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Observations: Valiant comeback effort falls short as Bills' defense can't stop Bucs in OT

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Bills  Buccaneers

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen walks off the field after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored the winning touchdown in overtime at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.

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TAMPA, Fla. – The comeback fell short.

Seemingly left for dead at halftime Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the Buffalo Bills rallied from a 24-3 deficit to tie the game 27-27 and force overtime.

That's when Tom Brady did what he's done for more than two decades against the Bills. The Buccaneers' 44-year-old quarterback completed a short pass to receiver Breshad Perriman on a third-and-3 play, and the receiver did the rest. Perriman had no problem shaking Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in coverage for a 58-yard, game-winning touchdown, handing the Bills a heartbreaking, 33-27 loss that drops them to 7-6 on the season.

The Bills would be the final AFC wild-card team if the playoffs started today, but four other teams also are 7-6. 

“I've just got to do a better job with my eyes,” Edmunds said. “There's really no excuse for it. Just do a better job of my eyes and making sure that we execute at a high level.”

Execute is a word that Edmunds used over and over again in his postgame press conference. That’s something the Bills were unable to consistently do, allowing Brady to go 31 of 46 for 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Additionally, Bucs running back Leonard Fournette piled up 113 yards on 19 carries, including a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

The Bills have given up four rushes of 40-plus yards this season, including three that have gone for touchdowns, both of which are the most in the NFL.

“Guys weren’t in their gaps, and they hit us,” Edmunds said. “We've got to, in particular earlier in the game, find a way to eliminate explosive plays. We kind of dug ourselves a hole early. But at the end of the day, I just want to say, I take my hat off to the whole team, man, because throughout the game, I never saw nobody put their heads down. No matter what happens  I know we didn't get the result that we wanted  I'm extremely proud of the guys, man, because when I look on the sideline, everybody's head is up, everybody is fighting until that whistle hits zero, man. Every time you're not going to get the result that you want, but to see that fight in your guys, to see that dog in your guys, I mean, what more can you ask for, man? I got chills. Obviously, we didn't make enough plays  I didn't make enough plays  but to see that fight in the guys, man, I mean, that's what you look for in a football team.”

The 363 passing yards allowed were the first time this season the Bills have given up more than 300 in a game. Tampa Bay piled up a whopping 303 net yards and 18 first downs in jumping out to a 24-3 halftime lead.

“A couple big plays changed the outcome of the game,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “Defensively, we didn't take the ball well enough to help us win the game. But yeah, a couple big plays, but it's good football team.”

That’s been a common theme in recent losses. Against New England in Week 12, it was one costly breakdown – a 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter by Damien Harris. Against the Bucs, it was an inability to get off the field early, as Tampa Bay converted 5 of 8 third downs in the first half.

“I mean, it's football, man,” Edmunds said. “Every time things are not going to go your way. I know we strive to be perfect. We're a defense that strives to be perfect each and every rep, but sometimes things just don't go your way. That's not me making an excuse, man, that's just me just speaking on the reality of it. At the end of the day, we have to find ways, when we're in a position to make those plays, we have to make them. That's just the reality of it.”

2. The Bills would be right in questioning the officiating.

Usually, complaining about the referees comes across as sour grapes.

It was hard to watch Sunday’s game, however, and feel like the calls did not go both ways. Bills receiver Stefon Diggs appeared to be clearly interfered with in the end zone on a third-and-2 play from the Bucs’ 7-yard line with 28 seconds left. Had officials thrown a flag for defensive pass interference, the Bills would have had first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line with an excellent chance to win the game. Instead, they kicked a tying field goal on fourth down.

Then in overtime, Bills cornerback Levi Wallace was whistled for pass interference on a play against Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans. The penalty went for 19 yards and set up Tampa Bay with a first-and-10 at their own 35-yard line.

Three plays later, Brady connected with Perriman for the game-winning score.

After clearing his throat when asked about the call in the postgame news conference, Wallace said, "I mean, I think it’s a bad call. I don’t know. You have to ask the ref. I think I played it as good as I could have."

