ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — They came within a Hail Mary. Remember that. Needing a touchdown to win, Baker Mayfield threw the football 45 yards in the air and Chris Godwin just couldn’t get his head around in time to track it in the end zone.
The pass fell incomplete and the Bucs had lost their third straight game, this time 24-18 to the Bills.
The locker room was silent as a church prayer following the game, but the Bucs have not lost their faith in a season that went from 3-1 to 3-4 in the span of 12 days.
“Losing three in a row sucks,” Mayfield said. “There’s no way around that. ... But we showed fight tonight. That’s the one thing we can hang our hats on. We gave it everything we had late there, but we’ve got to play better early on. You can’t hurt yourselves.”
The Bucs cost themselves chances with 11 penalties for 74 yards, nine of them on offense. Defensively, they couldn’t contain Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who passed for 324 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 41 yards and a score.
“The biggest thing for us is the quarterback hurt us with his legs,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He had seven carries for 41 yards and they were critical. He hurt us with his feet.”
Overall, it wasn’t a great night for the Bucs defense, either. They allowed more than 400 yards of offense.
And yet, when safety Antoine Winfield Jr. tipped a pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman William Gholston at the Buffalo 23-yard line with 7:40 left in the second quarter, the Bucs were back in business.
Mayfield found running back Rachaad White in the flat for a 20-yard gain. On the next play, he threaded a needle to Chris Godwin for a 3-yard touchdown, his first of the season.
“(Mayfield) gave me a shot and put the ball where only I could get it,” Godwin said. “I was trying to make a contested catch that receivers pride themselves on. It felt good to get back in the end zone. It’s been a little while.”
Unfortunately, the Bucs defense couldn’t get a stop. Allen drove the Bills 75 yards to retake the lead, at 17-10, on a 22-yard pass to tight end Dillon Kincaid.
Then came a bizarre sequence for Bowles and the Bucs at the end of the first half.
Facing fourth and 3 from the Buffalo 41-yard line with 19 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Bowles sent place-kicker Chase McLaughlin out to attempt a 59-yard field goal.
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Considering how the Bucs had struggled scoring points, and the fact there wouldn’t be much time left for Buffalo to score before the first half ended, a more aggressive play would have been to go for it and sustain the drive.
But Bowles said he was just trying to draw the Bills offsides and decided to take the delay-of-game penalty and have Jake Camarda punt the football deep.
The Bills nearly put the game away when Allen took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards in eight plays, capped by his 4-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Davis for a 24-10 lead.
Mayfield battled. He finished 25-of-41 for 237 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked three times and hit on 10 other occasions.
He came into the game with a sore knee and was hobbling around on it. His right forearm and shoulder was skinned up after the game.
“I’ll say this, I’m happy we’ve got a long weekend,” Mayfield said.
The Bills safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, did a great job of disguising coverages and confused Mayfield. They also took Mike Evans out of the game. He had only one catch for 7 yards until the fourth quarter and finished with 3 for 39 yards.
“When it comes to disguising coverages as safeties, you can tell those guys have had a lot of snaps together,” Mayfield said. “Normally one guy will give it away what they’re doing. They’re like two peas in a pod moving at the same time like they’re on a string.”
The Bucs still managed to mount a marathon drive at the end of the game to get within one score. Mayfield connected with Evans on a 24-yard touchdown to cap a 17-play, 92-yard drive.
“We have the fight, now we need to show we have the execution of the fundamental stuff,” Mayfield said.
Godwin said he was close to catching the Hail Mary at the end, and he made some contact with the Bills defender.
“They had a guy pressed on me,” Godwin said. “I had to avoid him so I’m a little late to the party. So when I get there, I just tried to look up and find the way. I wasn’t sure whether he grabbed me or not, but by the time I got my head around, I saw the ball coming in low.
“I think Baker gave us a great ball, a great opportunity to make a play on it. It’s a game of inches and if I’m able to get my head around a little quicker, if I’m there a little sooner, I think maybe I make a play on it.”
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