Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski mentioned a fascinating possibility last week.
The Bills’ schedule included games against divisions that each could have a champion without a winning record, and yet the Bills still might manage to miss the playoffs.
Furthermore, I added, the Bills also could post a winning AFC East record and not end the NFL’s longest postseason slump. The Bills are guaranteed to win at least half of their division games and could finish 4-2 with a victory over the New York Jets in the regular-season finale.
And yet here we are, staring at a 16th straight season without the playoffs. The Bills on Sunday lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-20, at Lincoln Financial Field. The Bills needed help from other AFC teams and didn’t get it.
The Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs all won. They are two games ahead of the Bills in the wild-card race. Only three games remain.
Meanwhile, the Bills’ cross-division opponents from the AFC South and the NFC East continued to muddle along. Their third-place teams are within striking distance of a division title.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 5-8 and a game out of first place in the AFC South. The New York Giants are 5-7 and a half-game out of first place in the NFC East entering Monday night’s game.
Buffalo somehow couldn’t feast on that slop and instead is wallowing around December like nothing has changed since founder Ralph Wilson fired coach Wade Phillips after the 2000 season.
Since then, the Bills’ records after 13 weeks have been 2-11, 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 4-9, 6-7, 7-6, 6-7, 5-8, 3-10, 5-8, 5-8, 4-9, 7-6, 6-7.
People who didn’t have children when this long, cruel road started today are buying their kids cars.
How refreshing would it have been to see the Bills dominate clock management at the end?
We got what we’ve seen all season. Sauntering to the line of scrimmage. Slow sideline communications. Letting the play clock get down to three or four seconds. Wasted timeouts to avoid delay-of-game (in the first half) and wasted seconds that forced the Bills into a corner at the two-minute warning.
I hope you didn’t watch the K-Gun highlights Saturday night in ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary “Four Falls of Buffalo.” What a whiplash Sunday’s game would have been.
This year’s offense should be called “More Stalls of Buffalo.” With the Bills down by three points, they took over on their own 20-yard line with 3:26 left in the game. A Richie Incognito holding penalty eventually put the Bills in a second-and-20 hole, it took them 52 seconds to run two plays. Then they punted.
When the Bills got the ball back on their 31-yard line, they had 109 seconds and one timeout remaining.
Maybe he doesn’t do everything at a Pro Bowl level, but Tyrod Taylor continues to impress me just enough. His striking deep ball is something we haven’t seen around here in years. His ability to run makes you believe the Bills can convert any third-down situation.
How much Taylor is the reason for Buffalo’s slow offense likely is something nobody will ever reveal on the record. Same with the reluctance to keep feeding Sammy Watkins throughout a game. Maybe those issues entirely are offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s fault. Maybe they’re shared.
But Taylor continues to engender a feeling that anything is possible. He whipped another on-the-spot long ball to Watkins, this time for a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The Eagles had given up only three touchdowns over 20 yards all year, tied for the NFL’s best.
On a third-and-13 play in the third quarter, Taylor scrambled to the Eagles’ 19-yard line for a first down. On the next snap, Mike Gillislee scored the Bills’ other touchdown.
Taylor ran for 53 yards, the sixth time this year he has rushed for at least 40 yards. No Bills quarterback ever has done that. Doug Flutie did it five times in 1999.
Philadelphia’s defense entered Sunday tied for third in forcing three-and-out drives. Buffalo was NFL’s worst at three-and-outs, doing so on 27.7 percent of its possessions, 39 times total.
The Bills avoided them the entire game until their final two series. They netted minus-4 yards and punted, then gained two yards before Tyrod Taylor threw his first interception since Week Four with 1:16 to play.
Michael Necci, an entertaining and educated Twitter voice at @manecci, typed a stone-cold fact after Sunday’s early games:
“It looks like IK Enemkpali, with one punch, put the Jets into the playoffs.”
Enemkpali, the Bills’ outside linebacker, made two tackles on a third-quarter series. That was it.
But his impact on the AFC East race continued to throb with the Jets, who beat the Tennessee Titans, 30-8, and are now two games ahead of the Bills. The Jets are in the second wild-card spot.
Why? Ryan Fitzpatrick took over from Geno Smith, the quarterback Enemkpali cold cocked in training camp. Enemkpali broke Smith’s jaw and got cut the next day. Fitzpatrick became the Jets’ quarterback and has been pretty darn good.
Fitzpatrick has thrown a career-high 25 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. He’s on pace to eclipse the 3,832 yards he passed for with Buffalo in 2011.
Now, I imagine Fitzpatrick would have taken over for the inconsistent Smith at some point this season anyway. But the Jets would have needed to lose some games at the start for that to happen. Instead, the Jets won four of their first five games behind Fitzpatrick.
Special throwback salute to punter Colton Schmidt for his second straight game with a coffin-corner kick.
Coffin corners have been rare since punters started to master the much more predictable Aussie-style kicks. Schmidt sent one out of bounds at the 4-yard line Sunday. In last week’s victory over the Houston Texans, he dribbled a punt out of bounds at the 6-yard line.
Big if true
Dan Carpenter cut his scraggly hair and didn’t miss a kick for the first time in four games. He made both of his extra points – from the center of the field; I was watching – and field goals from 38 yards and 40 yards.
A couple days after the Bills’ website touted Incognito and center Eric Wood for the Pro Bowl, the offensive line had perhaps its worst game of the year.
The offensive line committed eight penalties, with seven accepted for 70 yards. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was the only lineman not to get zapped.
Incognito lost 25 yards on a facemask and a hold; Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox blew past him for backfield takedowns. Officials flagged rookie right guard John Miller three times, with a hold and an illegal use of hands accepted. Right tackle Jordan Mills had two false starts.
Fullback Jerome Felton, an auxiliary offensive lineman, also had two false starts.
We good here?