The Buffalo Bills kept close with the Jacksonville Jaguars from start to finish, and lost a hard-fought defensive battle 10-3 on Sunday in the Wild Card Playoff.
Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy had tough sledding against the talented Jaguars defense, and while Buffalo’s unit came to play, the Jaguars offense did just enough to come out with a W.
The first quarter was all defense. Every single drive ended in a punt, with both teams failing to find any traction on the ground or space through the air.
In the second quarter, a Bills pass was tipped in the air and intercepted by Aaron Colvin in Buffalo territory, the first time either team had come into field goal range on the day. Buffalo’s defense responded with some standout play of their own, knocking the Jaguars backward and forcing them out of Doug Marrone’s preferred field goal range.
The next time Buffalo had the ball, the offense purposefully strode the full length of the field. On a drive taking more than eight minutes, Buffalo came as close as Jacksonville’s one yard line, but opted to pass on first down. Kelvin Benjamin incurred an offensive pass interference penalty, and having moved back ten yards, the Bills had to settle for a field goal. It was the first questionable tactic by Buffalo’s offensive playcaller that may have decided the outcome of this game.
Buffalo’s drive ended with enough time for the Jaguars to mount a two minute drill, but it fizzled with a minute remaining. That ended up playing out to Jacksonville’s favor, though. A clutch punt pinned Buffalo deep, and Jacksonville still held onto their timeouts. After running on first down, the Bills again opted to throw the ball, but Deonte Thompson dropped the pass, stopping the clock. Zay Jones was pushed out of bounds just shy of the marker, and Buffalo punted to the Jaguars with a minute left and two timeouts still on the board. The Jaguars offense finally found some success when Blake Bortles scrambled twice for 36 yards, and they ended the half by tying the game at three with a field goal.
In the third quarter, the defenses continued playing up to par, but the talent disparity on paper began to reveal itself. Jacksonville called Bortles for more designed runs, as the Jaguars executed a drive of their own that stretched for most of the period. Eventually the Jaguars made their way down to Buffalo’s one yard line, and the Bills responded with a goalline stand on first, second, and third down. On fourth down, Bortles threw to tight end Ben Koyack at the back of the end zone to give Jacksonville their first lead of the game.
Micah Hyde took a couple hard hits to the head in the second half, and he was taken out of the game to go through the concussion protocol. His replacement, Colt Anderson, didn’t last very long in his first defensive action of the season. Anderson injured himself diving into the turf for a near-interception, and Shamarko Thomas replaced him.
In the fourth quarter, the Bills defense kept holding up their end of the bargain. Bortles’s legs were the only thing getting any positive yardage, and Jordan Poyer, Kyle Williams, and company kept Jacksonville from scoring any additional points. The Bills offense, already facing a talent mismatch against Jacksonville’s high-priced defense, didn’t help themselves with key mistakes. Thompson was caught holding on a huge LeSean McCoy run, forcing a Buffalo punt. With fewer than four minutes left, Tyrod Taylor missed Thompson by inches deep downfield, leading to another punt.
The game came down to one final drive for the Bills. Two minutes left, no timeouts remaining, down by seven. The first two plays went for short gains, and on third down, Taylor was slammed into the turf while scrambling ahead, knocking him out cold.
Nathan Peterman came in on fourth and three, in a strange situation that perfectly encapsulated Buffalo’s roundabout, overachieving season.
He scrambled for the first down.
He hit Deonte Thompson for a first down.
He took an intentional grounding penalty.
He threw an interception.
There was no joy in Mudville today.
Sean McDermott deserves all the commendation in the world for putting together an overachieving team that made the playoffs in a year where the rest of the world had them pegged for a tanked season at the basement of the league. His players, like Williams, Poyer, McCoy, and Lorenzo Alexander, deserve credit for trusting the process, playing their part, and uniting to form a team greater than the sum of its parts.
The Bills go into the offseason feeling good about ending the drought. But while the defense shone all season long, the offense needs building up. For now, Bills fans can exhale and look out the window at the sunset of seventeen years of frustration.