Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
CLEVELAND – When you play as poorly on offense as the Buffalo Bills have almost all season, it’s eventually going to come back to burn you and you’re not going to beat the most recent bad team on your schedule.
For most of Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Buffalo offense was downright putrid, and only through luck and the Browns’ own ineptitude were the Bills ahead 16-12 with 5:26 left to play.
But those paltry 16 points were not enough and Baker Mayfield marched Cleveland 82 yards to his game-winning 7-yard touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins with 1:44 remaining to give the Browns a 19-16 victory in yet another ugly affair between these two Lake Erie rivals.
And what made it worse is the loss could have been avoided had the Bills done anything on offense. Instead, after a frantic final drive fizzled, they were left to attempt a 53-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining, and Stephen Hauschka capped his terrible day by missing by a mile.
Of course, the way the game started, it looked like the Browns, who entered Sunday on a four-game losing skid, were going to decimate the Bills rather than barely pull out the victory. On Cleveland’s first two offensive possessions, it looked the Bills had dressed 11 ghosts on their on their defense and it was somewhat amazing that the score wasn’t 14-0. Instead, the Bills escaped that early turmoil trailing only 6-0.
Cleveland’s first drive was ridiculously easy, a six-play, 75-yard breeze as the Bills couldn’t cover, couldn’t tackle, couldn’t do anything. However, after Jarvis Landry beat Levi Wallace clean for a 17-yard TD reception from Mayfield, he stupidly taunted the Buffalo cornerback, drawing a 15-yard penalty. That forced a 48-yard extra point, and Austin Seibert pushed it wide right.
On the Bills’ first offensive play, Robert Foster drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty at the Browns 45, but the Bills went nowhere and Josh Allen’s fourth-down pass to John Brown was terribly off target and Cleveland took over at the 39.
In no time the Browns had first-and-goal at the 1, and then the folly began. They ran eight plays, counting penalties against the Bills, and never scored, the last a fourth-down failure when Nick Chubb was stuffed for a loss of two yards.
After an exchange of punts, the Bills put together a nine-play, 76-yard drive that ended with Allen scampering untouched up the middle on a designed QB draw for a 10-yard touchdown. Hauschka’s extra point gave Buffalo a 7-6 lead which, based on how the game felt, seemed surreal.
More red zone difficulty followed as the Browns drove to first-and-goal at the three and couldn’t cross the goal line, leaving Seibert to kick a 27-yard field goal.
At that point, the Browns had run 11 plays inside the 3 and the Bills had run only 17 plays, total. Yet if not for Hauschka hooking a 34-yard field wide left with 16 seconds left in the half which spoiled a nice drive, Buffalo would have gone to intermission leading rather than down 9-7.
That deficit didn’t last long, though. After a Buffalo punt to start the third quarter, Tremaine Edmunds blew in from the left side of the defense to sack Mayfield for a safety, a beautifully-schemed call by the Buffalo defensive staff.
With a chance to perhaps gain control, the Bills offense failed again, doing nothing after the free kick, and Cleveland eventually marched to a go-ahead 47-yard field goal by Seibert, taking a 12-9 lead into the final quarter.
After some more back-and-forth offensive misery for both teams, a 22-yard punt return by Andre Roberts gave the Bills their best drive start of the day at the Cleveland 48 with 9:10 to go. It was time to finally do something, and Allen did.
He opened with a nice throw on a crossing route to Dawson Knox who lumbered 21 yards. After a holding penalty on Lee Smith, Allen threw a laser over the middle to Cole Beasley for 26 yards to the Cleveland 11.
Pushed to third-and-10, Allen took off on a scramble and did what Allen does; he fumbled. But incredibly, for the seventh time on his 10 fumbles this season, the Bills recovered, and this one was unbelievable as 325-pound guard Jon Feliciano acrobatically scooped it and fell forward to the 1, converting the first down. Two plays later, Allen snuck in from there to give the Bills a 16-12 lead with 5:26 to go.
But then Mayfield had his answer, though it wasn’t without some terror for the Dawg Pound when Jerry Hughes appeared to return a Mayfield fumble for a touchdown. Instead, the play was properly reversed on replay to an incomplete pass, and pretty soon, Mayfield hit Landry with a gorgeous 24-yard pass to the 7 which set up Higgins’ winning score.