The script flipped Monday Night for the Buffalo Bills. The demons that haunted Buffalo in three straight division losses were corrected.
The opposing 3-4 defense's keynote enforcer wasn't celebrating in their backfield...Shaun Rogers was huffing and puffing for spare oxygen in the 20-degree Orchard Park, N.Y. air.
The Bills' pass rush showed up...flustering Brady Quinn into 22 misfires on 36 passes.
But on the play that mattered most, the final kick that was supposed to rectify Buffalo's season, one demon that will never, ever go away resurfaced…Wide Right.
Buffalo's Rian Lindell sliced a potential game-winning, 45-yard field goal wide right with 43 seconds remaining, giving Cleveland a 29-27 win. In an overall sloppy game, the Browns (4-6) ousted the Bills (5-5) to save their season. Meanwhile, Buffalo's drought continued as it botched a perfect chance to join a fray of teams in the AFC Wild Card hunt. Five teams in the AFC sit at 6-4, including Miami and New England. The Bills – who sat atop the division only three weeks ago – are now two games behind the New York Jets for the division lead.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 119 yards on 23 carries and caught 10 balls for 58 yards with a score, but it wasn't enough. The Browns used one big play and five Phil Dawson field goals (including a late 56-yarder) to upend the Bills back into mediocrity.
A dull, 16-13 slugfest busted open at the start of the fourth quarter when Cleveland backup running back Jerome Harrison found a seam and shot upfield for a 72-yard touchdown to push Cleveland's lead to 10. Charles Ali made the operative block, cleanly washing Paul Posluszny out of the play.
The Bills answered quickly, though.
Leodis McKelvin took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to the house. Spencer Johnson and George Wilson among others sealed a lane up the left sideline and McKelvin exploded through it to cut the Browns' lead back to three.
After a Dawson field goal and back-to-back punts, Buffalo seemed to put together a season-defining scoring drive. Roscoe Parrish atoned himself from a bonehead play earlier in the game with a 34-yard punt return into Browns territory with just over five minutes left. In the first half, Parrish let a punt bounce to Buffalo's own one-yard line.
Marshawn Lynch had his best game of the season
But on this ensuing drive, Lynch grinded out a tough 28-yard run with two and a half minutes left to the Browns' one-yard line. Center Duke Preston stood up Shaun Rogers and Lynch shrugged off the 350-pounder's arm tackle with ease. The next play, Edwards ducked behind Preston for a touchdown to give Buffalo a 27-26 lead.
With 2:18 left, Quinn completed passes of 12 yards and 16 yards to Brayon Edwards and Kellen Winslow to just eek into Dawson's striking range. And like Dallas Nick Folk's improbable 53-yard walk-off kick last season, Buffalo's home Monday Night Football showcase was spoiled by a long-distance field goal.
Lindell couldn't match Dawson on the other end, and the Bills were sent back to drawing board. Again.
Of course, a horrid first half didn't help matters. The Bills shouldn't have been in this position all along. Just like Scott Norwood shouldn't have been in that position to launch a 47-yarder, Lindell should have never even had to sniff such a do-or-die situation.
Three of Buffalo's first four offensive possessions ended in Trent Edwards interceptions. The picks could have dug Buffalo into an insurmountable hole – well before anyone in a juiced-up crowd made their first trip to the restroom. But the defense held strong. With a refined, blitzing scheme, the Bills harassed Brady Quinn early. Cleveland's quarterback started Monday night 1-of-8 and the Browns only mustered two Phil Dawson field goals off of Edwards' three giveaways.
Buffalo's quarterback finished the day 16-of-26 for 148 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and the three picks. In his first career win as an NFL starter, Quinn wasn't much better. The Notre Dame product went 14-of-36 for 185 yards with no scores or picks. The bulk of Cleveland's offensive production came from Jamal Lewis (18 carries for 65 yards) and Harrison's fourth-quarter burst. Braylon Edwards, who has been haunted by drops this season, caught eight passes for 104 yards.
In the end, the Bills failed to summon a win despite a rejuvenated rushing attack, above-average pass rush and sound play from Edwards under pressure.
Stay tuned to the BFR for more coverage of Monday night's loss to the Browns…