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Pitoniak: Bills kiss playoff chance goodbye


I don't know what's become more unnerving during this underachieving Bills season - watching Ryan Fitzpatrick routinely fail to deliver with the game on the line or listening to Chan Gailey grasping for straws in his post-game press conferences.

We had to deal with both finger-nails-on-the-chalk-board experiences once again Sunday after the Bills slim hopes for their first playoff berth in 13 years went up in smoke with a 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

There was Fitz, the NFL quarterback with the pop-gun arm, failing to capitalize on two opportunities to tie the game with four minutes remaining. Even after a terrible interception, he still had a chance, thanks to a never-say-die forced fumble and recovery by wide receiver Stevie Johnson. But after that new life, Fitz followed the old script. Three-and-out, and a punt, and the Bills never saw the ball again.

As if Fitz's struggles (he also missed golden opportunities for touchdowns by misfiring twice to open receivers in the first half) weren't enough, we then had to listen to Gailey's ridiculous comparisons to last year's Giants, who were 7-7 before going on the tear that saw them make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.

"I told our players (our goal now) is to get to 7-7," he said. "That's where the World Champions were last year. That's our goal. We got to get to 7-7 and see where everyone sits, 'cause that's where they were and they won it all. So, let's see if we can get to that."

Talk about a stretch. There is no comparison between the defending world champs and the perpetually mediocre Bills. The Giants had and have far superior talent, including a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback (Eli Manning) who knows a thing or two about winning games in the fourth quarter and a future Hall-of-Fame coach (Tom Coughlin) who knows how to get the most out of his players.

The Giants usually beat the teams they need to beat. The Bills continue to lose the games they should win. And sadly that's what losers do. They live down to expectations.

The Bills should have beaten Tennessee and could have beaten New England, but Fitz came up short in each of those games, too.

And Gailey deserves some of the blame for those defeats (remember, with the game on the line vs. the Patriots, he called for a pass to inexperienced, rookie receiver T.J. Graham that was picked off). And, in Sunday's loss, his play-calling continued to befuddle.

I know I sound like a broken record, but C.J. Spiller touched the ball just 15 times. He produced 107 yards rushing, including a 41-yard burst. His last carry was with 13:33 left in the game. The guy is the most electrifying, dynamic, explosive - pick your adjective - player on the Bills. Why aren't you feeding him the ball 20-25 times a game? Why isn't he the focal point of your offense when the game and your season are on the line?

I would assume after a nine-day layoff, Spiller was well-rested heading into this contest. I just don't understand why you don't go with the hot hand, or in this case, the hot feet of a guy who's averaging an NFL-best 6.8 yards per carry? Someone, anyone please help me understand the logic behind this.

What makes this loss even tougher to swallow is that the defense continued to play well, fueled by Mario Williams, who had three drive-killing, third-down sacks of Andrew Luck, including one that set up what could have and should have been the game-tying drive. But the offense - particularly Ftiz, who completed just 17-of-33 attempts for 180 yards and one score - and the special teams - which yielded an early 75-yard punt return for touchdown by T.Y. Hilton in the first quarter - didn't get the job done.

And, so the Bills are saddled with a 4-7 record that could have been and should have been 6-5. Another December arrives with Buffalo irrelevant and with its fans left to wonder if it might be better for the long-term future if the team loses the remainder of its games to enhance its draft position. The biggest problem with that approach, of course, is that you are banking on them actually doing a good job of selecting future players. As we've learned during this lost decade, that's far from a given.

"I always question myself,'' Gailey said after losing for the 29th time in the 43 games he's been Buffalo's head coach. "If you don't question yourself, if you're hard-headed, you're doomed for failure. You are always looking for what is the answer because we haven't found it at this point."

Sadly, after examining the body of work compiled by Gailey and Fitz, it seems pretty obvious that neither is the answer the Bills are seeking as they try to become relevant again.

SCOTT'S REPORT CARD

OFFENSE: Spiller rushed for more than 100 and Johnson had his first 100-yard receiving performance in 13 games. But Fitz was off target and failed to deliver in the clutch and the pass protection wasn't good. The result was just one touchdown and two field goals against a second-tier defense that could have been exploited. Grade: C-minus.

DEFENSE: They continued to build on the solid performance from the Miami game, recording four sacks, picking off a pass and limiting the Colts to 87 yards rushing. But they couldn't come up with the stop they needed after the Colts were pinned back at their five with 3:22 to go. Reggie Wayne gashed them for 102 yards on eight catches and drew a critical pass interference call vs. Stephon Gilmore, but Wayne has been doing that to everyone this season, and for many seasons. Grade: B.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  The 75-yard punt return for a score by T.Y. Hilton proved to be one of the decisive plays of the game. Rian Lindell continued his hot kicking with two more field goals, giving him 10 in a row, and punter Shawn Powell pinned three kicks inside the 20. Grade: C-minus.

COACHING: If the game, the season and my job were on the line, I'd put the ball in the hands of my best playmaker as often as possible and take my chances. For some reason, Gailey continues to limit Spiller's touches. It's nuts. Grade: D. 

OVERALL: The Bills conceivably could win their next five games to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs. And I could learn how to throw a knuckleball, make a comeback and become R.A. Dickey, too. Grade: D

                Nationally honored columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s, covered them since the mid-1980s and written five books about their storied history. 
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