Although this feeling feels familiar for Buffalo Bills fans, this loss hurts as bad as any loss I can remember. It was, objectively, a great football game. But I would have taken a win over a great game. Easily.
There were many meaningful moments in this game that would have made huge differences had they gone slightly different. Twitter is recounting and lamenting them comprehensively for those interested. Whether it be because of recency bias or the feeling of heightened importance on the Bills last possession in overtime, the moment that continues to replay in my mind is the Cody Ford penalty for an illegal blindside block.
All game long, the referees had shown restraint for common penalties that could be called on almost every play: holding, illegal contact, defensive holding, etc. They also had shown hesitation to call pass interference and other impactful plays that weren’t blatant. However, for reasons not fully understood by me, that penalty drew the flag.
The merit of that call didn’t pass the eye test to many fans who have watched countless hours of NFL football this season and prior, despite it perhaps being applicable by the letter of the law. Such calls are the sorts of things that refs often try to avoid so as not to be saddled with more responsibility than appropriate. Unfortunately for all involved, it seems that mission failed on Saturday.
Cody Ford’s controversially illegal block took the Bills from a 4th down at (approximately) the 37-yard-line to completely out of field goal range and the rest, well... is history. Understanding the situation, Josh Allen scrambled and sacrificed his body for far from the first time in the game to attempt a hurdle that would advance the ball as far as possible. If that play stood as it ended without the penalty, the Bills in all likelihood send out Stephen Hauschka to attempt a very difficult 55-ish-yard attempt to win the game.
There is no guarantee Hauschka makes that field goal. There is no guarantee without that penalty that the Bills win the game. Most would admit that is near the absolute tip top of his range and the Bills have elected to go for it on 4th down in situations earlier this year precisely because of how difficult that kick would be. It feels like a 50/50 situation, in hindsight, as to whether or not that leads to victory or gives Houston the ball with the chance to do what they later did; go down and kick the game-winning field goal themselves.
A loss is a loss. Whether the Bills lose the way they did or Hauschka misses that kick and a near identical sequence of plays takes place after the miss that leads the Houston Texans to win, there is no difference in the outcome of the game.
Even still, I feel robbed. I feel frustrated that something happened that makes me feel robbed. And I would not feel this way about this loss if I had just gotten to see Hauschka miss the kick. Then I would still be sad, disappointed, hurt, and every other emotion Bills Mafia is going through. But the Bills would have lost because they failed to execute. There would be no inkling that the Bills lost because they were denied a final opportunity they gave themselves.
Some will object to the idea of that last statement because it suggests the Bills didn’t fail to execute numerous other situations earlier in the game that could have allowed a victory. That is not something I dispute at all. The same could be said for the Texans, though. Both teams failed to execute all game long in multiple situations, which led us to overtime in the first place. But the Bills had done enough, despite all their earlier failings and inadequacies, to have a shot at taking that game. A long and difficult shot, admittedly, but not at all an impossible or unrealistic shot. And we did not get to see that because of a blindside block penalty that the Bills could not overcome.
Were there opportunities after that to still win the game? Absolutely. Would Hauschka have made the field goal if given the chance? No idea. Would this feel different if the Bills had gotten that chance, missed, and still lost? At least for this podcaster, the answer is yes.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.