The rookie quarterback put his team in a position to win the game twice.
TORONTO — The rookie quarterback drove his team to the winning score twice. Twice, one of the rookie's reliable veterans had the game punched out of their grasp. E.J. Manuel had plenty of shaky moments, but he was at his best when the Bills needed him to be.
The problem? William Moore made the biggest play of the game — twice.
First, Robert McClain punched the ball away from Johnson and Moore made the recovery to prevent a game-winning field goal try at the end of regulation. Then, Moore poked the ball away from Scott Chandler in overtime in two plays all too familiar for the heart of a Bills' fan to bear.
"I'm hurting," said Bills head coach Doug Marrone. "I'm mad … I'm upset. There are words I can't use to describe how I feel."
Manuel made the clutch pass on 3rd down to Johnson for 14 yards. All that's left is a Dan Carpenter field goal to win an exciting game — for a change — in Toronto.
"They made an intangible play to get the ball back," said Johnson. "The guy came from behind and ripped it out."
OK, fumbles happen, McClain made a great play. The Atlanta Falcons showed plenty of fight despite their season being lost.
It couldn't happen again, right? Who are we kidding? These are the Bills.
Manuel and the Bills facing a 2nd-and-7 from their own 23 and the rookie hits Chandler over the middle for 22 yards. The Bills are on the move and in position to win the game again. Not so fast.
"I didn't get my hand underneath it enough and the guy hit it right on the ball and just knocked it loose," said Chandler.
One Matt Ryan pass to Harry Douglas and a few Steven Jackson gave Matt Bryant the opportunity Carpenter deserved.
"You want to make all the plays, and you want to finish all the plays the right way, but we just didn't do that," said Chandler.
The explanations are the same, the feelings are the same, and so are these Buffalo Bills. Marrone has ushered in a new era, but so far there is too much evidence that the previous ineptitude remains.
These incomprehensible losses continue to pile up for a Bills team that has shown plenty of promise this season. There are signs that things are different and Marrone and Manuel are leading a new age. However, there are also an alarming number of signs that these are just the same old Bills.
The Bills' eighth loss of 2013 all but made these final four games of the season meaningless when it comes to the standings. Mathematics is all that stands in the way of the Bills and a 14th consecutive season without the playoffs.
Marrone has bristled at the idea of this being a rebuilding season. He expected his team to win immediately, and why shouldn't he? It's been long enough for this franchise.
Still, this team lets games slip away like a bad team should. A good team wins a game like Sunday's in Toronto, and isn't left to explain another heartbreaker.
"This is definitely one we can learn from," said Bills running back Fred Jackson. "This is a taste in our mouth we hopefully will never have to deal with again."
We've heard those words before. The Bills have had a lot of losses over the last decade-plus they can learn from, yet they never learn.
They've experienced the bitter taste of Sunday's 34-31 loss to a cooked Falcons team many times before. Yet, here they are again wondering what went wrong.
"We're going to get to a point where it's not going to come down to calls or a drop, it's not going to come down to this or that," said Marrone. "We're going to work our tails off and become good enough where that stuff doesn't matter and we don't have to sit here and make excuses or feel the way we feel."
Marrone better hope he's right about that because only then will the Bills truly learn from all these gut-punch losses.