In a matchup pitting two teams that have been struggling on offense, the Bills and the Browns continued to struggle. With both offenses unable to sustain drives the game was a low scoring affair as penalties and dropped passes dominated the contest. And though Buffalo's offense was chiefly responsible for their problems, in the end a costly mistake on special teams gave Cleveland the break it needed for a 6-3 win, their first of the season.
It was the second straight loss to a winless team for Buffalo and their third straight after starting the season with a 1-1 mark.
Really disappointing," said head coach Dick Jauron. "To stay in the game, to be in the game and have a chance to win it is just… a real letdown for everybody. No doubt about that."
"It's extremely frustrating," said Trent Edwards. "That's a game we thought we could win. We were prepared for what they were going to do, and to go out there and do that is pretty disappointing."
With less than three minutes remaining Buffalo's defense forced Cleveland to punt, but Dave Zastudil's punt bounced and rolled and a waiting Roscoe Parrish was unable to scoop it up as the Browns' coverage unit arrived. Blake Costanzo recovered the muff giving the Browns the ball at the Bills 15-yard line.
"I was undecided," said Parrish. "I thought I was going to get that bounce and it would come right up to my hands because earlier in my career I had returned a ball like that. It was just a tough deal for me."
With only one timeout remaining Buffalo was unable to stop the clock as the Browns pounded out six run plays before Billy Cundiff put an 18-yard attempt through the uprights for the game-winning points.
From start to finish however, Buffalo's offense was the team's true Achilles heel. The Bills were their own worst enemy on offense committing a total of 13 penalties for 75 yards with an astounding nine false starts on offense. Every offensive lineman was called for at least one penalty in the game, though not all of them were enforced.
"I don't know what to tell you about it," said Geoff Hangartner. "It's inexcusable and we've got to do something to change it. We are killing ourselves, we are putting ourselves in bad down and distance, and with the negative plays because of the penalties and we just can't have it."
"We tried to go a lot on quick cadences," explained offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. "We wanted to get them up tempo and wear them down a little bit up front and I think it jumped up and got us. A lot of those were on quick counts."
But left tackle Demetrius Bell, who committed a pair of false start penalties, wasn't about to use the quick cadence as an excuse.
"No, we've been doing that since OTAs," said Bell. "That's something that as a person you have to take accountability for yourself and don't point fingers. I started off with the first one and it went downhill from there."
The only two times Buffalo's offense was able to get into Cleveland territory in the first half their scoring opportunities were compromised by those penalties and poor execution.
Late in the first quarter of what at the time was a scoreless game the Bills were facing a 3rd-and-1 at the Cleveland 33, when a false start put them in a 3rd-and-6 situation. After an incomplete pass Buffalo elected to go for it on 4th-and-6 at the Browns 38, but Trent Edwards pass to Shawn Nelson fell incomplete leading to a turnover on downs.
The Bills suffered the same result in the second quarter. Down 3-0 Buffalo looked to be in position to at least tie the score with a 1st-and-10 at the Cleveland 17 after a 13-yard third down conversion catch by Terrell Owens. But a false start penalty set up a 1st-and-15 and the Bills never recovered.
In fact after Marshawn Lynch was dropped for a three-yard loss, and gained just two yards on a screen on the next play, Buffalo faced a 3rd-and-16 at the Cleveland 23. But Edwards was sacked for a loss of eight taking Buffalo out of field goal range heading into a stiff wind.
Going for it on 4th-and-24, Edwards threw an incomplete pass to the end zone that was intended for Owens leading to another turnover on downs.
"The good offenses stay in rhythm and we never really got into our rhythm," said Edwards. "We had penalties, we turned the ball over, people weren't in the right spots, a variety of different reasons. If you don't have rhythm, you can't offensively do anything and unfortunately that was the case."
"It's hard to move forward when you keep moving yourself back like that," said Lee Evans. "If we play like that every week we don't have a chance of beating anybody."
Buffalo didn't tie the score until their first possession of the third quarter as Marshawn Lynch took a short reception down the middle of the field for a 35-yard gain to the Browns 26. After an Edwards scramble on 3rd-and-8 at the 24 gained just six yards, Buffalo tied the score with a Rian Lindell 36-yard field goal.
The Bills reached Cleveland territory later in the third, but an Edwards pass intended for Terrell Owens on a broken play was intercepted by Eric Wright at the Browns eight-yard line.
Edwards struggled in the passing game for the third straight game. He was 16-31 for 135 yards and an interception. He was sacked twice.
The Browns run game was a bit better than Buffalo's as Jamal Lewis came off an injured hamstring to rush for 117 yards on 31 carries. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson combined for 99 yards on the ground.
Cleveland's passing game was non-existent as Derek Anderson completed just two of his 17 pass attempts for 23 yards. It was the fewest completions in a victory in the NFL since 2000 when Cincinnati signal callers Akili Smith (2-9 passing) and Scott Mitchell (0-5 passing) quarterbacked a 31-21 Bengals victory over Denver on a day when Corey Dillon ran for 278 yards.
"The defense is playing their butt off," said Fred Jackson. "The defense is doing their job and we have to do ours. We have to get our defense off the field. We are leaving them out there."
The defeat was Buffalo's third straight as their record now sits at 1-4.
"It is frustrating," said Bills COO/GM Russ Brandon. "I said it last week and I will say it again this week, this is a low point for the organization and the fan base. We worked our tails off in the offseason to put us in a position that should be better than where we are now. Certainly we understand the frustration of our fans and everyone that supports the organization."
Their next game is on the road as they resume their division play against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands for a 4pm kickoff.