Jets 19 Bills 13
TORONTO — It’s going to take a little while longer before the Rogers Centre starts feeling like home for the Buffalo Bills.
The NFL team saw its offence sputter for a second straight game in Toronto and headed back down the highway with a 19-13 loss to the New York Jets on Thursday.
Buffalo will play regular season games here each of the next three years and is still looking for its first win in Canada that counts in the standings. Even though the announced crowd of 51,567 was decidedly pro-Bills, wide receiver Terrell Owens didn’t feel like it was enough to give his team the edge.
“It was a neutral site,” said Owens. “There was a lot of excitement just by the game itself being here in Toronto. I saw an array of jerseys from all across the league. I don’t think either team had an advantage.”
Last season, the Bills were beaten 16-3 by Miami in their first regular season game at Rogers Centre.
They’ve won exhibition games here in the past but will be anxious for a real victory when they return in 2010. Buffalo is playing five regular season games and three exhibition contests in Toronto as part of a $78-million deal with Rogers Communications.
Once the game started Thursday night, interim Bills coach Perry Fewell forgot where he was.
“To be very honest, against the Jets, I made the statement that we could have played in the parking lot because it’s the Jets,” said Fewell. “It’s a division game. But I did think the atmosphere was good, I thought the fans were good.
“I was so focused on the Jets and accomplishing that job that I wasn’t really all into the hoopla.”
The Bills were the home team and, unlike in last year’s regular-season loss to Miami when fan loyalties were split equally, there was no doubt this time they had the support of the Rogers Centre gathering. While there were spectators donning Jets jerseys in the stands, they were easily outnumbered by those wearing Bills merchandise who were very boisterous in their support for their team.
But not even the presence of flamboyant Bills receiver Terrell Owens (three catches, 31 yards) or the highly touted Sanchez could hide the patches of empty seats. The final attendance wasn’t announced, but it was well short of the 54,000-seat capacity the stadium has for football. None of the three games in the series thus far has sold out.
And that’s disappointing to the Toronto-based group that secured the games — dubbed Bills Toronto Series — hoping to showcase the city as a viable home for a full-time NFL franchise. The expectation when the series was unveiled two years ago was that football fans here would clamour to Rogers Centre to watch Buffalo and be willing to pay just about any price to do so.
But that’s not been the case, especially when Canadians can drive to Buffalo for Bills games and pay an average ticket price of $51.
After fans complained last year event organizers, who are paying the Bills an average of $9.75 million per game, slashed ticket prices by an average of 17 per cent. They also offered more than 11,000 tickets for less than $99 compared to just 4,700 for that price last year.
Still, the prevailing talk Thursday night was event organizers were forced to buy a lot of tickets and distribute them free of charge in the hopes of boosting the attendance and making the stadium look much better to an American television audience. Thursday’s game was broadcast live in the U.S. by the NFL Network.
What’s more, Rogers Communications also offered partial refunds to those who had bought seats in 2008 and were affected by the price reduction.
Thursday’s game was the second meeting of the year for the two clubs, with Buffalo winning 16-13 in overtime Oct. 18. The contest also involved two Canadian players, with third-year defensive end Corey Mace of Port Moody, B.C., leading the Bills on to the field and rookie linebacker Jamaal Westerman of Brampton, Ont., in uniform with the Jets.
Also, Rex Ryan, New York’s colourful rookie head coach, spent 12 years growing up in Toronto (1965-77).
The teams traded drives during the first half, but Buffalo’s offence was limited to just a field goal after that.
Some of the players admitted to getting worn down by the muggy heat inside the domed stadium. That wouldn’t have happened had the game been played outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium on a frigid December night.
“It was more humid and hot than we anticipated it to be,” said Fewell. “We had several guys going in and out because of the humidity.”
The Bills had entered the game with some momentum after a 31-14 win at home over the Dolphins. They were clinging to faint hopes of making a run at the playoffs, but it will be tough now that their record has dropped to 4-8.
Even though Buffalo didn’t get the same boost that comes with playing at home, the players weren’t making any excuses for their performance.
“I think the fans at the Ralph are a little more excited and a little more fired up,” said Bils centre Geoff Hangartner. “But I don’t think the atmosphere had anything to do with us losing.”
Owens wasn’t able to accomplish very much in a game that was billed as “T.O. in T.O.” He had trouble breaking free from Jets cornerback Darelle Revis and was limited to three catches for 31 yards.
Even still, the star receiver left hoping he had made an impression on the fans in Toronto.
“I’m hoping it was fun and exciting for the fans,” said Owens. “Definitely we wanted to put some points on the board and obviously wanted to get a win. But that obviously didn’t happen.
“I’m hoping they were inspired by what they saw.”