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Pollock column: Flags? Taking a knee? Bills apologists are whining in the wrong place

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

So, in the two days since the Bills conjured that appalling 37-34 overtime loss to the Eagles, Sunday evening in Philadelphia, Buffalo fans who have approached me have two targets for their ire.

One is the officiating, which seemed to favor the home team, the other is the failure of coach Sean McDermott to let Josh Allen have a crack at getting into position for the potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of regulation after Philly had tied it.

LET’S START with the second complaint first.

After Jake Elliott’s 59-yarder tied it at 31, his touchback kickoff gave Buffalo the ball at its own 25 with 20 seconds left and one timeout remaining in regulation.

McDermott wisely chose a kneel-down and overtime.

The next day, some of the “experts” on Buffalo TV filletted the Bills’ coach for passing up a chance to win the game in regulation using, as their argument, the Thanksgiving Day game last year in Detroit. The Lions had tied it 25-25 and Buffalo got the ball on its own 25 with 23 seconds and three timeouts.

It took Allen three plays to navigate Buffalo into field goal position and Tyler Bass kicked the winner as time expired.

The television second-guessers ran with that scenario, conveniently ignoring a trio of critical facts: In that game, Buffalo had three more seconds than Sunday, a full complement of timeouts and, most critical of all, the game was played at Ford Field, a dome, with perfect conditions.

After the Eagles victory, McDermott admitted, “I thought about going for it, but  with their pass rushers and 20 seconds, I wanted to make sure (we didn’t lose in that situation). I was trying to end the game a couple of plays before using the timeout on third down. It was the 41 (yard line), trying to make sure we had the right defense and making a tough field goal, which it was. (With) the rain, make the kicker think about it a little bit … and then he made a 59-yard field goal. Great play by him, and then we’re left with one (timeout). So, we went to overtime and had a chance to win it and didn’t.”

What he didn’t say was that his own kicker, Bass, had already missed two of his three attempts, a 34-yarder that was blocked and a 48-yarder that was wide right. Then there was the weather, driving rain, crosswind and trying to drive 40 yards with a wet ball, knowing that a turnover could have given Philadelphia a shot at the winning field goal.

The other thing he didn’t address was obvious.

McDermott’s strategy worked perfectly nonetheless.

The game went to overtime, the Bills won the toss, and Allen took them down to the lead field goal.

Then they lost for the fourth time in the last eight games after leading in the final quarter of regulation.

Every one of those falls on the defense for which McDermott had taken over as play-caller. Leslie Frazier, the former DC,  is too classy to be holding his sides at the disaster that McDermott has wrought, but it has to occur to him that the last regular season he held that position Buffalo was 13-3 … seven wins better than 6-6 and virtually out of the playoff hunt.

THE OTHER complaint I keep hearing is about the officials.

To be sure, NFL officiating has been horrid this year, everywhere. And, on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, the bad calls seemed to benefit the Eagles.

But it’s worth reminding Buffalo fans that it was an unflagged holding call in the end zone on the game’s final play that let the Bills sneak away with a win over the Giants in Orchard Park.

Here’s where I am on officiating … yes, bad calls can cost games, but losing teams tend to be heavy contributors to the defeat.

Take the Eagles game.

Buffalo committed 10 first-half infractions, but still led 17-7 at intermission. There was also a sure touchdown pass dropped, two missed field goals, and the overtime-winning TD pass falling incomplete in the end zone because Allen and wide receiver Gabe Davis failed to communicate.

So no, this loss isn’t on the stripes, it’s totally on another late-game failure by McDermott’s defense.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

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