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Orton, Fitz, Marrone, Chan — What’s The Difference?

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When you don’t win a truly meaningful football game for a decade-and-a-half, it’s only natural that the losses start to resemble each other.

This, however, is ridiculous.
 
The most recent kick in the groin — Buffalo’s improbable, come-from-ahead 17-13 loss to Kansas City — managed to cause not one, but three disturbing flashbacks.

— The first, and most obvious, came on the Bills’ opening drive of the second half. Already leading 10-3, their longest extended possession of the afternoon had them ready to take a two-score lead that the Chiefs are not built to overcome when Bryce Brown somehow got stripped on his way to the goal line. The ball bounced into the end zone, where Scott Chandler somehow failed to keep it from escaping the end zone.
 
The particulars were a little different, but the double blunder conjured painful memories of last year’s Chiefs game, when the Bills led 10-3 and were moving inexorably toward a larger margin on their first drive of the second half. Until Kansas City cornerback Sean Smith grabbed Jeff Tuel’s panicky slant pass and went the length of the field to tie the game. Buffalo never scored again, and the Chiefs took that one 17-10.
 
— This time, the Bills clung to the lead for another full quarter. And then Leodis McKelvin happened.
 
You might recall Buffalo was a little more than two minutes from its first win in Foxborough since 2000 in the 2009 season opener. The Patriots kicked off after cutting Buffalo’s lead to five points. and all McKelvin — beginning his second season after the Bills made him the No. 11 overall pick in the 2008 draft, was not fumble.
 
After catching Steven Gostkowski’s kick in the end zone, McKelvin — beginning his second season after the Bills made him the No. 11 overall pick in the 2008 draft — could have taken a knee.
 
He did not. Still, after deciding to try for a splashy, game-sealing runback, all he really had to do was not fumble.
 
He fumbled.
 
Two plays later, the Patriots took the lead for the first and only time.
 
On Sunday, with Buffalo up by three points and having just forced Kansas City to go three-and-out, McKelvin — who seemed to have finally shaken the injuries and mistakes that marked much of his first six seasons — went back to field Dustin Colquitt’s punt. He could have called for a fair catch, just to be safe.
 
He did not. Still, after deciding to try for a splashy, game-sealing runback, all he really had to do was not fumble.
 
He fumbled.
 
Three plays later, the Chiefs took the lead for the first and only time.
 
(Note: Providing Brown, McKelvin and every other member of the Bills who has occasion to touch the football with this photograph of Chris Hogan scoring the only Buffalo touchdown WITH BOTH ARMS WRAPPED AROUND THE BALL would be a pretty solid idea.)

— As if the above were not traumatizing enough, the Bills got close enough for one more shot, thanks to McKelvin holding on to the Chiefs’ next punt, then returning it 23 yards.
 
To be precise, it was four more shots from the 15-yard line. With a chance to pull off his third late comeback win in five starts, Buffalo’s well-traveled veteran quarterback short-armed Watkins at the goal line twice and sailing a pair of passes intended for Hogan in the end zone sandwiched between.
 
Much like when another well-traveled veteran Bills quarterback brought them to the brink of an unlikely comeback on the road against New England in 2012, only to misfire on the game’s decisive throw.
 
That game would turn out to be Ryan Fitzpatrick’s last 300-yard passing performance with Buffalo. Orton’s inaccuracy — especially in a situation where you would expect a seasoned quarterback to hit at least once in four tries, and on a day when the defense did more than enough to win the game — is the biggest flaw making it hard to imagine him as anything but a placeholder at the position.
 
Speaking of guys with destabilizing job security, Doug Marrone did not help his cause to get a third season from the Bills’ new owners with a series of fourth-down and game-management decisions that triggered unpleasant memories of Chan Gailey and every failed coach to cycle through Buffalo over the last 15 years.
 
So the Bills are 5-4 heading into Thursday night’s game at Miami for what amounts to a playoff eliminator for the loser. Whatever the outcome, a brutal December schedule looms. And the cycle of changing forgettable coaches every few years and swapping out non-descript quarterbacks even more frequently, a rotation underway since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season and Marv Levy followed a year later, continues unabated.