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Big win Eludes Bills on Monday Night

Almost instantly after the Bills crushing defeat to the Patriots, the text messages began pouring in. Some were upbeat and positive, others filled with laughter and ridicule. But even now as a few stray texts still find their way to my inbox days after defeat, a few common phrases say it all. Phrases such as, “I thought they had ‘em” and “I can’t believe they let it slip away”. It seems that Buffalo fans have been uttering those phrases at will the past few seasons, and Monday night turned out to be no different.

This time around on Monday Night Football, the painting was the same, only this time it was a different artist. Two years ago, it was Dallas, last season it was Cleveland and on the 2009 inaugural MNF matchup, it was the New England Patriots. It seems that at some point during the season, every Bills fan asks themselves the same question after a winnable game turns into a crushing defeat: How much many more of these painful outcomes can I endure?”

Surely, if you weren’t scared to death about the Bills playing the Patriots, at the bare minimum you a tad worried. The offense was downright offensive in the preseason. The quarterback looked lost and exuded zero confidence. The offensive coordinator was fired and the starting left tackle was cut. With the Bills scramlbing, many us were just hoping they’d put up a good fight and make the game somewhat competitive on the national stage. But instead of the much anticipated blow out, the Bills blossomed in the heat of chaos. With a completely revamped and inexperienced offensive line and a new offensive coordinator, the Bills played their guts out.

For most of the game, the Bills were the better team. In his first game back since the opener last season, Tom Brady looked very average. Trent Edwards tossed two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over. Fred Jackson was great. The offensive line, playing their first game together as a unit, looked good. And the defense buoyed by the return of former pro bowl end Aaron Schoebel, looked rejuvenated. They held various leads of 7-0, 14-10 at the half, 17-13 and when Edwards connected with Fred Jackson for a 10-yard score to put the Bills up 24-13 with just over five and a half minutes to play, we believed. We allowed ourselves as Bills fans to believe that this time, the football gods would not betray us. Finally this time, that signature win that has eluded Buffalo over the last few seasons, would arrive.

Once more, however, the Bills managed to lose another heartbreaker. Unfortunately this one took us back a few years to the Dallas debacle on Monday night. Despite two defensive touchdowns, five interceptions and a kickoff return for a score, Buffalo lost, ironically, 25-24. A recovered onside kick, two Tony Romo passes, and a 53 yard field goal from a rookie kicker later and Dallas stole the win. Last year, it was more of the same heartbreak. Phil Dawson boomed a 56-yard field goal and Rian Lindell’s 47-yard miss with 38 seconds left allowed Cleveland to come out victorious.

Monday night may have seemed and even felt different, but the result was pain-stakingly the same. Eleven point lead with four minutes to go against a team the Bills haven’t beaten in almost five years, in a place they’ve never won. I began to question whether or not this win could be any close to the same level as the comeback win over Miami in 1989 or even the miracle win against Houston in the playoffs.

Then the unthinkable. Brady and the Patriots took the field determined, and with a little help from a soft, almost prevent defense, Brady connected with tight end Ben Watson in the endzone. Just that quick the Bills lead sliced to 24-19. Buffalo fans everywhere began to worry again, rightfully so. We’ve seen the way this movie has ended before. We looked towards t he heavens above, asking anyone within an earshot for the Bills not to be betrayed once more. But prayer quickly turned to peril. Leodis McKelvin fielded the kickoff about two yards deep in the endzone and fumbled it away at the Bills’ 31-yard line. Less than two minutes to play, the Patriots went to work with a short field. Brady found Watson again streaking in the endzone, giving New England a 25-24 lead. Shortly after a semi-march briefly in Patriots territory, a momentary Stanford-Cal type lateral later and the game was lost.

Eleven point lead with about four minutes to play, you have to win those games. Plain and simple. Unfortunately I cannot tell you that the Bills deserve better because I can’t convince myself that’s true. There’s too much evidence the past three years that points to the contrary. Good teams close those games out and get the win. Middle of the road teams, bad teams, they find a way to come out on the losing end. I’m not into moral victories by any means, but there were plenty of positives in a cloud of negatives. Edwards engineered the offensive well enough to win. Jackson has developed into a threat, both running and receiving. The offensive line held their own. Schoebel looked like a beast. And even the no huddle offense seemed to have the Patriots defense flustered and guessing. This was probably the first time in two years that Vince Wilfork wasn’t being confused as a Bills running, considering the vast amount of time he’s spent in the Buffalo backfield.

Afterwards the Bills players have said all the right things, phrases such as, “the talent is there” and “we’ve got to learn how to finish games.” Many believed this would be similar to last weekend’s Florida vs. Troy outcome, but Monday night’s loss, albeit gut-wrenching, maybe provided us with a glimpse that this season could be headed in the right direction.

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