We often hear about coaches looking upstairs for guidance on whether to challenge a ruling on the field.
I always assumed they meant the press box. The Buffalo Bills might look even higher than that.
Down to the Kansas City Chiefs by eight points with 2:31 to play, Bills receiver Chris Hogan clearly caught a short pass over the middle, but the throw was ruled incomplete, giving the Bills a third-and-10 situation at their own 20-yard line.
The play obviously should have been challenged. CBS cut to a shot of Rex Ryan. An assistant in the press box, detached from the sideline madness and with the help of TV monitors, presumably was instructing Ryan what to do.
But stationed at Ryan’s left shoulder was team chaplain James Trapp, among the spiciest hotheads when he played defensive back for the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars from 1993 through 2003.
Trapp, the hood from his parka pulled up, tapped Ryan’s arm. Trapp shook his head repeatedly and said, “No, no, no.”
The risk of challenging and the call being upheld would mean a lost timeout.
Perhaps still feeling burnt by a failed challenge in the third quarter, Ryan didn’t throw his red flag on Hogan’s “incompletion.”
Instead, the Bills ran another play, passed to tight end Charles Clay for 1 yard and then called a timeout. One play later, the Bills unsuccessfully challenged the spot on Tyrod Taylor’s fourth-down scramble.
Is it possible Trapp was communicating information to Ryan other than challenge advice? Sure.
But at that specific moment, Ryan’s entire focus should have been on whether or not to challenge. When Trapp poked the head coach, Ryan gave him full attention right then and there.
The team chaplain, of all people, was (at best) giving the head coach bad advice or (at worst) distracting him right before the two-minute warning in a one-score game.
From an October 2006 feature by Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer:
“Trapp has known his share of hot water. He was Mr. Personal Foul during his 11 NFL seasons, drawing 15-yard penalties at every turn. That defined him even more than his blistering speed, which once earned him the title of NFL’s fastest man.”
Trapp was so nasty -- he once bolted off the Los Angles Raiders’ sideline to get into a fistfight while in street clothes -- the Raiders sent him to anger-management classes.
Once more: The Raiders sent him to anger-management classes.
He underwent a spiritual transformation while playing with the Ravens, where Ryan was an assistant coach. Trapp’s first job as a chaplain came with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006.
Ryan’s son, Seth, and Trapp’s son, Amir, play football at Clemson.
Trapp also serves as the Bills’ assistant director of player engagement, “helping contribute to the areas of continuing education, family assistance, financial planning, post-football career development and chaplain services.”
A man of God, but also a man of high emotion. Probably not the person who should divert the coach’s concentration in the end-of-game crucible.
Sammy Watkins became the NFL’s first player all year with 150 receiving yards and two touchdowns by halftime.
Watkins went into the locker room with six catches (many sensational and with decent coverage) for 158 yards. His touchdown catches were from 28 yards and 21 yards away. His first reception was a 48-yard beauty up the left sideline on the opening possession to set up a field goal.
Each of his six catches gave Buffalo a first down.
But Watkins finished the game with exactly the same stats. Buffalo stopped throwing his direction. Taylor barely looked at him.
Who picked up the slack? Nobody.
Robert Woods didn’t have a second-half reception either. Tight end Charles Clay and receiver Chris Hogan combined for five catches and 41 yards after halftime.
A metaphor for Buffalo’s problems in Kansas City occurred on the way to Arrowhead Stadium.
A charter bus carrying part of the team from the hotel nearly broke down. The driver reportedly had to manually shift, with the bus crawling along at 10 mph for the final leg of the journey.
The Bills must’ve felt like they were back on that bus in the second half. Or in the baggage hold.
Big if true
I’ve been hesitant to mention this, but I think it’s time we acknowledge the Independent Health Curse.
Independent Health’s “Your Health, Our Help” fall advertising campaign featured three Bills players: safety Aaron Williams (potential season-ending neck injury), the family of defensive tackle Kyle Williams (season-ending knee injury) and kicker Dan Carpenter.
No, Carpenter didn’t get hurt Sunday. But he did miss his third extra point and his second in three weeks.
Carpenter went into Sunday tied for 22nd in field goals, making 82 percent of his attempts.
Aaron Williams has played only three games. He is on short-term injured reserve and could return for Week 14.
The Bills placed Kyle Williams on season-ending injured reserve Friday after he was deactivated the previous four games.
Can’t stop, won’t stop
Buffalo committed its NFL-leading 21st special-teams penalty. On a kickoff return with 3:25 to play, Ron Brooks was flagged for a hold, pinning Buffalo on its own 10-yard line while down by eight points.
Spencer Ware, a practice-squad player just one month ago, became the latest unknown runner to have a career day against the Bills.
Ware went into Sunday with 120 yards in five career games. Against the Bills, he ran 19 times for 114 yards and a touchdown.
He gashed the Bills on back-to-back carries of 16 yards and 12 yards on the Chiefs’ first touchdown drive and blasted up the middle for 35 yards to open a field-goal drive in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo was without Kyle Williams and defensive end Mario Williams and lost defensive lineman Alex Carrington at the end of the third quarter, but Kansas City was down three starting offensive lineman for most of the game.
Buffalo recorded zero quarterback hits. Alex Smith has been sacked 34 times, second-most in the NFL entering Sunday.
Undrafted rookie A.J. Tarpley was credited with his first sack, but that’s because Smith ran out of bounds for no gain after a fourth-quarter scramble.
That’s how close Buffalo came to having a second game with no sacks or takeaways, something it hasn’t done twice since 2011, when George Edwards was defensive coordinator.
We good here?
For those fans who’ve acted like everything would be just fine, they can start worrying about the Bills’ playoff chances with only five games to go.
The Bills and Chiefs were 5-5. Now the Bills are a game behind them in the wild-card race and will lose the head-to-head tiebreaker if they finish the season tied.
The New York Jets and Houston Texans won Sunday, putting them a game ahead of the Bills, too. The Oakland Raiders pulled even with the Bills at 5-6.
The Bills will play the Texans next Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium.