EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - For a different coach and a different quarterback, the easy way out would have been tempting: Kill some clock, set up a game-winning field goal and get out of town with a stolen victory.
But the easy way made no sense to brazen Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and he wanted no part of it.
His team had been outplayed and out-gained and probably shouldn’t have still had a shot to defeat the New York Giants late in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon at Met Life Stadium.
Yet, when Fitzpatrick took the snap from the Giants 27-yard line with 4:10 remaining in a game tied 24-24, it was almost as if his Harvard education briefly abandoned him.
Rather than play it safe, Fitzpatrick rolled the dice on a play he felt couldn’t fail. His go-to guy, Stevie Johnson, was going to get open in the left corner of the end zone and the team would bolt into the bye week with a 5-1 record.
It all made sense until an untimely poor throw came up short of Johnson and into the hands of Giants defender Corey Webster and bold turned into ice cold.
“We were trying to score,” Fitzpatrick pleaded after watching the Giants march downfield with minimal resistance and a couple of pass interference calls to set up a 23-yard go-ahead field goal by Laurence Tynes with 1:30 remaining.
“That’s the hardest thing about football. If it doesn’t work, you get second-guessed but I’m telling you, I would take that match up every time. If I throw a good ball in there and Stevie scores, everybody is happy.
“It’s easy to second-guess now, but I thought it was a great call.”
With the Bills on their bye week and headed to Toronto for an Oct. 30 date with the Washington Redskins, there’s plenty of time to debate it now.
Rewind the argument six weeks or so, though, and most would take the 4-2 record that still has them very much in the AFC playoff picture.
But a second frustrating three-point defeat has kept the Bills from being something truly special.
In both the loss to the Giants and a last-second field goal loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, the Bills let opportunities get away.
They are the growing pains of a young team on the rise, but how much will losses like this one sting the deeper they get into the season?
“That’s something we have to figure out how to do, is finish,” said running back Fred Jackson, whose 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the longest carry of his career.
“You know we have two losses now, two games we didn’t finish. That’s a good football team, but we feel we left one out there.”
The things that had been going the Bills’ way, that had masked a banged-up defence that continues to yield yards at an alarming rate (414 yards on Sunday), went the other way and cost them dearly.
The pressure they had applied to quarterbacks Tom Brady of the Patriots and the Eagles’ Michael Vick into multiple interceptions, was non-existent. It allowed often skittish Eli Manning to finish the game basically untouched, never mind intercepted.
On the other hand Fitzpatrick, who came into the game the model of safety and clever decision-making, was sacked three times and coughed up a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.
The final one was the killer, of course, made worse when Johnson was flagged for face-masking and allowed the Giants to start the game-winning drive from their own 19 rather than the four.
Then there was cornerback Drayton Florence, who was flagged for three pass interference penalties for a combined 45 yards, two of them on the fateful final drive.
Yet, with mere ticks more than four minutes remaining and the ball within scoring range, they still had a chance to win. For all his sharp play in earlier victories, Fitzpatrick took this one hard.
“It’s going to be something I’m going to have to work on and live with,” said Fitzpatrick, whose other interception was on an under thrown ball that also ended up in Webster’s hands. “It’s tough to look all the other guys in the face, but that’s what you have to do as a quarterback and as a leader. You’ve got to move on with it.”
BILL PRESSURE GOES AWOL
In Week 2, it was Tom Brady who felt the wrath of the Buffalo Bills pass rush.
In Week 5, they took Michael Vick out of his game in another upset victory.
So, what happened on Sunday when the banged-up Bills defence allowed Eli Manning to be the man?
“They blocked for him and we didn’t get any pressure on him,” Bills linebacker Nick Barnett said. “Usually, if you get some pressure on Eli, you can get the ball out. We didn’t force him to make throws or make bad decisions.”
While Manning wasn’t spectacular, he was able to rely on the running game of Ahmad Bradshaw (104 yards, three touchdowns) and complete 21 of 32 passes for 292 yards.
Not that he was been a force this season, but linebacker Shawne Merriman didn’t make the trip to New Jersey as he nurses an Achilles injury. Another linebacker, veteran Chris Kelsay, was also out with a calf injury.
The pass rush has been a big part in the Bills forcing so many interceptions, a weapon they would love to get back.
“It’s a problem we’ve got, no bones about it,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said about the missing pass rush. “We’re going to have to figure out something to generate some kind of pass rush.”