"We just have to play for the full sixty minutes."
How many times did Trent Edwards or another member of the Bills say this after another late loss in 2009 (or 2008, or 2007)? The Bills were 9-8 when tied or leading by one score entering the fourth quarter from 2006-2009. That record is unacceptable. Even worse, the Bills lost two games when they were leading by more than one score in that time frame.
Taking a closer look at 2009, the Bills were leading or tied heading into the fourth quarter ten times. In only four of those games did the Bills outscore their opponents in the fourth. Collapsing with the lead is one thing, but the Bills must learn to put a game away.
|Score entering Q4||Points scored in Q4
|Week 1 @ NE||17-10, Bills||15-7,||25-24, Patriots|
|Week 2 vs. TB||20-14, Bills||13-7, Bills||33-20, Bills|
|Week 3 vs. NO||10-7,||17-0, Saints||27-7, Saints|
|Week 4 @ MIA||31-3,||7-7||38-10, Dolphins|
|Week 5 vs. CLE||3-3||3-0,||6-3, Browns|
|Week 6 @ NYJ||13-13||3-0, Bills (OT)||16-13, Bills|
|Week 7 @ CAR||7-2, Bills||13-7, Bills||20-9, Bills|
|Week 8 vs. HOU||10-9, Bills||22-0,||31-10, Texans|
|Week 10 @ TEN||17-17||24-0,||41-17, Titans|
|Week 11 @ JAX||15-10, Bills||8-0,||18-15, Jaguars|
|Week 12 vs. MIA||14-7, Dolphins||24-0, Bills||31-14, Bills|
|Week 13 vs. NYJ||16-10,||3-3||19-13, Jets|
|Week 14 @ KC||13-10, Bills||3-0, Bills||16-10, Bills|
|Week 15 vs. NE||17-3, Patriots||7-0, Bills||17-10, Patriots|
|Week 16 @ ATL||24-3,||7-0, Falcons||31-3, Falcons|
|Week 17 vs. IND||30-7, Bills||0-0||30-7, Bills|
From my count, the Bills put one game truly out of reach in 2009 when they scored 24 points in the final stanza to make it a 17-point game win against the Dolphins. Against the , the Bills increased their lead in the fourth quarter, and Tampa Bay never really threatened, so you could certainly make a case that the Bills put that one away as well. Every other lead in 2009 wasn't safe in the fourth quarter, except the 23-point margin over the backups.
Conversely, the Bills allowed three teams to put them away in 2009, giving up three scores or more against the Saints, Texans, and Titans. 14 of the points the Titans scored in the fourth were on interception returns, but the offense still scored 10 to break the tie while the Bills' offense was lifeless. Despite leading the Texans entering the final quarter, the Bills' defense allowed three rushing touchdowns bythat put the game away for Houston. It was a very similar story against the Saints. The Bills were down by a field goal, but two rushing touchdowns and a field goal closed out a win for the eventual Super Bowl champs.
If the Bills are going to take a step forward, they need to do so by playing a full sixty minutes. It's not enough to build a lead if you don't truly put away your opponent late.