How the 6-10 Buffalo Bills Were Four Plays Away from the NFL Postseason

Do BerryContributor IMay 21, 2010

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots reaches for a loose ball against Bryan Scott #43 and Leodis McKelvin #28 of the Buffalo Bills on September 14, 2009 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

They say football is a game of inches.

There's no better illustration of that point than the 2009 Buffalo Bills.

Vince Lombardi used to always remark that there's usually only four or five plays in every game that decide the outcome. Little did he realize that four or five plays could decide a season as well.

The Buffalo Bills lost their head coach midseason and didn't make a lot of headlines after that. But hidden beneath their below-average record was a playoff team that didn't make four plays when it needed to.


First Opportunity: Week One at New England

We all remember this game.

The Bills capped an impressive drive on a 10-yard touchdown pass with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, giving themselves a commanding 24-13 lead. A far cry for even Tom Brady, but, hey, anything's possible.

The Patriots struck quickly, however, with Brady completing a pass over the middle to tight end Benjamin Watson for an 18-yard touchdown with just over two minutes to go. The two-point conversion failed, so the score was 24-19.


The Play That Lost the Game

On the ensuing kickoff, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski bombed one off the tee to Buffalo's returner, Leodis McKelvin, almost six yards deep in the end zone. After a hesitant stutter, and against the decision of his teammate telling him to kneel it for a touchback, McKelvin took the ball out and was hit at the 20-yard line, losing the football. The result was a mad scramble that ultimately was won by New England.

With new life (and a short field), Brady went to work and hit Watson on an identical seam route for another touchdown. The Bills got one final opportunity with the ball, but without timeouts and only a few seconds remaining, they were unable to get down the field and score.


Real Score and Bills' Record: 25-24 Loss, 0-1

What Could've Been: 24-19 Win, 1-0


Second Opportunity:  Week Five vs. Cleveland

After two punishing defeats, it was time for Buffalo to rebound at home against the winless Cleveland Browns.

In what was an incredibly boring contest of unathleticism, anemic offenses, and more punts than first downs, the Bills and Browns were deadlocked at 3-3 heading into the fourth quarter.


The Play That Lost the Game

With slightly over two minutes to play in the game, the Browns sent another punt Buffalo's way. Whether it was complacency or just error in judgment, Bills returner Roscoe Parrish muffed the punt reception and the Browns recovered on the 16-yard line in enemy territory.

The Browns were then able to run out the rest of the clock and kick an 18-yard field goal to win the contest. It is unknown for sure if Buffalo would've won this matchup without the blunder, but they certainly would not have given it away.


Real Score and Bills' Record: 6-3 Loss, 1-4

What Could've Been: 6-3 OT Win, 3-2.

(The Patriots, with the Week One loss to Buffalo, are now at 2-3; Miami is 2-3. The Jets are 3-2 but lose to Buffalo the following week, giving the Bills the No. 1 spot in the division after Week Six with a 4-2 mark.)


Third Opportunity:  Week 11 at Jacksonville

With a 5-4 record (and still with head coach Dick Jauron), the Bills head to Jacksonville after a tough loss to the red-hot Tennessee Titans. Given better luck on those first two opportunities, this is a big game for the Bills, because New England is now tied with them at 5-4. However, since the Bills won Week One, they have the head-to-head tiebreak and still remain in first in the AFC East.

Against Jacksonville the Bills built a 15-10 lead in the fourth quarter, courtesy of a Terrell Owens 98-yard touchdown strike. With a chance to extend the lead, Ryan Fitzpatrick let it rip again.


The Play That Lost the Game

Hovering around midfield with 13 minutes still to play, Fitzpatrick heaved up a rocket to Lee Evans, who made an incredible catch in double coverage for the score to bring the game to 22-10. This play was called back, however, because left tackle Jonathan Scott got a fistful of Derrick Harvey's facemask despite being nowhere near the play. Buffalo was then forced to punt.

With the ball in their hands, the Jaguars were able to put a drive together and score on a Mike Sims-Walker three-yard touchdown pass with a minute to go.


The Second Play That Lost the Game

In a last-ditch effort, but still in position to take the lead or at least tie the game, Fitzpatrick threw a dart to Owens near the Jacksonville 30-yard line, but the pass was intercepted and all hopes were dashed.


Real Score and Bills' Record: 18-15 Loss, 3-7

What Could've Been: 22-18 Win, 6-4


Fourth Opportunity: Week 13 vs. the New York Jets

The Bills are looking good at 7-4 after a big division win against the Dolphins, and with a win here against the Jets in Toronto they have all but sealed up the AFC East and a seat in the playoff bracket.

After trading points basically throughout the game, the fourth quarter brought us a score of 19-13.


The Play That Lost the Game

Well within enemy territory with just under a minute to go, the Bills made a huge mistake and took a trip to Revis Island. We all know the results of such actions. Again, there's no telling whether or not this would've resulted in a Bills win, but throwing in Darrelle Revis' direction certainly wasn't their best decision of the day.

The Jets took a knee and escaped with the victory in Toronto.


Real Score and Bills' Record: 19-13 Loss, 4-8

What Could've Been: 20-19 Win, 8-4; 4-1 in the division


With a 2-2 finish to the season, the Bills would have ended the year at 10-6, 4-2 in the division. Thus, they'd claim first in the AFC East and therefore the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff bracket.

Could these plays have gone the other way in most of Buffalo's victories? Absolutely. Still, this by no means is saying the Bills are a deserving playoff contender or could've made a run at a ring.

All it's analyzing is the fact that football really does come down to a few plays. Dick Jauron may still have a job because of four combined points (whether he's deserving or not, that's up to you).

Let it be said that there is still parity in the NFL. And maybe, just maybe, the worst teams in the league aren't as bad as we think.