Steve Mathes and I talked about some of these feelings on our most recent episode of @TheBillsGuys podcast, and we both found the exercise to be somewhat cathartic.
Regular readers/listeners of our podcast will know I’m typically more of a facts and numbers guy, but we’re going to let the emotional side spill over this week. How did you feel as the events unfolded on Saturday afternoon/evening?
1st Down: Anxious Excitement
To be honest, I watched very little pregame coverage leading up to kickoff this past Saturday. I didn’t want the stress of watching an ESPN pregame show that I knew would be undoubtedly biased towards the Texans. The story of J.J. Watt returning to action from his pectoral injury was certain to garner a large chunk of the pregame coverage. Instead, I went for a run and did as many chores around the house that I could leading up to kickoff.
Once the game actually started, I was pleasantly surprised and excited about how the Bills put their foot on the gas during the opening drive. Stellar defense and field goal scoring drives extended the Bills lead as the game headed towards halftime, and a 13-0 lead at the half surely seemed like a very positive result.
Sure, some plays were missed, but the Bills still had a 13-0 lead at the half in a road playoff game! Woo! I decided not to worry too much about the missed John Brown “catch” near the goal line, or the Duke Williams “near drop” just before halftime (Statistically, it was not ruled a drop.) that would have put the Bills up by three scores.
2nd Down: Uneasiness
The opening kickoff of the second half momentarily brought me back to my 1st down feeling of excitement…but with a bit less anxiety. However, these feelings were quickly erased when an official from the sideline came running on to the field to influence a controversial and polarizing game-changing call that was borderline unprecedented in an NFL game.
The Bills were able to hold the Texans to a measly 11 yards of offense on their first two possessions of the 2nd half. Unfortunately, in both subsequent drives by the Bills offense, they were only able to muster three total points. The Bills’ second drive of the second half started at the Texans 38-yard line after Tre White forced a DeAndre Hopkins fumble. An uneventful eight-play, 18-yard drive ensued, and the Bills settled for yet another field goal…albeit increasing their lead to 16-0.
J.J. Watt apparently made the play of the game (according to Joe Tessitore) when he sacked Josh Allen to stall the drive. It was at this moment where I turned to my wife and said…”It’s still just a two-score game.” An uneasy feeling waved over me and creeping thoughts of doubt flooded my mind from that point forward.
3rd Down: Anger and Frustration
Uneasiness ultimately paved the way for outright anger and frustration throughout most of the 2nd half. Once the Bills kicked their early third-quarter field goal to increase their lead to 16-0, there wasn’t much offense to speak of the rest of the game. Frustration mounted as the Bills proceeded to fumble, punt, and turn the ball over on downs on their next three drives.
These three drives resulted in an anemic 42 combined yards. Capped off by a horrendous Josh Allen sack on a 4th and 27 play from the Texans 42-yard line, the game was all but lost in my mind at that point. Little did I know that in between this frustration and a brief glimmer of hope (when the Bills somehow sent the game into overtime after a pretty heroic defensive stand on 4th down), there would be a string of mind-boggling and infuriating plays to follow.
From the no-call on the helmet to helmet hit on Josh Allen, Cody Ford’s “blindside block,” giving up a 3rd and 18 conversion, and Deshaun Watson escaping what looked to be a sure sack….my emotions turned completely negative and angry…and I knew it would take me a while to regain any semblance of rational thought.
4th Down: Uncertainty
Still fresh on the mind, we are now about three full days since the Bills’ playoff loss. There are still some burning embers of anger and frustration inside me. However, given that I have to accept the season is over for our Bills, I now find myself asking questions that hadn’t previously crossed my mind. Knowing how hard it has been for the Bills to even make the playoffs in the past 20 years, how big of a real opportunity (at a minimum, for experience) did the Bills blow by giving away this game to the Texans?
Would beating the Texans, even if that meant losing to the Chiefs this upcoming weekend, have been the real building block of confidence this team needed heading into the offseason? Will the pressure of breaking a nearly 25-year playoff win drought weigh on how key decisions are made in free agency and the draft? Is there now even MORE pressure on Sean McDermott and Josh Allen heading into 2020 because of this loss?
I would say the answer is “yes.” There is more pressure now…not because the Bills lost, but because of HOW they lost. Blowing a 16-0 lead on the road is a tough pill to swallow. Even if the Bills left a ton of plays on the field…even if they got zero help from the officials and even if the defense had just one lapse too many…they still should have won the game.
The biggest question I am now asking myself now is…can the Bills make it back to the playoffs next year? With expectations higher than they’ve been in nearly 20 years, and with the pressure to at a minimum at least get A SINGLE PLAYOFF WIN, the questions will continue to pile up until next season begins…and ends….