LOSING won't last MUCH LONGER

Hey you, why the sour puss? Sure, the Bills lost 23-20 to the Seattle Seahawks Nov. 18 on Jim Kelly Wall of Fame day, which dropped them to 1-8, which is their worst record after nine games in 16 seasons. But the fact is Buffalo is steadily improving. Three of the last four games have been close.

 

And in terms of development, the Bills no longer seem to be in blowout-loss mode. Rather, they are in agonizing, rip-the-nails-off-your fingers, close-loss mode – with the exception being the 30-14 loss to Indianapolis on Nov. 4. Granted, it's tough to say which mode is better, because it can be reasoned that a loss is a loss. In sports, though, being close is better than being slaughtered.

The Bills young team has started to prove it can hang with its opponents. Unfortunately, the mistakes that hampered them an unbearable number of times early in the season, usually show up again during critical points in a game – just not as often as they did in the beginning.

There were inopportune penalties – Eric Moulds fourth-quarter holding call comes to mind (there's a great explanation of that in "The Big Plays," located down below). There were inopportune sacks – Alex Van Pelt was sacked on successive fourth-quarter drives – the only two sacks of the game, if you can believe that – which killed Buffalo's chances at scoring some points. There was bad field position allowing Seattle to have an average drive start at its 37, whereas the Bills had an average drive start of their 24 – two giveaways and a bad punt were reasons for that.

And then there were the bad breaks, which truly are the mark of a struggling team, because even when things should go its way, they don't. Walter Cronkite couldn't have been more right when he used to say, "That's the way it is." He may as well have been talking about the Bills' luck. Take Seattle's 51-yard field goal, for instance, which gave the Seahawks a 23-13 lead with three minutes, 12 seconds left. It was kicked when the 25-second clock was at "00." Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren appeared to pounce on his special teams coordinator for the faux pas, but the field goal still stood. Apparently, no one saw the clock hit zero. Except Holmgren and Bills coach Gregg Williams who questioned referee Bernie Kukar, but had no success changing his mind. The play stood, leaving Buffalo behind by 10 and needing two scores to get back in it.

Now that's a bad break.

"I can't wait to look at the replay. It is not a play that can be challenged. Mike (Holmgren) was extremely upset," said Williams. Apparently, Holmgren knew his team got away with one there.

Human error, regrettably, is a part of being human. How often we forget.

At least Alex Van Pelt was able to drive the team for a touchdown – a six-yard toss to Jay Riemersma on an end zone out pattern with one minute, 23 seconds left. But just like last game vs. the Patriots, the Bills' onside kick was recovered by the opponent, and consequently the game was over after a couple of kneel-downs.

Still, Van Pelt's score should have made it 20-20, and everyone knows it.

But whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's the way you've got to look at it.

Here are the positives. Van Pelt is definitely a finer operator of Mike Sheppard's offense than Rob Johnson is. He finished with 311 yards passing and two touchdowns; one was a 16-yarder to Peerless Price, which helped Buffalo get back into the ball game, 10-7.

And it can't be coincidence anymore that the moment Johnson goes out, the offensive line gives up just two sacks – a sack-light game by today's Bills line standards? Van Pelt had the screen and swing passes to the running backs going, which Buffalo never seemed to perform too well under Johnson. Van Pelt had command.

"Alex did a good job managing the team," Gregg Williams said. "They fought until the end. The turnovers we were not pleased with, but the points on the board and the tempo of the ball game were good. It was unfortunate when we got down there and didn't come away with any points."

Ahhh yes, good ol' red zone scoring was a problem. Buffalo had five visits and came away with only 20 points. There were two field goals on drives that ended inside the Seattle 10, which is inexcusable – if a team penetrates that deeply, it simply must score. There was a missed field goal, but then there were two touchdowns. Buffalo has to improve its success rate if it's going to win.

And then there were third downs. Buffalo was three of 10 for 30 percent.

"I didn't play as well as I wanted to play this game," said Van Pelt. "There were some third-down plays that I screwed up. I thought Eric was running a route that he wasn't and I threw it away. We luckily got it back on a fake punt. There are some plays I missed. I missed Larry on a touchdown over the middle, third quarter, that would have (tied the game). I have a long way to come obviously too. But we're working. Guys are trying. They're fighting. We fought our way back into this one and had a chance to win it."

Defensively, the Bills didn't do anything too outstanding, except hold Shaun Alexander to 93 yards rushing. That was good.

But the Bills certainly could have used some turnovers. The best chance they had was when Lance Brown and Antoine Winfield were covering Darrell Jackson on a third down fourth quarter. Jackson was running a corner route to the end zone. Brown appeared to have the ball hit his hands, but it bounced off and so he was credited with a pass breakup.

Williams lamented that.

"We should have came away with the interception. The ball was right in our hands. Jerry Gray did a great job dialing up the defense in that situation," he said.

On the next play, Lindell kicked a 38-yard field goal for a 20-13 Seahawks lead.

Seattle came out in the third quarter and promptly drove downfield for a 17-10 lead on a one-yard Stephen Alexander touchdown run. Early in the drive, there was a third-down conversion to Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram, on a crossing pattern that went for 21 yards, followed by gains of 2, 13, 15, and 12. Seattle was biting off yardage in big chunks and the Bills defenders seemed to let the gains negatively affect each play that followed. It was clearly their worst series of the day.

Williams said, "We had an opportunity to get off the field a few times, but we do not get off the field on third down. Those are crucial basic plays."

 

Big plays

Bills ball, first and 10 from the Seattle 18, Seattle up 17-13, early fourth quarter.

Alex Van Pelt dropped back to pass and found Peerless Price on a crossing pattern for 12 yards, which would have given Buffalo a first and goal from the Seattle 6. But the referee ruled that Eric Moulds held Shawn Springs as he blocked him near the left sideline, while trying to help Price get into the end zone. It was a questionable penalty. Moulds had Springs inside the numbers as blockers normally do. Then he released as Price went by him.

Nonetheless, it was costly. Buffalo was penalized 10 yards, as the penalty was enforced at the spot of the foul – the Seattle 12 – which brought the Bills to the Seattle 22. In effect, it amounted to a 16-yard penalty.

"It was a terrible call," said Price. "It looked like Eric had a great block. All he did was he went up and sealed (Springs) inside and I read the block and went outside and the ref called holding on him."

Moulds said, "You don't want to hear what I have to say."

The next play was just as costly to Buffalo.

First and 14 from the Seattle 22.

Alex Van Pelt dropped back to pass, but weakside outside linebacker Tim Terry ran into the backfield uncovered and leveled Van Pelt within nanoseconds of getting the snap. Van Pelt fumbled the ball, but it was recovered by center Bill Conaty for a 10-yard loss.

The play was similar to a sack that occurred in the Bills home game vs. the Jets Oct. 7. No one picked up linebacker Mo Lewis as he went in on Rob Johnson for a sack and forced fumble.

Van Pelt said, "It was just a miscommunication between all of us, really. We had the wrong personnel on the field. We were trying to clean some things up with the formation in the last second while we're standing there trying to line guys up. And the clock is ticking down. It's tough. It's just part of the game. It something we need to do, get better communication, get the right guys on the field. We had a protection mishap and the guy came free."

Two plays later, Jake Arians had to try a 45-yard field goal that was short and wide right. Of course, without the first big play, the Bills could have scored the go-ahead touchdown. Without the second big play, they still could have scored the go-ahead touchdown or Arians' kick could have been a lot closer.


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