A Game of Inches


Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

Football is a game of inches. Inches turn into feet and feet turn into yards. And yards, of course, turn into what feels like miles.

But it all starts with inches.

Looking back on the Buffalo Bills mid-season slump, it’s easy to see how Bills fans can feel like this team is just plain awful. The turnover difference alone was abysmal. Minus 11 over the six game stretch where they were 1-5. But add to that the apparent ineptitude of the run game, as well as the general lack of production from the offense… and you have some sizable “inches”.

The problem is, from a slightly different perspective, you can see how it really is about the inches.

Take for example, the game against the Jets. If all things were equal – meaning Trent gets injured on play number three of the Cards game, and the Bills are stunned by the Fish, and they remain befuddled by Belichick’s gameplans, and they even lose a very winnable game to the hapless Browns – winning just one game in which they were very competitive, they would be in a tie for first place in the AFC East, instead of two games out. Just by winning that one game.

Ugh.

Remember that game? The Bills had the ball for fifteen straight minutes. Game minutes, not clock minutes. They moved into the red zone once and, thanks to good pressure from the Jets and a receiver slipping, the ball went the other way for seven points. The next time, thanks to a couple very questionable spots, the Bills could not get a first down deep in the Jets territory. Two long drives, zero points.

Add to that the crazy play by Leon Washington to step out of bounds and then touch the ball that was still IN BOUNDS in order to get the Jets the ball at the 40 rather than inside their own 10. Or, the Bills inability to stop the Jets on the final drive of the 4th quarter where they took off a big chunk of time and posted three more points. (Credit the Jets on that one.)

But for a few key plays, the Bills could have won that game, and been in a much different position than they find themselves in now.

Now they are 0-3 in their division. If they have any hopes of advancing to the playoffs, they will need to win the rest of the games they play in the AFC East. At the New York Jets, “home” against the Dolphins (in Toronto), and then home against the Patriots in the final week of the season. None of those will be easy, but the Bills certainly can compete in each of those games.

If we’re talking inches, don’t forget that the Bills were stunned by Miami’s Ted Ginn Jr. who had the game of his life when they last met. Even with Ginn’s stunning performance, the Bills had clawed back to take a 16-7 lead in the third quarter. But one player – Josh Reed – went down with a serious injury, and the offense began to sputter. One player was hobbled by an injury – Terrance McGee – and that deficiency was exploited… greatly.

But for a few different plays, a different player, a few different calls, an NFL season can look very, very different altogether. Just ask the San Diego Chargers. Losers of four games in the final 26 seconds of those games… they are a pitiful 4-7 this season, but could very well be 8-3. That’s a very big difference.

Every game in the NFL is critical. Wins and losses matter more in football than in any other sport I can think of. With only 16 games per season, and only 6 games total against the other teams in your division, it’s almost essential you win every game! The Bills have been sloppy at points (Miami, Cleveland) and unlucky in others (Arizona, NY Jets) and now they are stuck with a 6-5 record, and still on the outside edge of the proverbial playoff bubble.

Every year, players and fans can look back at “what might have been” but in the end, that really never helps. The Jets game is over, and the Bills lost. The difference is first to last place, from just one game, but you can’t get it back. Now the Bills can only look forward, and hope to win every game they play. 10-6 may not be good enough to make the playoffs this year.

Actually, 11-5 might miss the playoffs!

If the Bills won all the rest of their games – finishing 11-5 – the Jets would lose one, to the Bills, but could win the rest of theirs, to finish 12-4. The Patriots would only be able to finish 11-5, by virtue of of a loss to the Bills, and the Fins could only finish 9-7, again, after a loss to the Bills, and assuming they lose to the Jets in week 17. What could keep the Bills out of the playoffs is if Indy and Baltimore also win the rest of their games, to both go 12-4 and grab the two wild card spots! What a crazy scenario that is!

A better scenario for Bills fans would be for the Jets to lose to the Dolphins, and finish 11-5 at best, and then the Bills would win the division based on the better conference record (would be 8-4). That would send the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since 1999!

But any way you slice it, thanks to this game of inches… the Bills need help. They can’t make the playoffs on their own. They have to do their share (beating all three division opponents at least, and probably Denver, too, if not all five games) but even if they can accomplish that, they won’t be in the playoffs unless other teams falter.

How does it always end up this way?

Somehow, the Bills need to find a way to get on the other side of the ruler. We’re only talking a matter of inches.