Former longtime NFL refereee Terry McAulay, who works as the rules analyst for Sunday Night Football on NBC, agreed with Wallace's view via Twitter.

“This is not defensive pass interference,” McAulay wrote. “The receiver creates the contact. It is especially noteworthy given what was not called late in regulation on the Buffalo 3rd & 2 play.”

Not surprisingly, Bills coach Sean McDermott took the high road when asked about whether he felt like the officiating went both ways.

"That’s something we gotta overcome," the coach said. "At the end of the day we have to overcome it because we can’t control it."

Asked what Wallace was supposed to do in that situation, McDermott said, “Yeah, those are tough. Underthrown balls are tough. We continue to try to teach it, to make sure our technique is as good as it can be. That’s the part we can control.”

3. Emmanuel Sanders left early.

The Bills’ wide receiver suffered a knee injury sometime in the first half. After first being declared questionable to return, Sanders was ruled out before the start of the third quarter. He had just one catch for 25 yards before leaving the game. Sanders has gone five consecutive games without topping 30 receiving yards.

With Sanders out, Gabriel Davis came up huge. The Bills’ second-year receiver caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, then converted a fourth-and-4 play on the drive that ended with Tyler Bass kicking the tying field goal near the end of regulation. Davis finished with five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, his fourth of the season.

“I got to the sideline after we kicked the field goal and he just looked over and said, ‘Thanks for trusting me,’ ” quarterback Josh Allen said. “That’s a guy that has obviously been limited in his opportunities this year. But, again, he shows up when he has to and we’re going to need more of him going forward.

“I don’t know the extent of Emmanuel and what happened with him. Hopefully, we can get him back as soon as possible, but Gabe is just a guy that doesn’t complain. He doesn’t say much. He just puts his head down and works extremely hard. He’s one of the guys in the locker room that everyone loves and gravitates towards. Typically, when you do that and have that type of mindset and work ethic, typically plays are going to work out in your favor more often than not.”

McDermott did not have an update on Sanders’ condition after the game.

4. Zack Moss was back to being inactive.

The Bills’ second-year running back was a healthy inactive for the second time in three games. Moss sat for the team's Thanksgiving night game against New Orleans in Week 12, then returned for last week's game against New England. He gained just 21 yards on eight carries, and hasn't averaged 4.0 yards per carry in a game since Week 4 against Houston.

5. Jon Feliciano returned, but didn’t start.

The Bills’ left guard, who was activated to the 53-man roster leading up to the game, dressed, but did not play, as Ike Boettger was in that spot for the seventh consecutive game.

Feliciano missed five games on injured reserve because of a calf injury and hasn’t started since Week 7 against Miami.

6. Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson returned.

McKenzie, who was a healthy inactive for the last two games, got back into the lineup, as did Stevenson, the rookie who replaced him as the team’s primary returner against the Saints. Stevenson was inactive last week against the Patriots.

7. Eli Ankou made a career first.

The Bills’ defensive tackle, promoted from the practice squad for the third straight week, will get to tell his kids one day that he sacked the best quarterback ever. Ankou got to Tom Brady in the first half for the Bills’ first sack.

8. Rob Gronkowski once again delighted in playing his hometown team.

Gronkowski, the Amherst native who is arguably the best tight end of all time, finished with four catches for 48 yards. He also drew an important pass-interference penalty against Bills cornerback Dane Jackson in the first half. Gronkowski entered the game with 69 catches for 1,070 yards and 12 touchdowns in 15 career games against the Bills.

9. Taiwan Jones left for a short time.

The Bills’ special-teams ace was hurt covering a punt in the first quarter. Jones remained down on the field while athletic trainers and coach Sean McDermott spoke with him before being able to slowly walk off under his own power. The Bills announced that Jones was questionable to return to the game, but he was able to get back before the first quarter ended.

10. The Bills’ remaining inactives were all healthy.

The list included rookie defensive end Boogie Basham, guard Cody Ford, defensive tackle Vernon Butler Jr. and safety Damar Hamlin.

Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (toe) and tight end Tommy Sweeney (hip) were previously ruled out because of injuries.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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