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Bills' finishes are second nature Mistakes after halftime pile up for bumbling offense in loss to Broncos

The Buffalo Bills were deadlocked with the Denver Broncos at halftime Saturday night but you couldn't have faulted any fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium who wanted to leave early.

The Bills have the worst second-half offense in the NFL.

So it was hardly a surprise that the Broncos pulled away from the Bills in the final 30 minutes to score a relatively easy 28-17 victory.

A late scoring pass from Kelly Holcomb to Joe Burns gave the Bills just their third fourth-quarter touchdown in 14 games. That brought the team's second-half total for the year to a league-low 68 points. San Francisco has the second lowest second-half total: 81 points.

The Bills have been outscored in the second half, 172-68. Only San Francisco has a worse scoring differential after halftime. The Bills have been outscored in the fourth quarter, 110-39. Only Houston and San Francisco are worse.

"If I had that answer I would have used it in Week Two," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said of his team's scoring struggles. "It's a greater focus, especially when adversity is working against you."

"We always seem to start off pretty good, but it kind of snowballs and goes downhill from there," said cornerback Terrence McGee. "We just can't seem to get stops like we were earlier in the game."

In losing their fifth straight game Saturday, the Bills gave up long scoring drives to the Broncos each of the first three times Denver had the ball in the second half.

In the face of run blitzes, Denver relied more on the pass in the first half, calling 23 pass plays and just 11 runs. But in the second half, the Broncos got back to what they do best, running 26 times and passing 15.

Denver finished with 178 rushing yards, 21 over its season average.

Given the bad matchup the Bills' run defense faced, Buffalo could ill afford to let the Broncos play with a lead. However, the Bills' offense could not help out the defense.

The Bills' offense saw drive after drive foiled by self-inflicted mistakes of every variety. The rundown:

The second drive was set back by a holding penalty to Chris Villarrial.

The third drive was hindered by a Lee Evans drop.

A third-and-2 situation on the fourth drive turned into a third-and-7 when the Bills were flagged for illegal substitution. They had 12 men in the huddle because receiver Roscoe Parrish was late getting to the sideline.

The fifth drive was set back by two false start penalties on Villarrial.

A third-and-3 situation on the sixth drive turned into a third-and-8 when Evans didn't know which way to go and was late lining up. The play clock was winding down, and Evans wasn't set when Eric Moulds had to go in motion.

The Bills were scrambling to get in position for a field goal at the end of the half on their seventh drive, but Villarrial was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he was caught retaliating for a cheap shot.

"A spot here, a spot there we played good football," Mularkey said. "Then there's times we just played undisciplined and it really hurt us against a good football team. You can't afford to do that."

Partly because of those kind of mistakes, the Bills' offense is never in a rhythm after halftime.

"We got a turnover," Mularkey said, referring to a fumble recovery by Nate Clements, "but then we started moving backward as fast as we wanted to move forward. . . . Those are things as a team we have to overcome. The mental toughness, the mental focus."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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