Then, as the seconds ticked down at Highmark Stadium, the mistakes and missteps caught up with them. A penalty for having an extra player on the field while a Denver kicker missed a 41-yard field goal attempt Wil Lutz kept the door open for the Broncos to leave Buffalo with one 24:22 victory.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said when asked if it was one of the most inexplicable defeats he has ever suffered. “We practiced that two or three times this week – switching from dime to field goal block. At the end of the day we didn’t execute. So it’s inexcusable.”
With a lead of 22-21 for the Bills, quarterback of the Broncos Russell Wilson took a knee at the Buffalo 23-yard line with 24 seconds left and no timeouts. Denver quickly got its field goal unit out.
The Bills switched from their dime defense to a field goal blocking package to keep up with Denver and watched Lutz miss the 41-yard attempt.
That should have been game over. But the Bills didn’t rotate players well enough, and when the ball was snapped there were 12 defenders on the field. After a 5-yard penalty, Lutz made the subsequent 36-yard field goal attempt. Game over, but a win for the Broncos.
“In situations like this, you can’t beat yourself,” said linebacker and special teams captain Tyler Matakevich said. “You have to make sure we have a tight grip, everyone knows what’s going on. I mean, we practiced it. We just haven’t implemented it, and that’s really, really frustrating. … There are some games, they are. ‘Sometimes it’s going to be ugly, you just have to find a way to win it and unfortunately we just didn’t do it.’
Security Damar Hamlin ran off the field late, but the Bills appeared to have an extra lineman available throughout the game. The Bills didn’t say exactly who else wasn’t supposed to be on the field, and it’s hard to say if the same play was called on the second field goal attempt, but defensive end Leonard Floyd was the only player on the field to take the miss, but not on the field when he took the winning goal.
Matakevich said the Bills knew the Broncos would kick quickly and had the replacement field goal blocking unit players on the sideline ready to go.
“I do not even know. We just messed up and unfortunately it cost us,” Matakevich said.
For most of the game, the Bills’ defense did its job, although the offense got off to a slow start again, which has become a consistent trend. The defense held the Broncos to just six points off four Bills turnovers, and McDermott described the unit as giving the Bills a chance to win.
“This is a good offense, a talented offense, and you go out with five defensive starters, and I thought those guys worked their butts off,” McDermott said.
However, the offensive errors were devastating for the Bills. Despite averaging 7.1 yards per play and a season-high 4.1 yards per rush before contact, the offense got in its own way. These four Bill turnovers represented a season high. Three of them came from the quarterback Josh Allenwho had two interceptions and a fumble on a handoff attempt to the running back James Cook. The first of these interceptions came on a dropped pass by the wide receiver Gabe Davisone in four drops overnight (also a season high).
“Shit,” Allen said of his late loss. “I shouldn’t have been in this position to begin with. A lot of bad football. A lot of bad football.”
The Bills had three total fumbles, the other two by Cook – one on the very first play of the game and the second on a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter when he recovered his own fumble. Cook was benched for the next three drives after the first play.
Allen now leads the NFL with 11 interceptions and has an interception in six straight games, becoming the first Bills quarterback to do so since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2011.
“I find [Allen has] “Sometimes he played well, sometimes he didn’t, and you can’t turn the ball over,” McDermott said. “So we have to find out.”
Ten of Allen’s 11 interceptions this season came on throws of more than ten yards, one of which is close to matching his career high (2018 and 2021). He completed just 15 of 26 passes for 177 yards despite being under pressure with a season-low 19% on dropbacks. He also had a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. Allen was 10 of 21 with a touchdown and two interceptions against four or fewer pass rushers, the first time since Week 17 in 2021 that he completed fewer than half of his passes against a standard rusher.
The Bills have now dug a hole that will be difficult for them to climb out of, as they sit at 5-5, the third-strongest team remaining in a highly competitive AFC.
“Yeah, I’m still confident,” Allen said. “But it’s no secret that the clock is ticking. Things have to happen urgently now.”