ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – To be stopped a yard short of victory is excruciating for any football team. But to have it happen twice at the same end of the field on separate possessions in the same game is a special kind of agony.
Just ask the Giants.
On the final play of each half Sunday night in Highmark Stadium, the Giants snapped the ball from the Buffalo Bills' one-yard line. In the first half, Saquon Barkley was stopped for no gain and time expired before the Giants could get off another play.
That unfortunate sequence would have been forgotten and forgiven had the Giants been able to capitalize on their second in-close opportunity. Thanks to a defensive pass interference penalty, the Giants again had the ball at the one with no time remaining in regulation. But on the untimed down, tight end Darren Waller was unable to secure Tyrod Taylor's pass to the back of the end zone, finalizing the Giants' 14-9 loss in a game they led 6-0 entering the final quarter.
"I thought we competed hard," coach Brian Daboll said. "Obviously, you'd always like a few plays back. But it's a tough one. They're all tough, you put a lot into it. This is a hell of a football team that we played, in a great environment, a tough place to play and 60 minutes, zero time on the clock. It's a tough one."
"It's always a gut punch when we lose," safety Xavier McDaniel said. "It's not the result that we wanted. We gotta go back to the drawing board."
The Giants lost their fourth consecutive game and fell to 1-5. They did not score an offensive touchdown for the third consecutive game and have not scored one in the first half of any game this season.
Three Graham Gano field goals, the longest from 43 yards, accounted for all the Giants' scoring. The Giants made five forays into the red zone but came away with just the three field goals and the two missed opportunities.
Buffalo scored on fourth-quarter Josh Allen touchdown passes of three yards to Deonte Harty on the first play of the fourth quarter and 15 yards to Quintin Morris with 3:48 remaining.
But it was the frantic final moments of each half that ultimately determined the outcome.
Leading 6-0, the Giants' defense forced its second turnover of the game when Bobby Okereke tipped an Allen pass for Dalton Knox that was intercepted by fellow linebacker Micah McFadden. That gave the Giants the ball at their own 41 with 2:23 remaining in the first half.
The Giants used their final timeout with 24 seconds remaining before Taylor – who played the entire game in place of the injured Daniel Jones – threw two passes that weren't caught. But on the second, cornerback Kaiir Elam was penalized for interfering with Darius Slayton, giving the Giants a first down at the one with 14 seconds left. A Barkley run up the middle was stopped for no gain by Terrel Bernard and Christian Benford. The Giants tried to get to the line to spike the ball and stop the clock, but time bled out before they could.
"They did a good job of holding me down, standing on top," Barkley said. "They knew the situation."
As did the Giants, who originally called a pass.
"Had a play called, it was a run action pass play and ended up alerting it to a run," Daboll said. "Didn't get it off. … He (Taylor) saw a look based on the play that we had, and he ended up alerting it to a run."
"It was a decision, looking back on it, definitely shouldn't have made," Taylor said. "Alerted to a run, thought I saw a look that was beneficial for us, and it wasn't the right call. That falls on me, as a quarterback, as a leader, as the one that's communicating everything to everyone – got to be better in that situation."
Barkley characteristically put the blame on his shoulders.
"We had something wrong where we could run it, and we changed it to a run, and they made a play," Barkley said. "I got to do a better job getting in the end zone there. We know we got to find a way to come up with points there, but I put that on me. I got the ball in my hands on that play and got to find a way to score."
Instead of leading by nine or 13, the Giants took a six-point lead into the locker room.
It stayed that way until the first play of the fourth quarter. Harty was split wide left, went in motion toward Allen, then reversed himself at the snap and was without company when he caught the pass that gave Buffalo a 7-6 lead. On the scoring drive, Buffalo went 89 yards in 17 plays and took 9:58 off the clock.
Gano put the Giants back on top at 9-7 with his third field goal and second 29-yarder.
Allen and the Bills responded on their ensuing possession with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with the quarterback evading the rush and throwing to Morris, who caught the ball despite being blanketed by safety Dane Belton.
"It's a scramble drill," Belton said. "It's hard trying to cover that long and they just put a ball in the right place. It's a good play and just try to be better next time. Be tighter."
Two minutes later, the Giants' situation looked bleak when Taylor's fourth-down pass to Slayton fell incomplete. With Buffalo owning the ball, the Giants had to use their final two timeouts on defense. Faced with a fourth-and-nine at the Giants' 36-yard line with 1:29 left, Bills coach Sean McDermott could have run the ball, taken 40 seconds off the clock, and then pinned the Giants deep in their own territory with a punt. But he opted to have Tyler Bass – who earlier was wide right on a 52-yard field goal attempt – try a 53-yarder. That also sailed right of the upright.
Suddenly, the Giants had the ball at their own 43 with 1:25 left and a chance to win the game. They managed to run 13 plays in that time, the longest a 12-yard pass to rookie receiver Jalin Hyatt.
But the biggest play was one that goes into the official game summary as "no play." The Giants were on the nine when the ball was snapped with two seconds left. Taylor's pass to Waller hit the ground, but Bernard was flagged for pass interference, moving the ball to one-yard line and giving the Giants the untimed down.
The Giants considered running the ball, as they had at the end of the half.
"There was some discussion, but we'd been stopped on two third-and-ones," Daboll said. "We'd been stopped on the goal line at the end of the half, so I thought it was a good call by (offensive coordinator) Mike (Kafka)."
The call was a pass and Taylor didn't change it. He threw to Waller, who may or may not have been held by Taron Johnson. The pass was incomplete, and the Bills began celebrating a victory many expected them to get but few thought would be so close.
"I think it was a good call," Taylor said. "Give one of our better playmakers a chance to make a play and we didn't execute it as well as we should've. They made a great play, hats off to them."
"All you can ask for at the end of the day is a chance to make a play like that for your team," Waller said. "So, it's just disappointing that it didn't happen the way that I would have wanted it to, or the team would have wanted it to, but all you can do is ask for an opportunity.
"Just thinking back, I may have wasted a little bit more effort trying to push him away as opposed to just going up and getting the football. I haven't seen the play yet, but I'll go back and look at it for what it is and build from there."
As will the Giants.
View photos from the Giants' Week 6 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.