The Buffalo Bills’ playoff drought just seems cruel after the way it was extended on Saturday.
The Bills had not won a playoff game since Dec. 30, 1995. There hadn’t even been that many playoff appearances between then and Saturday. But this Bills team seemed different. And they had a 16-0 lead over the Houston Texans late in the third quarter. The Bills were in total control.
It got away from them. The Bills blew that 16-point lead. Credit the Bills for forcing overtime after allowing the Texans to score 19 unanswered points, but that just prolonged the pain. The Texans stormed all the way back and beat the Bills 22-19 in a wacky overtime wild-card game to kick off the NFL postseason on Saturday.
The loss included some big errors in overtime, including a third-and-18 conversion by the Texans when it seemed the Bills would get the ball back with good field position. The dagger came when two Bills defenders had a clear shot to sack Deshaun Watson and bounced off him, allowing Watson to scramble and hit a 34-yard pass deep into Bills territory. That set up a short field goal and a Houston win.
Saturday’s loss isn’t exactly Scott Norwood wide right or the “Music City Miracle,” but it’s still gonna sting for a while. The Bills are still one of four NFL franchises with zero playoff wins in the 2000s.
Bills take a big lead
The Bills looked good early on. They came out with some aggressive and creative play calls on their first drive. Josh Allen had a 42-yard run on a quarterback sweep, Buffalo’s longest run play all season. Allen caught a touchdown pass from receiver John Brown on a trick play. The Bills led 7-0.
Buffalo continued to control the game deep into the third quarter. The defense was harassing Watson and cornerback Tre’Davious White was erasing Texans All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Allen was hitting some big throws, and made a few plays running it too. The Bills settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, but a 16-0 lead late in the third quarter still looked pretty good.
Then it started to slip away, and fast. The offense quit making plays. Allen’s fourth-quarter fumble near midfield, forced by Texans edge rusher Whitney Mercilus when he tried to scramble, helped turn the game in Houston’s favor. Hopkins started to come alive and the pass rush started to let Watson escape trouble.
By the time the Texans took possession in the fourth quarter trailing 16-11, it seemed clear what was coming next. Watson led a long drive and hit Carlos Hyde for a short touchdown catch with 4:37 left. The two-point conversion put Houston ahead 19-16.
Bills give away lead but still force OT
Buffalo rallied. A long screen pass to Devin Singletary got the Bills going. They were in field goal range. Then, inexplicably, Josh Allen was rushed and threw the ball away, taking an intentional grounding penalty that knocked the Bills out of field goal range. Instead of going for a 60-yard field goal on fourth-and-27, the Bills left the offense on the field. Then Allen took a sack with 1:35 left.
And still the Bills somehow forced overtime. With 1:16 left, Watson was stopped short on a fourth-down quarterback sneak. The Bills took over and Allen had a long run to start the drive. John Brown caught a third-down pass to keep the drive alive. Cole Beasley got a controversial third-down conversion, lunging for the first after his knee hit the ground. Stephen Hauschka came on for the game-tying kick and nailed a 47-yarder to send the game to overtime.
The Bills made some massive mistakes in overtime. A blindside block by Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford pushed the Bills out of field-goal range — it would have been about a 56-yard attempt, which might have been too long to attempt anyway — and Buffalo had to punt. On Houston’s next possession, the Bills dropped into a deep zone and allowed the Texans to pick up a first down on third-and-18. Duke Johnson caught an underneath pass and got the first down.
Then came the play of the game. The Bills blitzed Watson and safety Siran Neal and linebacker Matt Milano had a clear path to him. They got to Watson and the Texans’ quarterback shook them off and hit Taiwan Jones for 34 yards. The Texans kicked a short field goal shortly after that.
The Bills have made strides this season, and there will be some positive momentum going into next season. But they still don’t have a playoff win since Jim Kelly was quarterback, and the way they let one escape on Saturday will hurt for a long time.
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