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Winning close games could be Bills' Achilles' heel

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Down two points to the Miami Dolphins with 18 seconds on the clock and no timeouts on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills needed to finish off a game-winning drive.

Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie caught a pass that could have gotten them closer to field goal range, but he was unable to get out of bounds and time ran out.

The loss to the Dolphins pushed the to 0-7 in one-score games since Week 9 of the 2020 season. Only Buffalo and the Houston Texans (0-6-1) haven't won a one-score game since the start of the 2021 season. During that same time frame, the Bills (2-1) are tied for the third-most regular-season wins (21-8).

This season, 18 games have been decided by three or fewer points, the most through three weeks in NFL history. Figuring out how to put away close games could be important with tough matchups ahead, including a game in Baltimore against the Ravens (2-1) and quarterback Lamar Jackson on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“It's an ongoing conversation,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We spent a lot of time in those last two to three plays of the game situations on all sides of the ball. You see us working on two-minute out there quite a bit, as much as I've ever been around to be honest with you.”

Some of the Bills’ woes in close games fall on the defense. In one-score games in the fourth quarter or overtime since Week 9 of 2020, the Bills’ opponents have averaged the most passing yards per attempt (9.06) in the league and only been sacked three times (fewest). Buffalo’s defense has also recorded one takeaway (worst in the NFL) in those situations.

“I just feel like we just gotta do a better job executing at the end of the game,” nickel cornerback Taron Johnson said. “That's what it comes down to when you're tired in that fourth quarter, it's easy to make mistakes, you know? So, we really just gotta buckle down and just making sure we’re staying focused and executing.”

The Dolphins had the ball only twice in the fourth quarter but scored a touchdown on a 3-yard run by running back Chase Edmonds after converting a third-and-22 on a 45-yard pass earlier in the drive from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. The inability to stop the big plays, especially when the Bills have the lead, is a problem.

Injuries hampered the Bills in Sunday's game too, especially in the secondary with safety Micah Hyde (neck) placed on injured reserve and out for the season and safety Jordan Poyer (foot) and cornerback Dane Jackson (neck) missing the game. Rookie cornerback Christian Benford broke his right hand during the game, which required surgery, and the team was also without defensive tackles Ed Oliver (ankle) and Jordan Phillips (hamstring).

“The games come down, it's in the margins most games, right, in terms of what separates winning from losing and whatnot,” McDermott said. “And I think it's the details, the execution, and there's a lot that goes into that.”

The Bills' offense has moved the ball in tight games but has struggled to take advantage in the red zone. The Bills have scored touchdowns on 22.2% of red zone drives at the end of close games since Week 9 of 2020 (32nd) and averaged 4.57 points per game in those situations (31st). The Bills’ 64% red zone efficiency is tied for 11th in the NFL this season. Keeping the ball and sustaining drives isn't a concern. Finishing them in tight situations is.

When the Bills have been winning, they've been winning big, with a 31.3-point differential in wins since Week 9 of 2020, highest in the league. But losing the close games has proved costly, like when the Bills had to go on the road to Kansas City in the 2021 playoffs because of the six close loses that season. While ending that streak is important, players say they aren't concerned.

“Every game’s a different situation,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “Obviously, we got to find ways to win them. But we're working through that, and we don't see that as a problem at all.”