Bills Eliminated From Playoff Contention, 37-10

Now they’re eliminated from the playoff race after their sixth straight loss, 37-10 to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

Coach Chan Gailey paused for a moment when asked if the Bills are demoralized.

“I hate to admit that,” he said. “I hate to say that’s it. I want to say if we’ll go execute with the players that we’ve got, I think we can be a respectable football team. I don’t know if we can be good right now but we can be respectable.”

Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes, two to Antonio Gates, for the Chargers (6-7), who have won two straight following their six-game losing streak. Minutes after the Chargers game ended, Denver beat Chicago in overtime to improve to 8-5 atop the AFC West.

Buffalo (5-8) won’t make the playoffs for the 12th straight year.

The Bills, like the Chargers, started the season 4-1. They were 5-2 after a 23-0 victory against Washington on Oct. 30 and haven’t won since.

So what’s happened?

“I promise you if I knew that I would tell you and do something about it,” Gailey said. “I’m sure it’s a combination of a lot of things. We’re not doing the things offensively that we were being very consistent with in the first seven weeks of the season. It’s my responsibility to find the answer, but I don’t have it today.”

In this matchup of desperate teams, the Chargers took control early and never let up.

Rivers was 24 of 33 for 240 yards. Ryan Mathews gained 114 yards on 20 carries, the first time he’s had three straight 100-yard games.

The Bills made it a game when Rivers fumbled while going back to pass early in the third quarter. The ball rolled into the end zone and Bryan Scott shoved aside the QB to recover for a touchdown that pulled the Bills to 16-10.

San Diego regained the momentum with the fake punt on the next drive. With the Chargers in punt formation at their 32, safety Eric Weddle, the up-back, took the snap and ran 10 yards for a first down. Vincent Jackson had consecutive catches of 16, 17 and 13 yards. Rivers scrambled for 9 yards and an apparent TD, but it came back on a holding call against right tackle Jeromey Clary. Three plays later, Gates broke free in the end zone for a 2-yard scoring catch.

On Buffalo’s first play from scrimmage, Steve Gregory intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned it 26 yards for a 30-10 lead.

Rivers also threw a 26-yard scoring pass to Patrick Crayton.

Fitzpatrick was 13 of 34 for 176 and two interceptions.

The Chargers scored on their first three drives. Rivers was 6 for 6 for 63 yards on the opening possession, including a 9-yard TD pass to Gates.

Weddle intercepted Fitzpatrick when the ball bounced of the back of linebacker Na’il Diggs and returned it 26 yards to the San Diego 45, Rivers completed two more passes for 20 yards and Mike Tolbert finished the drive with a 1-yard run. The PAT was blocked and San Diego lead 13-0.

“He’s always trying to make a play and he makes them a lot of times the first part of the year,” Gailey said of his QB. “Now that ball is getting tipped up and caught by the other team. At times he misses some things he hit earlier in the season.”

Mathews’ 37-yard burst up the middle on the next drive set up Nick Novak’s 47-yard field goal for a 16-0 lead that held up at halftime.

The Bills had an impressive drive to open the second half, including Stevie Johnson’s 53-yard catch-and-run, to reach the Chargers’ 9-yard line. But two incompletions by Fitzpatrick and a sack by Antwan Barnes forced the Bills to settle for Dave Rayner’s 37-yard field goal.

Notes: Gates became the 27th player in NFL history with 75 touchdown catches. He’s within five catches of overtaking Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner, the team’s receivers coach, for all-time receptions (586). … Rivers’ lost fumble was his fifth, giving him an NFL-high 22 turnovers. … Fitzpatrick set a career high with 3,013 yards passing, making him the second Bills QB with consecutive 3,000-yard seasons (Jim Kelly 1988-89, 1991-95).

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THE FIFTH DOWN; Bills (5-5) at Jets ( 5-5)

1 p.m. Eastern, CBS

Matchup to Watch: –Jets Receivers –vs. Bills’ secondary

Despite the Jets’ inconsistent passing game, this is, in theory, a favorable matchup for them. Buffalo placed the starting cornerback Terrence McGee on injured reserve, and his potential replacement, Aaron Williams, is a rookie coming off a serious collarbone injury. The Jets victimized this unit on Nov. 6, when Santonio Holmes drew two pass-interference calls and Plaxico Burress picked on the nickel back Leodis McKelvin, who did not play on defense last Sunday against Miami.

