No other answer but to say Bills choked

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
TORONTO -- Donte Whitner, he who boldly issued the summer guarantee his Buffalo Bills would make the playoffs this year, never is at a loss for words.

He was, however, at a loss for answers after Sunday's 16-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the Rogers Centre.

Whitner, the proud defensive captain, claimed the Bills have the players. He noted there are no loser attitudes in the locker room. He insisted head coach Dick Jauron has them properly prepared and should retain his job.

Beyond that, what else is there?

After I listened to Whitner grasp for a reason why the Bills had plunged from their perch as AFC East darlings and Super Bowl contenders since opening their season afire, there was only one possibility left to explore now that they owned a losing record.

I asked Whitner a question that included a vulgarity in the sporting lexicon. I asked him if the Bills had choked away their season.

"I would say so," Whitner replied grimly. "From the outside looking in, I would say that there was a choking element throughout the middle of this football season. I would honestly say that if I was on the outside looking in.

"As players, we have to make more plays. It's frustrating."

The Bills dashed to a 4-0 start and were 5-1 before their first AFC East game. Commentators across the land predicted a division title, a first-round bye, a conference crown.

Now the Bills are 6-7, and last in the AFC East. They have lost six of their past eight games, a gruesome stretch that began in Week 8.

With that, the Bills will fail to reach the postseason a ninth straight year.

"The reality of it is we had the opportunity to control our own destiny," Whitner said. "By losing those games in the middle of the season, that knocked us out. If you split those games, you're sitting very well right now. But in the middle of the season we didn't get the job done, point blank.

"When I made the guarantee I felt strongly about it, and I still feel strong about it. It's kind of dim right now, but I don't regret it. I hold my head up high."

In the losing locker room, Bills owner Ralph Wilson briefly spoke to reporters about his team's dreary defeat. For the second week in a row, they failed to score a touchdown.

Wilson disagreed with half of Whitner's evaluation. Wilson suggested the coaching staff was fine, but the players were the problem.

"We haven't got the talent," Wilson said. "We didn't play well. The coaches, they can't go out and kick the ball. They can't go out and tackle. What else is there to be involved?

"We got three points. The way we're playing, it's tough to get three points."

What a tease the Bills turned out to be. It's been an unfair joy ride for their forlorn fans that started careening back in October and finally rolled over in a ditch on Sunday.

The afternoon was an all-around kick in the teeth for the Bills' faithful. They were disgusted with ownership's decision to sell off eight of their games -- three preseason, five regular season -- to Toronto promoters for $78 million.

The announced crowd was 52,134, but there were empty seats around the sterile, domed stadium. Tickets could be purchased Sunday morning on the event Web site even though the game had been declared a sellout for broadcast purposes.

Rooting interests were mixed, with the Dolphins receiving plenty of cheers throughout the afternoon.

"It didn't feel like home-field advantage," Bills quarterback J.P. Losman said. "It was pretty quiet. It was not a typical Bills game. It wasn't near the loud factor that you would like to have, but with that said we didn't give them much to cheer about anyway. We just didn't play well enough to get things sparked."

Losman, filling in for injured starter Trent Edwards, completed 13 of 27 passes for 123 yards and zero touchdowns. He threw an interception in the end zone on a first-and-goal play from Miami's 3-yard line.

Losman's passer rating was 45.8, which in Canada would be 7.67 Celsius.

It is difficult to say which was more insulting to anxious Bills fans: The loss of a December home game against a divisional opponent to a city they've always feared will steal their team, or the Bills' record having atrophied to the point they won't have any games in January either.

"Somewhere in there we might've lost focus of what we were really supposed to do," said Whitner, still grasping for answers. "By winning those games early you become a target. You have a bull's-eye on you. We have to learn how to handle that bull's-eye because teams are going to come at you. We have to close out football games.

"I'm angry. I'm very angry. That's because I care. I don't know what to say. We didn't get it done."