Fourth-quarter failures have left the Buffalo Bills virtually out of playoff contention. In a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs last season, they had more than enough breathing room to ease up in the final 15 minutes.
The Bills scored more points against the Chiefs last year than any team ever has, but hardly seem capable of a similar effort Sunday as they try to bounce back from yet another late-game disappointment.
Buffalo beat Kansas City 54-31 on Nov. 23, 2008, taking advantage of five turnovers. The previous high for points scored against the Chiefs was 51 by Seattle on Nov. 27, 1983.
Bills quarterback Trent Edwards threw for two touchdowns and ran for two last year versus Kansas City, but he was benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick when Perry Fewell took over as interim coach after Dick Jauron was fired last month.
The Bills (4-8) have lost two of three since, scoring 17 points or fewer in each defeat. Buffalo failed to overcome a six-point deficit to start the fourth quarter in a 19-13 loss to the New York Jets on Dec. 3, continuing a familiar story line.
The Bills have either led, were tied or within one score entering the final quarter of seven of their eight losses. They've been outscored 112-67 in the final 15 minutes of games this season.
"That's been our theme all year," safety Donte Whitner said. "Everybody's frustrated. The fans are frustrated. It all falls on our shoulders. We have to go out there and put a good product on the football field and bring wins home. And we're not doing that."
The Bills will likely miss the postseason for the 10th straight year, matching Detroit for the NFL's longest active drought.
Though Buffalo has had trouble taking advantage of big-play receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, its defense deserves a fair share of the blame for the team's struggles. The Bills have been particularly vulnerable against the run, surrendering an NFL-worst 172.1 yards a contest.
Kansas City (3-9), though, is tied for 29th in yards per rushing attempt (3.7), and its offense ranks 30th overall, averaging 265.6 yards per game.
Quarterback Matt Cassel was benched in the fourth quarter of a 44-13 loss to Denver last Sunday, but he's expected to remain the starter.
"I'm going to play the guys who give us the best chance to win and Matt is one of those guys right now," coach Todd Haley said.
Cassel, who signed a contract in the offseason that guarantees him about $28 million, was 10 for 29 for 84 yards with two interceptions before being pulled for Brodie Coyle. Haley insists getting benched might be good for Cassel, who is 26th in the NFL with a 72.3 passer rating.
"In my opinion, the experience he had to go through in coming out of the game and watching his backup play is more important than actually being in there for that last quarter," Haley said.
Cassel hasn't gotten much time in the pocket, getting sacked 37 times for 212 yards in losses, and has been working without any reliable targets. Dwayne Bowe is the team's leading receiver but has regressed after two strong seasons, catching 33 passes for 466 yards.
Bowe will not play on Sunday as he serves the last of his four game league suspension for violation of the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.
Kansas City's defense hasn't been much help, either, allowing a total of 87 points in its last two games. The Chiefs rank 30th in scoring defense, surrendering an average of 27.2 points.