Doug Marrone didn’t bother waiting for a question Sunday before breaking into a narrative that answered them all. He wasted little time in getting to the heart of the matter, which was one way of saying he spoke from the heart while trying to pull the proverbial stake that the game left behind.
“Obviously, it hurts, all right?” Marrone said. “It hurts me. It hurts the guys in that room. I hurt for them. I hurt for our fans. It’s tough. It’s a tough one. There were a lot of good things that happened on that field today.
“At the end of the day, it’s so close from being a good football team in this league. You saw it. They’re an 8-0 football team, 9-0 now, and we’re 3-6. When it’s time to make the plays, you have to make the plays. We didn’t do that. It hurts because we’ve got great fans, great people, guys play hard.”
Marrone looked like he was still in shock after the game. Obviously, he’s new in town. Anybody who had paid attention to the Bills in recent years wasn’t remotely surprised by the result. It wasn’t their first ride on the subway. The Bills dominated the Chiefs in almost every meaningful area and invented another way to lose.
It’s not a curse, as many believe.
At this stage, it’s become a gift.
And that’s precisely what they gave the Chiefs. The names have changed, but the result was all too familiar. This time, it was rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel throwing a quick slant that Sean Smith intercepted in the end zone and returned 100 yards for a touchdown, flipping what would have been a 17-3 lead for the Bills into a 10-10 tie. The Bills weren’t good enough to overcome a 14-point swing that took all of about 15 seconds.
The Bills’ offense rolled up 470 total yards, and their defense limited the Chiefs to only 210. Buffalo rushed for 241 yards and held Kansas City to 95. Tuel had almost twice as many yards passing (229) as his veteran counterpart, Alex Smith (124), who improved to 29-5-1 as a starter since he opened the 2011 season with San Francisco.
Buffalo had a slight advantage in time of possession. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown. The Bills couldn’t have followed their game plan for beating an undefeated team any better. But when it was all added up, the Chiefs escaped Ralph Wilson Stadium with a mind-boggling, 23-13 victory over the Bills.
“It’s the beauty and the maddening thing about this game,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “It kicks you in the gut a little bit. We played well enough on both sides to win. But you make critical mistakes, where it leads to points for them. It’s a big thing to overcome.”
Actually, it was the only thing to overcome Sunday. Turnovers in football are like walks in baseball. They almost always cost teams in the end. Winning is hard enough, but it’s infinitely more difficult when a team is forced to overcome unforced errors. Tuel made one, and T.J. Graham made another that led to another touchdown.
Two plays changed everything.
Kansas City remains undefeated because it continues to find ways to win close games. Buffalo has three wins in nine games. Blame, what, a half-dozen plays this season? At some point, if the Bills continue performing the way they did Sunday, the law of averages is bound to take over. Until then, pain from self-inflicted wounds will persist.
“I’m pissed,” Marrone said. “I’m going to use that type of energy. I’m going to go home, not talk to anybody, just shut it down. I’m going to be by myself. I’m not going to pet my dog. I’m going to get fired up. I’m going to come to work tomorrow, watch this film, and I’m going to be a pro. I’m going to be a man.”
Marrone will be a man mumbling to himself while watching this one, but he’s also going to come away impressed with his team once the frustration wears off. The video will show that the offensive line played well, which allowed them to establish the running game. The defense was solid throughout, allowing three field goals.
The Bills are 3-6 this season for the same reasons they lost Sunday. The Chiefs are 9-0 and haven’t allowed a team to score more than 17 points in any game all season. It was difficult to know which team was struggling and which was undefeated Sunday. The Chiefs confirmed my belief that they’re a myth.
But they didn’t make any drastic errors and scored 17 points off turnovers. They left knowing darned well, and Marrone did, too, the outcome would have been different if Tuel finds Stevie Johnson in the end zone and Graham maintains possession. Or if an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown wasn’t called back for an illegal block.
They may look like the same old Bills, but things are different under Marrone.
Buffalo teams in the past would have folded when their third-string quarterback was introduced as the starter, let alone after he threw the pick-six. They continue to compete and give themselves an opportunity to win before falling short.
Marrone isn’t one for moral victories. He’s not going there, as he likes to say. The Bills dominated Sunday and lost. He was first in line to face the facts. He used “hurt,” or a derivative of the word, eight times before anyone asked a question. It still was understated. He was left licking his wounds.
“This one hurts,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and say we should’ve won the game because, obviously, we didn’t. It hurt.”