Johnson, Chandler split on crucial fumbles

TORONTO -- Unavoidable mistake or preventable error?

When it comes to the Buffalo Bills' pair of fumbles late in Sunday's 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons, it depends on whom you ask.

With the game tied late in the fourth quarter and the Bills driving, wide receiver Stevie Johnson caught a pass across the middle and was heading towards the sideline when cornerback Robert McClain punched the ball out from behind. The Falcons recovered, sending the game to overtime.

"No it's not tough at all, no matter if you're a veteran or a rookie. You catch the ball and tuck it. He made a play. It is what it is," Johnson said. "That's what we have to charge it to. It ain't like we had the ball loose or outside of our body. They made a good play and we got to commend them on it."

In other words, it was an unavoidable mistake.

But it was a costly one. Had Johnson held onto the ball, the Bills would have been well within field goal range with about 20 seconds left in regulation. Chances are, they would've walked away from Toronto with their second win in their six-game history north of the border.

Still, the Bills had life after the first fumble. They won the overtime coin toss and on their second play, tight end Scott Chandler gained 22 yards on another pass across the middle.

Then it happened again. Falcons safety William Moore forced Chandler to fumble and cornerback Robert Alford picked it up.

"Right as I put the ball away, I didn't get my hand underneath it enough, and the guy hit it right on the ball and just knocked it loose," Chandler said. "Really disappointing. Obviously you want to be able to protect the ball in that situation and you want to make a play that helps your team win and not the play that really turns the tide to make your team lose."

So in Chandler's mind, it was a preventable error.

Either way, this much is true: The Bills played well enough to win Sunday but when it came down to it, two of their veterans couldn't hold onto the football.

"A lot of fingers are going to point at them," coach Doug Marrone said. "That's what I told the players afterwards."

However, Marrone put the emphasis on what happened in the first 59 minutes of regulation that led to their loss against a 2-9 team that had already been eliminated from the playoffs.

"At the end of the day, you don't like it to come down to those plays. There's other things that go on during the game," he said. "We have to do a better job all around so the game doesn't come down to that. We want to be better than that."