It was a game the Bills had to have and while the Buffalo defense got off to a good start, their offense was slow out of the gate with punts on three of their first four possessions. It allowed Indianapolis to build a lead they would never relinquish in a 20-13 win over Buffalo. The loss drops the Bills to 4-7 on the season and further dampens any realistic playoff hopes for the 2012 season.
"I felt that the defense played well enough to win the ball game," said head coach Chan Gailey. "We didn't execute offensively well enough and gave them the punt return and that was the game. We had some opportunities and we didn't take advantage of opportunities that we got."
The Bills had trouble completing drives to start the second half going just six plays on their first drive and three on their second. Trailing 20-7, on their third possession Buffalo got another big play from C.J. Spiller when he ripped off a 41-yard run on 1st-and-10 from his own 22 to move the Bills into Colts territory. Five plays later Ryan Fitzpatrick found Lee Smith on the back side for a one-yard touchdown reception to make it a one score game (20-13) with 11:30 minutes left in the game.
But it was the last time Buffalo would get into scoring territory as they went just one for three in the red zone.
"Both times we were near the 20-yard line and stalled out," said Fitzpatrick of the field goal drives. "Then you saw the one play we got down there and we were able to do some things and get it in. So we're having problems right now. It's a couple of weeks now it's been around that 20-yard line where we haven't been getting a lot done."
Spiller finished with 14 carries for 107 yards, for his sixth straight game with at least 100 total yards from scrimmage, while Stevie Johnson went over 100 yards receiving for the first time with six receptions for 106 yards. But stringing positive plays together proved to be the offense's undoing.
"It's a long ball game and anything that happens early you don't want it to be able to bite you in the end," said Spiller of the offense's slow start. "We knew we had to do better on third down and give our defense some rest and be able to stay on the field and sustain drives and it was just frustrating not being able to do it with all the hard work we put in leading up this game. We thought that we'd be able to sustain some long drives."
After the defense forced a three-and-out with 9:30 remaining, which included the third sack by Mario Williams in the game, the Bills were on the move until a 2nd-and-14 pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick at the Colts 36 was intercepted by Tom Zbikowski. On his return however, Stevie Johnson stripped him of the ball and recovered it to regain possession for Buffalo.
With the ball back near midfield, Buffalo again decided to go to the air, but after a Fitzpatrick scramble for six yards, Spiller was dropped for a four-yard loss on a swing pass and a third down pass to Spiller was broken up forcing Buffalo to punt with three and a half minutes remaining.
"Yeah I thought we'd come in here and play a lot better than we did and score a lot more points and throw the ball better and get the ball downfield," said Fitzpatrick. "We missed a couple of opportunities and had some other stuff. We just weren't able to get in because of what they were doing or get downfield, but yeah disappointment."
Indianapolis was pinned deep at their own five-yard line, but managed to string together a couple of first downs. It forced Buffalo to make use of their timeouts and they never did get the ball back as Andrew Luck kneeled out the clock.
Averaging almost six yards a carry in the game, Gailey was asked what kept them from running the ball more.
"The pass rush had a lot to do with that," he said. "They were doing a good job with their pass rush and we ended up trying to throw the ball a little bit more on first down and second down (to avoid that), but then you go back to C.J. and he's running the ball extremely well. So you want to throw it to stay away from those obvious passing situations where they've got the pass rush coming. Do you want to throw it and not hand it to C.J.? We were trying to strike a balance in those two thought processes."
Buffalo's defense came out active and aggressive early and forced a punt on the Colts' first possession, but the Bills' attack stumbled on their opening possession going three-and-out. The ensuing punt was then returned by Indianapolis speedster T.Y. Hilton for a 75-yard touchdown to put the Colts up 7-0 with 10 minutes left in the opening quarter.
The Bills were able to respond with points of their own, however on a 3rd-and-12 from the Colts 22, Buffalo could only pick up six yards. It led to a 33-yard Rian Lindell field goal with five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The defense played steady if not spectacular sacking Andrew Luck four times and picking him off once, but they still surrendered several third-and-long conversions for first downs with Indianapolis converting on 8-of-13 for the game.
"It's obviously discouraging, upsetting, being that I feel this team could have a whole different record," said Nick Barnett. "This one we definitely could've won. We've given a couple of games away. I see progress in our defense and the way we're playing, but it's just not enough to win these games."
Buffalo had a chance to regain the momentum of the game after Justin Rogers picked off a 2nd-and-10 pass intended for Reggie Wayne at the Bills 46-yard line. C.J. Spiller put together three straight carries for 27 yards to move the ball down to the Colts 27. Indianapolis however, then had the better of the next two plays penetrating to drop Fred Jackson for a three-yard loss. Then on 3rd-and-10 at the Colts 30, Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked by Robert Mathis for a loss of four. Gailey chose to punt instead of attempt a 53-yard field goal.
"He might make it. He might not, but we were playing pretty good defensively and I thought if we backed them up down there and held them it's better for us percentage-wise and we'd be able to get a touchdown out of it with better field position," Gailey said.
The Colts then drove almost the length of the field, marching 82 yards on 12 plays. Fortunately Buffalo's defense got a big stop on 3rd-and-3 at their seven when a pass intended for Vick Ballard fell incomplete. Indianapolis took a 25-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri to make it a 10-3 game with four minutes left in the half.
On the ensuing possession Ryan Fitzpatrick hooked up with Stevie Johnson on a 63-yard pass play to set up 1st-and-10 at the Colts 17-yard line. Buffalo then attempted two straight passes that both fell incomplete. On 3rd-and-10 from the 17 Fitzpatrick was flushed from the pocket after a four-yard gain forcing the Bills to again take a field goal from Rian Lindell from 31 yards (10-6).
With more than two minutes to work with the Colts got some chunk yardage plays with a 17-yard pass play to Donnie Avery followed by a 10-yard reception by Dwayne Allen. But the Indianapolis drive stalled at the Colts 47 and they were forced to punt.
After a Leodis McKelvin fair catch at his own eight, the Bills again came out throwing. After two incompletions the Bills ran on 3rd-and-10 from the eight gaining just four yards. The Colts called timeout allowing just 14 seconds to come off the clock on Buffalo's possession.
"We threw it the first two times. We were trying to get out of there and make something happen," said Gailey. "We were trying to get down the field. We threw it to Stevie deep on the sideline and then Stevie ran an option route and threw Fitz a little bit turning in instead of turning out so we had that incompletion and didn't get what we wanted. We ran it the last time handing off."
With a drive start at their own 49, Reggie Wayne drew a pass interference penalty on Justin Rogers for 28 yards moving the ball to the Buffalo 28. Wayne then had a 25-yard catch and run to the Bills three-yard line, but it appeared he was stripped of the football before a whistle blew and before he was down.
The officials on the field ruled that there was no fumble and the replay booth, which was the only party that could review the play at that point did not do so. Luck threw incomplete on first down, then his Wayne for a short two-yard gain on 2nd-and-goal from the three to reach the one on third down. The clock appeared to run out before Luck could get the Colts up to the line and spike the ball.
Referee Ed Hochuli however, put an extra second back on the clock, allowing Indianapolis to kick a 19-yard field goal for a 13-7 halftime lead.
With the loss the Bills are now at 4-7 and their playoff aspirations are flickering at best. Their conference record of 3-6 and division record of 1-3 don't help their cause either.
"It's hard," said Gailey. "I told our players our goal now is to get to 7-7. That's where the World Champions were last year. That's our goal. Get to 7-7 and then see where everything sits. That's where they were so let's see if we can get to that."