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Reality sets in for undisciplined Bills as postseason hopes wane

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Buffalo Bills were leading the league with 46 accepted calls through four games and were on pace to set an NFL record for penalties, it was considered a problem the team would fix.

So much for that.

On Sunday, the Bills effectively ended their season the same way they began it: in a flurry of flags. Another 15 accepted penalties in a 23-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles brought the Bills to 123 on the season, just shy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (125 accepted penalties after Sunday's game) for the NFL lead through 14 weeks.

When the Bills were called for 17 penalties in a Week 4 home loss to the New York Giants, receiver Robert Woods was hesitant to label the team undisciplined.

"I don't think it is an undisciplined team. I think we are just playing our game -- playing free," he said. "But we got to play in control and just be aware of the situations and play within the whistles."

More than two months later, Woods used the word "undisciplined" without prompting.

"We are in Philly, and we wanted to win," Woods said of running back LeSean McCoy's frustration in losing in his return to Lincoln Financial Field. "I think it is more how we lost: in an undisciplined way with a lot of penalties. They did not beat us. We beat ourselves."

It's almost as if the Bills were in disbelief -- or even denial -- of their penalty problem early in the season, and though they took some steps to fix it, now the reality has finally set in that, yes, this team is undisciplined.

Yes, there was a brief stretch in which the Bills limited how much the flags hurt them. They had fewer than 50 penalty yards in wins over the New York Jets (Week 10) and Houston Texans (Week 13) and a loss to the New England Patriots (Week 11).

But that changed Sunday, and when added to a slew of mistakes on defense and a fumbled punt, Buffalo's 15 penalties buried the Bills' season.

The recurring theme begged the question: What happened to Rex Ryan's "pushups for penalties" program implemented in practice following his team's 17-penalty debacle against the Giants?

"Yeah, we have [used pushups in practice], and we don't make them [in practice]," Ryan said after Sunday's loss to the Eagles. "That's the difference. We haven't been making them on the practice field for this month in games."

Ryan might be right, and maybe the Bills haven't been committing penalties in practices that haven't been conducted in full pads or with full contact, but the penalty problem resurfaced at the most inopportune time for a team that almost certainly needed to win its final four games to have a shot at the postseason.

When the Bills' 2015 season is examined years from now, this is how Ryan's first year at the helm will be remembered: An undisciplined team tripped over yellow flags on its way to the franchise's 16th consecutive season out of the playoffs.