Number to Watch: 38.8

The percentage of Buffalo’s offense provided by running back Fred Jackson, who was placed on injured reserve last week. Think the Bills will miss him? Taking over will be C.–J. Spiller, their first-round pick in 2010, who has yet to make much of an impact in the N.F.L. Spiller forces the Jets to adjust a few of their packages, but their goal remains what it was on Nov. 6: stop the run and disrupt Buffalo’s short passing game.

Quotation of the Week

”I’m sure the brothers talked.”

Buffalo Coach CHAN GAILEY, when asked whether the Bills’ last two opponents, Dallas and Miami, had borrowed from the Jets’ defensive blueprint from their Nov. 6 meeting. The Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, and Jets Coach Rex Ryan are twins.

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.

GRAPHICS

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Struggling Bills Heading Toward Uncertain Future

After five straight losses, barring a sporting miracle, the Bills (5-7) will miss the National Football League (NFL) playoffs for a 12th straight year, a run of gridiron failure that could stand alone.

If the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans clinch a post-season spot as expected, the Bills will become the only NFL team not to make a playoff appearance since 1999, heaping more misery on a franchise that has had just one winning campaign in 11 seasons.

“It’s hard. It’s tough. It’s no fun,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said about his team’s flickering playoff hopes. “I know we’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and you don’t ever concede it until you are, but at the same time it’d be very difficult for us to make it.

“You feel a huge responsibility to the organization, to the football team and to the fans.”

The glow from a 4-1 start to the season, which included an upset of AFC East powerhouse New England, has long faded as evidenced by the more than 16,000 unsold seats at the Bills’ home loss last Sunday to the Tennessee Titans.

The game was the first this season the Bills failed to sell enough tickets for to prevent a local television blackout and with two home dates remaining against Miami on December 18 and Denver on December 24 the chances of a full stadium seem remote.

“The fans have been awesome especially early on when we were winning games,” said Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was rewarded with a six-year $59 million contract extension after the team’s quick start. “This was truly a home field advantage and it was electric.

“The way that we’ve played lately hasn’t been good enough.”

Sitting at the eastern end of Lake Erie, winters are long and hard in Buffalo and this year’s could be particularly nasty with the franchise’s future once again in doubt.

The Bills’ 93-year-old owner Ralph Wilson has been secretive about succession plans for the franchise while the 38-year-old stadium that bears his name in the tiny hamlet of Orchard Park is in desperate need of major renovations with the current lease agreement set to expire in 2013.

“You absolutely have the perfect storm for a team that may get relocated,” Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University’s Tisch Center told Reuters. “The NFL has its roots in small cities like Buffalo and Green Bay, around the Great Lakes and if you are the NFL, you would hate to lose that legacy.

“But on the other hand the city of Toronto beckons 60 miles away with incredible wealth and a cosmopolitan environment that has to seem appealing.”

FAN BASE

The Bills’ problems extend well beyond a losing record and aging stadium. Like other cities in the Rust Belt, the city of Buffalo has watched businesses flee and its population shrink.

Desperate to expand its fan base, Wilson sold five regular season games and three preseason contests between 2008 and 2012 to their northern neighbours in Toronto for $78 million.

With a robust corporate community, the Toronto market is one the Bills may have to keep leaning on to remain viable.

But Toronto has an eye on a permanent NFL team of its own while Los Angeles, with plans for a new stadium in place, will soon be looking for a tenant.

The biggest concern for Bills fans, however, may well be the health of the team’s owner.

It is not known if Wilson has a succession plan in place and without one the Bills franchise could die with their owner.

“Let’s say the Bills get a very conservative evaluation of $600 million, you’re talking about an inheritance tax for Ralph Wilson heirs of around $300 million,” explained Boland. “They may be forced to leave Buffalo because of the inheritance tax situation.

“If Mr. Wilson were to pass away, this team in Buffalo may not be savable.

“The sad part about this is that if Buffalo were to lose their team is that there is no other city other than Green Bay where a pro sport franchise probably means as much.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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