Putting together one of their better efforts in weeks, the Bills had a three-point lead late (27-24), but a fumble by J.P. Losman as he was sacked by Abram Elam on a rollout with two minutes remaining was scooped up by Shaun Ellis at the Buffalo 16-yard line and returned for a go ahead touchdown as the Bills found another way to lose in a 31-27 final.
"Of a number of heartbreaking losses that was the worst to this point," said head coach Dick Jauron. "There's not much we can say about it other than it's a dismal locker room."
Buffalo fell to 6-8 on the season and 0-5 in the division. The Bills were eliminated from playoff contention prior to the loss as Miami beat San Francisco wiping out the only remaining playoff scenario had Buffalo beaten New York. The Bills have one more opportunity to avoid going winless in the division for an entire season for the first time since 1976.
"It's extremely frustrating. We're 0-5 in the division. We had the game won and couldn't pull it out," said Kawika Mitchell.
Buffalo shaved New York's four-point halftime lead to one thanks to an interception by Terrence McGee on an underthrown pass by Brett Favre midway through the third quarter. It gave the offense possession near midfield and they did just enough to get Rian Lindell a 48-yard field goal attempt, which he knocked off the right upright and through to make it 21-20 New York with just over three minutes left in the third.
The Bills however, made a turnover of their own and gave New York three points right back. J.P. Losman's short pass to Josh Reed was high glanced off Reed's fingertips and Hank Poteat pulled in the interception at the Bills 20-yard line. Buffalo's defense kept the Jets out of the end zone, but Jay Feely gave them a 31-yard field goal to re-establish their four-point lead (24-20).
Leodis McKelvin appeared to give the Bills the lead on a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, but it was called back on a questionable holding call. Buffalo's offense couldn't deliver on the series that followed, but the defense promptly sent the Jets three-and-out on three straight incompletions to get the ball back.
Buffalo's attack put together their best drive of the day marching 64 yards on six plays as offensive coordinator Turk Schonert went with four straight pass plays to start the drive. Derek Fine, Josh Reed (2) and Lee Evans combined for the four catches for 43 yards, which provided three consecutive first downs.
On 2nd-and-2 from the Jets' 21 Marshawn Lynch ripped off a nine-yard run to set up 1st-and-10 at the 10. Fred Jackson took the carry on the next snap and with the help of his offensive linemen plowed into the end zone for a 27-24 lead with just under five and a half minutes remaining.
Lynch had an inspired effort with 21 carries and 127 yards, but the two turnovers on two consecutive drives late by Losman ultimately cost Buffalo. Trying to rebound after the turnover, Losman threw his second interception of the afternoon. The defense got the ball back forcing a turnover on downs with just over a minute remaining, but Losman's last second Hail Mary attempt was also picked off.
Losman finished the game 24-39 for 148 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a critical lost fumble. He had a passer rating of 45.7.
"It was almost a max protection type play just to get the ball in the flat," said J.P. Losman. "We knew they weren't going to blitz because we knew they were thinking run, so we called the little dink play in the flat and we were unsuccessful. It's tough. At that point in time as a quarterback if it's not there throw it away. We don't like to take sacks in that situation. I should have thrown it away quickly. I've got to hold onto the ball."
Jauron took full blame for the play action rollout pass call on 2nd-and-5 at the Bills 27-yard line.
"Clearly the responsibility for the last call when we play action passed on the 2nd-and-5 that's mine," said Jauron. "That goes right on me, and that backfired clearly and caused us to lose the game. The guys fought and made enough plays to win that football game, I just didn't help them with that call."
Buffalo had been running the ball effectively for most of the day as Marshawn Lynch averaged six yards per carry and had his highest output of the season with 127 yards. But surprisingly on the 2nd-and-5 play Jauron ordered play action pass.
"It turns out to be one of those times in a game that's pretty good for a pass," said Jauron. "Right before the two-minute warning if it's incomplete you're not giving them more time because the clock is stopped no matter what. And they're stacked in the box. They're playing the run so we thought it was a good time (to pass). It just backfired on us."
"It was a little surprising," said Lee Evans of the play call. "But we still have to try to make it work. Obviously it didn't."
The first half looked like it was going to be all Jets early as Brett Favre and company methodically marched down the field on their opening possession. With Terrence McGee suffering from back spasms and Dustin Fox inactive (groin) Buffalo was shorthanded in the secondary early in the game with only two healthy corners in Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner.
The Jets took advantage as Favre completed passes to Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery on the drive and threw in a bootleg for 27 yards before Thomas Jones plunged in from two yards out for an early 7-0 lead.
McGee eventually did play in the game as he participated about three quarters of the contest.
Buffalo responded with a field goal drive on the ensuing series thanks in large part to a gutsy call. Facing a 4th-and-5, the Bills lined up in punt formation, but the snap went to up man Keith Ellison who ran off left tackle for a first down to extend the drive.
"I think he gave us a spark on that play," said Jon Corto of Ellison's conversion. "Special teams we made a play and got our offense back out there and all day we gave our offense good opportunities to score."
On the next play J.P. Losman tossed a pitch to Marshawn Lynch who ripped off a 35-yard run to the Jets 22-yard line. The drive stalled however, at the Jets 16-yard line forcing the Bills to take a 34-yard Rian Lindell field goal (7-3).
The Jets made it two-for-two with another touchdown drive as Favre went to the air going 4-5 for 56 yards including an 11-yard strike to Jerricho Cotchery for a 14-3 advantage.
After a Buffalo punt New York was moving the ball again when Laveranues Coles lost control of a reception. The ball bounced off Leodis McKelvin's arm and into the onrushing arms of Paul Posluszny for an interception at midfield.
The Bills offense made the most of the turnover with Lynch and Fred Jackson combining for 28 yards on five carries to set up a 1st-and-goal situation at the Jets nine-yard line. Losman dropped back to pass, but unable to find a passing target, he took off into a wide open middle of the field and lunged just far enough into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown run to cut New York's lead to 14-10.
Inspired by the seven points off the turnover Buffalo's defense sent the Jets four-and-out on the next possession, and that's when lightning struck. Roscoe Parrish took a punt return back 56 yards to the Jets' 24-yard line.
Four plays later Losman hit Steve Johnson on a quick slant for a two-yard touchdown reception for their first lead of the game 17-14 with just over two minutes left in the half. It was Johnson's first career touchdown catch.
Working out of their two-minute offense, the Jets moved into Buffalo territory on a 21-yard reception by Coles to set up a 1st-and-10 at the Bills 47. And Jets' all-purpose back Leon Washington turned a simple off tackle run into a 47-yard touchdown scamper to re-take the lead for New York and head to the locker room up four (21-17).
The Bills erased that halftime deficit come the fourth quarter, but couldn't finish the effort off with a victory. And victories are what they will need in their final two games if they're to avoid their fourth straight losing season.
"We needed a win to try and bounce back," said Mitchell. "I'm trying not to have losing season. I don't care about anything else. I don't want to be 7-9. I think we're a lot better than that. I just don't want to be a part of a losing team so we need to win."
Buffalo travels to Denver next week to face the Broncos for a 4pm kickoff.