
Report card: Buffalo in state of shock after meltdown loss to Texans
There’s a lot of pain in Bills Nation, too, because it just gets tiring. Seriously, you just can’t make up the things that happen to the Bills in the postseason, and this is merely the latest chapter, a fourth quarter, and then an overtime, that Bills fans will remember for as long as they are fans.
And so, a progressive 10-win season goes splat, and while some will be happy that the Bills made the playoffs, they should not be. It wasn’t enough to just make the playoffs this season, not with a 10-6 record and a defense that was outstanding almost all season before falling apart at the end of this game.
Winning a playoff game was the minimal goal, and the Bills — despite having a 16-0 lead — blew it.
“We didn’t make enough plays down the stretch and it hurts, but it hurts if you lose by three or 50, it’s the same deal,” said wide receiver Cole Beasley. “You can point out a lot of things in this football thing, it wasn’t one thing.”
It’s almost hard to describe how badly this thing fell apart, from awful play calls, to a wilting defense folding, to Josh Allen doing some of the things that have driven us nuts for two years, and the result was that a Houston team that really had no business moving on, does so.
The Bills deserve credit for forcing the overtime, yes, but ultimately, all it did was prolong the agony.
And to think, during the first half, and into the third quarter, people were probably already trying to rearrange their travel schedules for next weekend because it just seemed like there was no way the Bills were going to lose.
What made the 13-0 halftime lead so impressive is they had awful field position most of the half, starting drives at their own 25, 10, 9 and 4, yet they managed to score three times while blanking a sputtering Houston offense. At the break, Buffalo owned a 247-81 edge in yards, 13-4 in first downs, and had nearly 17 minutes of possession time.
The day began day with a lightning-quick six-play, 75 yards touchdown drive that was high on style points as Allen rambled 42 yards on a designed keeper and then caught a 16-yard TD pass from wide receiver John Brown. Allen play-faked, then lateraled to Brown moving from right to left. Brown stopped, Allen leaked into the left flat and Brown hit him with a perfect pass which proved to be the only TD the Bills would score.
The Texans were able to mount nothing on offense, and the Bills closed the half with a pair of Stephe Hauschka 40-yard field goals. The first came when the Bills survived a near-miss Allen fumble that was properly overturned by replay. The second came at the end of a superb 74-yard drive that that chewed up all but four seconds of the final 5:45 of the half.
Early in the third quarter the Bills had a great chance to really lock it down when Tre’Davious White forced a DeAndre Hopkins and Tremaine Edmunds recovered at the Houston 38. However, after moving to the 14, the Bills stalled and when J.J. Watt barreled in to sack Allen, they settled for a 38-yard field goal that made it 16-0.
Houston keeping the Bills out of the end zone there felt like a big moment, and it was. Oh, was it ever.
“He got the sack in the red zone there,” Allen said of Watt, acknowledging that it was a play that began the Bills’ downfall. “We have to find ways to get six instead of three when we get down there, that’s on the quarterback’s shoulders.”
Houston’s offense finally woke up and drove 75 yards thanks to Deshaun Watson’s 20-yard TD run, and then Watson’s two-point conversion run cut it to a one-possession game at 16-8.
Things really got anxious for the Bills on the second play of the fourth quarter when Allen fumbled at midfield trying to scramble to convert a third down. The Texans pushed to the Bills 21, but Jerry Hughes made his third sack of the game on third down, and Houston cut the gap to 16-11 with a Ka’imi Fairburn 41-yard field goal.
And then it went from anxious to horrendous when the Texans took a 19-16 lead as Watson hit Hopkins for a 41-yard gain against White, and eventually threw a five-yard TD pass to Carlos Hyde with 4:37 left, then another two-pointer, this one to Hopkins, to make it 19-16.
To their credit, the Bills stemmed the tide. Allen completed a 38-yard screen pass to Singletary to the Texans 37, and after another first down, the Bills were in position to at least tie the game. But a mind-numbing decision to run Frank Gore on second-and-10 at the 25 resulted in a three-yard loss, and what followed was a grounding call on Allen and a 19-yard sack that should have ended the game.
However, for once, the Bills had all three timeouts to use and that proved to be huge. The Texans failed on a fourth-down play at the Buffalo 30 and the Bills got the ball back with 1:16 to go. Against all odds, Allen drove them to the Houston 29, and Hauschka nailed a tying 47-yard field goal with four seconds left to send it to overtime.
The Bills stopped Houston cold on the first possession and were on the move to a potential winning field goal when a bad penalty on Cody Ford led to a Buffalo punt.
Finally, the Texans won it, thanks to two ridiculous letdowns by the Bills. First, they allowed Watson to convert a third-and-18 pass to Duke Johnson that barely made the first down. Then Watson somehow escaped a sure sack and threw a 34-yard pass to ex-Bill Taiwan Jones – can you even believe it, Taiwan Jones? – that carried to the 10.
“He’s a great player,” said cornerback Kevin Johnson of Watson, his former teammate. “Those type of plays can happen when you’re going against those caliber players. We didn’t execute on that last drive. They had some momentum and we just weren’t able to stop the bleeding when we needed to.”
Fairburn kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play.
“It’s going to haunt us for sure in the offseason,” said White. “It’s something we aren’t going to ever forget, but it’s just going to make us stronger going forward.”