The fourth quarter of Buffalo’s annual visit to South Florida on Sunday could, in theory, have gone worse for the Bills.
The cart used to wheel the injured off the field could have slipped into gear and careened, driver-less, down Buffalo’s sideline, dissembling the knees of Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans, Brian Moorman, Donte Whitner, and Kawika Mitchell.
The National Football League could have lifted its Michael Vick-induced ban on the playing of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” on stadium public-address systems every time the home team registers the mildest of achievements, which, given Buffalo’s self-immolation over the final 15 minutes of a 25-16 deflation, would have led to near-constant loop and countless royalties for the Baha Men.
(If you don’t think this would be so catastrophic, that’s because you weren’t at a football stadium in the fall of 2000, particularly Dolphins Stadium for Miami’s 22-13 win over Buffalo that October. Whoever was running the audio portion of the game presentation hit the button after each of Miami’s five scores, all six sacks of Rob Johnson, and whenever else the mood struck. I was keeping count in the press box and the tally reached 17 before I had to give up and start writing early in the fourth quarter. Go ahead. Try to get it out of your head now. You’re welcome.)
Or they could have been playing a better opponent, in which case the final score could easily have been 40-16.
It started off well enough, with the Bills trailing by but a single point and the ball at Miami’s 47-yard line. If anything, Buffalo seemed poised for the sort of triumphant rally that produced three of their first five wins.
Then Edwards, who had been nearly perfect in the first five fourth quarters in which he had appeared previously this year, dropped back to pass.
And everything fell apart.
Dolphins defensive end Randy Starks hit Edwards’ arm, sending a throw aimed at Evans fluttering instead to Miami’s Will Allen.
Buffalo’s defense held, but a Dan Carpenter field goal made it 20-16.
A long pass to Evans again fostered visions of a Buffalo comeback, but Edwards allowed the ball to be stolen by Miami linebacker Joey Porter.
The next time the Bills got the ball, still facing a deficit of just four points, Porter smoked a surprised-looking Jason Peters and again separated Edwards from the ball. On the bright side, Buffalo center Duke Preston recovered. Since it was in his own end zone, though, Preston’s accomplishment still swelled Miami’s lead by two points.
The Dolphins capitalized on the field position afforded them by the ensuing free kick with another Carpenter field goal that put them ahead by two scores with 3:53 left, effectively ending the competitive portion of the afternoon.
For good measure, the Bills obliged their hosts by fumbling the ball away twice more, providing a fitting end to an aggravating day.
In all, Buffalo supplied four turnovers in the final quarter. Only once in the first six games did the Bills blunder so frequently over an entire afternoon, during their 41-17 shaming by the Arizona Cardinals.
You could be optimistic about all this, especially since the Bills are still 5-2 and still tied for first place in the AFC East as they approach the midway point of their 2008 schedule.
Or you could see some serious fissures beginning to show in the foundation of a young team just as Brett Favre and those guys he plays with roll into town, with a road test against Buffalo’s divisional co-leaders and longtime masters, the New England Patriots, looming a week later.
Dave Staba has covered the Bills since 1990. He welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. A full report on Sunday’s game will appear in the October 23 issue of Artvoice.