Pitoniak: Another bad finish means Bills are finished

ORCHARD PARK - It was there for the taking.

The victory literally was in their hands.
And then they dropped it.


Just as they had in the Tennessee game.

Just as they have so many times during this ugly, playoff-less stretch that's about to reach 13 seasons.

Unfortunately, the man again wearing the goat horns was one of the classier members of the Buffalo Bills. The respected veteran safety known to his teammates and media members as "The Senator."  George Wilson.

With 1:56 remaining and the Bills nursing a 12-7 lead, Wilson beautifully anticipated where St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was going with the football. He stepped in front of wide receiver Chris Givens and - CLANG! - the ball bounced off Wilson's hands.

Amazingly and maddeningly it happened again three snaps later. Wilson jumped the route, and although this potential interception wasn't as easy as the first one, he failed to make a game-saving play.

Bradford made the most of his two reprieves, hitting Brandon Gibson for a 15-yard completion to the Bills 13 on the ensuing play. After Marcell Dareus batted down Bradford's next pass at the line, the quarterback found Gibson over the middle for the winning touchdown. The QB's two-point conversion pass to Givens made it 15-12 Rams with 48 seconds to go.

Buffalo still had a chance to drive down the field and perhaps hit a field goal to send the game into overtime, but Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't big on delivering comeback victories. After hitting Scott Chandler for a 19-yard gain to the Bills 41, he threw an incompletion, took a sack and then was picked off by Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

Ball game over.

Season over.

NFL-long streak for mediocrity intact.

I felt badly for Wilson, a genuinely good guy who unfortunately also dropped a crucial interception in the waning moments of an October 21 loss to Tennessee. But the harsh reality is that if Wilson holds on to a ball against the Titans and one of the two balls he got his hands on Sunday, Buffalo is 7-6 and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

But his squandered opportunities prevented the Bills defense from putting the final touches on the unit's fourth straight solid outing.

Afterward, Fitz said his team lacked a killer instinct.
Truer words were never spoken.

Bad teams don't know how to finish off games. They snatch defeat from victory. They find ways to lose. Game after game after game, and, sadly, in the case of Buffalo, season after season after season.

Despite the upgrades at several positions the 5-8 Bills remain a bad team.

They still don't have a quarterback who can guide them to the playoffs.

And they still don't have a coach who can manage a game.

I soured a few weeks ago on Chan Gailey. His game and clock mismanagement Sunday just added to my belief he isn't the right guy to turn this losing program around.

C.J. Spiller, the NFL-leader in yards per carry, rushed just seven times for 37 yards (a robust 5.3-yards-per-carry) and had one catch for 15 yards. I know this is sounding like a broken record, but you don't have to be Bill Walsh to know that you need to get the ball into the hands of your most dynamic playmaker more than 8 times. Johnny Hekker, the Rams punter, had as many touches as Spiller. Sheesh! This strict adherence to a running back rotation is asinine. And I don't buy Chan's excuse that Spiller, a world-class athlete, is winded after a big play or two.

Oh well, we've been down this road so many times before this season and so many lost seasons that preceded it.

Another victory was there for the taking.

It was right there in their hands.
And they dropped it.


OFFENSE: Fitz had a decent day, completing 25-of-33 passes for 247 yards and one score. With two new offensive linemen pressed into duty because of injuries, he was under duress much of the day, suffering sacks and at least twice as many pressures. But he just doesn't have what it takes to elevate his teammates and lead fourth-quarter comebacks. He had 48 seconds remaining, but couldn't drive the Bills down the field for a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. The run game was ineffective, but part of that was Gailey's fault. GRADE: D.
              DEFENSE:  Had fourth strong game in a row. Mario Williams picked up another sack - he now has 10.5 on the season and six in his last four games. Steven Jackson was limited to 64 yards on 19 carries. Stephon Gilmore had an interception return for touchdown, but the score was negated by a holding call on the return. The dark side was Buffalo's performance on the final drive. Sam Bradford took the Rams 84 yards for the winning score.  GRADE: B
               SPECIAL TEAMS: Rian Lindell hit two more field goals, giving him 19 in 20 tries this season. Bills botched an extra point when holder Shawn Powell let the snap slip through his hands. Powell did have three punts inside the 20. Bills also held Rams punter Johnny Hekker to a zero-yardage kick after he botched a snap and had to retrieve the ball and punt on the run. GRADE: C-plus
              COACHING: Chan again abandoned the run and Spiller too soon. He mismanaged the clock. Then bungled his way through his press conference with non-sensical answers. GRADE: D
              OVERALL: Somehow, the Bills are mathematically alive in the playoffs. But they need about 43 things to go right in order for that to happen. Next week, they run into the torrid Seattle Seahawks in Toronto. Could be ugly, especially if former Bill Marshawn Lynch runs wild. GRADE: D

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