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Orton Always Good Bet to Come Up Small

Upon Further Review

The great thing about this is that ... “ I started to say, before Dave -- one of the small group gathered to watch Buffalo take on the Broncos in Denver late Sunday afternoon -- finished the sentence.

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” he said, accurately assessing my decision, along with our friend Mark, to hypothetically add a little spice to the next few hours with a responsibly small wager on the hometown team.

Not merely to cover the 10-point spread, mind you, which could be argued is an attractive proposition on almost any NFL matchup, particularly one involving a defense as sporadically dominant as Buffalo’s. No, we theoretically chose to contribute enough to cover a double order of wings and a beverage by way of what is known as the money line, which offered a 400 percent return (in theory) on investment in the event the Bills did not just keep it close, but upset the Broncos, and Peyton Manning, in Denver.

All that was necessary to make it work was for Buffalo’s defense to somehow keep one of the most consistently productive quarterbacks in football history off his game while keeping a suddenly explosive ground game in check, as well as a career day from Manning’s counterpart in white, blue and red, Kyle Orton.

Like Dave said, no sense whatsoever.

“It should make things more interesting,” I said, as the television above the bar at The Public House on Hertel Avenue displayed the Broncos preparing for the opening kickoff. “Hopefully, for more than 10 minutes.”

At least that much proved correct. Manning and the Broncos did slowly, inexorably take control, scoring touchdowns in each of the first two quarters, while Orton’s Bills could must only a single field goal.

Still, even trailing by 11 at intermission, the game did not feel lost. Manning looked average, at least by his usual Cantonian standards. Denver’s running game, which piled up more than 200 yards in each of the previous two games, had managed just 56.

With Manning on the way to his least productive game since joining the Broncos, even a mediocre offensive performance would have put Buffalo -- and anyone with a conjectural investment in the outcome -- back in the thick of things.

Instead, as against New England, Miami and Kansas City, the defense was left to carry the rest of the Bills. In addition to the offense’s usual struggles against anyone not wearing New York Jets green, kickoff specialist Jordan Gay and punter Colton Schmidt managed to have lousy days in the thin air of Denver, an atmospheric anomaly that has kept aloft both the longest field goal and longest punt in NFL history.

The stress of hefting the other two units around finally cracked the defense, with Denver’s Juwan Thompson exploiting its one true breakdown of the day with a 47-yard run on third-and-1. Two plays later, it was 21-3.

Whereupon Orton set about extinguishing any shot at a comeback by throwing ugly interceptions on Buffalo’s next two drives, the second coming at Denver’s 2-yard line.

That led to a field goal and a 21-point Broncos lead, which put Orton squarely in his comfort zone.

Give the guy this much. Like Ryan Fitzpatrick before him, he can really pile up the numbers when an opponent goes into prevent mode, calling off the pass rush in favor of sagging back and yielding short, clock-running throws underneath.

Against the Broncos, he completed 17 of 27 fourth-quarter throws for 183 yards, allowing him the hollow achievement of setting a new franchise record with 57 attempts and tying the completions standard with 38, a pair of achievements that underscore just how meaningless football statistics can be.

With any real shot at winning extinguished, Orton led Buffalo to a pair of purely cosmetic touchdowns. Orton’s scoring plunge with 55 seconds left cut the final margin to seven, allowing fans to convince themselves that lousy officiating was somehow to blame for their team’s sixth loss in 13 games.

The furor over a fist bump between two officials following a Denver touchdown triggered the sort of remarkably paranoid self-pity party in which Buffalo fans seem to revel, but had no impact on the final outcome.

Any culpability for the officials relies on the idea that Orton would have capitalized on any additional opportunities that may have been doused by the questionable calls. Based on his body of work over the last two-plus months, it is much more likely that even had every single close call gone the Bills way, they still would have lost.

As would have Mark and I, was our financial interest in the outcome not merely notional.

Instead, the Bills limp home to face another playoff-bound team with another future Hall-of-Fame quarterback when the Packers and Aaron Rodgers visit on Sunday, their previously flickering playoff aspirations all but extinguished.

But while Orton and the rest of the offense failed to keep realistic postseason hope alive in Denver, give them a little credit. With that furious garbage-time rally, they did cover the spread.

Dave Staba has been writing about the team, among other topics, for local and national publications since 1990. Follow him on and

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