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Tim Graham: I went looking for American football and found a clump of junk

LISBON, Portugal -- For much of my Monday evening, I walked around Bairro Alto for a place to watch the Buffalo Bills play the Seattle Seahawks.

The locals treated me like I was subhuman.

Futebol Americano? Nao aqui!

Given the state of the game these days, that sentiment was understandable. But, while in Lisbon to moderate and emcee sports panels at the 2016 Web Summit, I needed to see the game.

Eventually, somewhere in the second quarter, I found "Monday Night Football" in a hotel lobby. The Bills were down by three points after a cuckoo start. I regretted missing the early action but hoped it foreshadowed a slugfest.

The Portuguese don't watch futebol Americano? Their loss, y'all!

Then the game went from wild to feral before my eyes.

At halftime, the Sport TV-5 broadcast -- two Portuguese announcers speaking over ESPN's raw feed -- switched off Chris Berman's musings and aired pro wrestling.

The pro wrestling wasn't nearly as preposterous as what I saw right before halftime.

Or what I saw on Twitter after the game.

The officiating was atrocious at the end of the first half.

Which led to fans whining about the officiating at the end.

The Bills were jobbed out of three points and were down by those three points well into the fourth quarter. They trailed the Seahawks by six with about four minutes to play when, needing a touchdown, they mismanaged a field-goal opportunity and punted.

So the sequence at the end of the first half was a basket of deplorable officiating decisions that have been examined in depth elsewhere on this website.

But in sum:

Three seconds before intermission, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was penalized 5 yards for being offsides rather than 15 yards for diving into kicker Dan Carpenter.

With Carpenter forced off the field for a play because a Bills trainer tended to him on the field, the Bills were forced into a weird maneuver, where rookie running back Jonathan Williams took a direct snap to spike the ball so they could get Carpenter back out there.

The officials for some reason didn't let Garrison Sanborn snap the ball until it was too late. A delay flag wiped out the 49-yard conversion, and Carpenter missed the 53-yard attempt.

I could understand the Portuguese play-by-play man when, as Carpenter's kick squirreled to the right.


NFL officiating boss Dean Blandino during the game admitted to two mistakes being made during that mess.

And that opened the door for conspiracy theories on the final possession. Buffalo, behind six points, had a first down on Seattle's 10-yard line with 69 seconds left in the game.

Buffalo couldn't score. And Bills fans stormed Twitter to blame the officials. LeSean McCoy ran for 3 yards on first down. Tyrod Taylor was sacked on second and third down, taking the ball back to the 18-yard line.

On fourth down, Taylor threw an incomplete pass.

Bills fans screamed that the refs missed a call. Sherman flattened Bills receiver Walter Powell in the end zone and wasn't flagged. There was outrage.

The play was legal, although the aggrieved on social media would not be soothed. NFL rules state illegal contact ceases to be enforced once a quarterback leaves the pocket, as Taylor did.

While dropping a receiver onto his back doesn't appear proper, what with all the rules to protect defenseless this and blindside that, the rule actually allows Sherman -- and any other defender savvy enough -- to hit the receiver. Powell happened to fall down.

Fans are upset at the officials.

I get it.

They're easier to blame than coming to grips with being unable to score from 10 yards away on four tries.

Thanks, Obama

Buffalo probably lost center Eric Wood for the rest of the season because of another leg injury.

Wood was carted off the field after Mike Gillislee's 1-yard touchdown run on the second play of the fourth quarter.

Ryan Groy, who played nine NFL games before this season, filled in for Wood the rest of the game and might have to start the rest of the way.

Big if true

Taylor threw an interception Monday night, bringing Buffalo's total to just five giveaways. That's tied with the 1959 Cleveland Browns for the NFL's fewest through nine games.

Above average

On 13 targets, Bills receiver Robert Woods caught a career-high 10 passes for a career-high 162 yards.

Eight of his receptions were for first downs, including a 13-yard catch on a third-and-10 in the first quarter and a 22-yard gain to convert a third-and-21 on Buffalo's last drive.

He also threw a nice block or three.


The Bills scored 25 points for the fifth straight time, something they hadn't done in 12 years. Their 237 points rank seventh in club history through nine games.

However, the Bills have lost four games this year in which they scored 31, 25, 25 and 25 points.

Damning for the Buffalo's defense: 22 NFL teams are averaging fewer than 25 points a game.

In other words, 25 points should be enough to win.


One of my favorite 2016 storylines continued to progress Monday night, when Lorenzo Alexander pushed through his hamstring injury to record another sack and regain the league lead from Von Miller.

Alexander has 10 sacks. He came into the season with nine sacks in his nine previous NFL seasons, mostly as a backup and special-teamer.

Only five Bills -- and let's never forget the club has a stellar history when it comes to sacks -- have amassed double-digit sacks through the first nine games: Bruce Smith (1990, 1997), Bryce Paup (1995), Mario Williams (2013) and Marcell Dareus (2014).

Alexander also had a team-high three quarterback hits.


Seattle won despite having a receiver with one carry for 13 yards as its leading rusher. Quarterback Russell Wilson was next with two scrambles for 11 yards, but he was docked a yard for his game-ending kneel.

Running backs C.J. Prosise and Christine Michael combined for eight attempts and 10 yards, although Michael scored a 3-yard touchdown.

Monday was the 31st time in Bills history they allowed 35 or fewer rushing yards in a game. They won 28 of the 30 prior occasions.

Thoughts and prayers

Buffalo's pass defense continued to struggle.

Wilson, who hadn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week Four, was 20 of 26 for 282 yards and two TDs, both one-handed grabs from tight end Jimmy Graham on overmatched defenders.

Ronald Darby, who was playing sick and eventually was pulled from the game, had Buffalo's lone pass breakup.

The Bills are allowing 7.39 yards per pass play. Nine teams are worse, and only two of them have winning records.

We good here?

The Bills enter their by week 4-5 and slotted 12th in the AFC.

Beneath them are the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. All of them are coming up on the Bills' schedule, which suggests a fantastic chance to bank some victories and get back into the wild-card hunt.

The problem, though, is that the AFC West continues to gain separation from the rest of the conference. The Oakland Raiders are in first place at 7-2. The Kansas City Chiefs are 6-2, and the Denver Broncos are 6-3.

Whoever finishes second in the AFC North -- the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens -- can pull away from the Bills, too. The AFC South is muddled, but perhaps another wild-card candidate can emerge there.

Buffalo's record is one thing, but needing to leap over a third of the conference to claim one of those two wild-card berths is disheartening.

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