'Incredible bounce-back' lifts plucky Bills to 4-2
LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter on Oct. 22, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It isn’t so much that the Buffalo Bills are winning this year. It’s how.
By not folding down the stretch. And, for another change, by being opportunistic enough at the end of a game to cash in on the other team’s bone-headed blunder.
The NFL’s current most-playoff-starved franchise pulled out a 30-27 nail-biter of a victory Sunday over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers by, for the third time in six games under first-year head coach Sean McDermott, being the more composed, resilient team at the end.
Which is not to say blunder-free throughout. Not even close.
“Guys stuck it out, played four quarters and came out with a win, so it was good to see,” McDermott said. “There’s a lot of heart on this football team.”
The Bills improved to 4-2 on the season -- even though they botched easy scoring opportunities early to let the Bucs hang around, even though they blew a 17-3 lead in the third quarter, even though normally dependable Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy fumbled at the Tampa Bay 26 in a tie game with 9:30 left, and even though their injury-nicked defensive backs in the fourth quarter couldn’t prevent the Bucs’ sore-shouldered quarterback, Jameis Winston, from picking them apart and shoving Tampa Bay ahead, 27-20, with 3:14 left.
That’s when the old, yellowing, dog-eared script dissolved, and everything went Buffalo’s way. The Bills scored 10 points in the final 2:32 to win it.
“That was an incredible bounce-back,” ninth-year Bills centre Eric Wood said.
“We pride ourselves on (poise). You know, we keep all of our timeouts, we don’t have substitutions, we do everything clean. We have clean play calls where we just play smart ball and ultimately we’re putting ourselves in position to win. And you’re really going to have to beat us.”
Rather than beating themselves, that is.
That’s something Bills veterans such as Wood, 12th-year defensive tackle Kyle Williams have seen far too many times to count.
Did thoughts of cack-ups past start creeping into Wood’s head as the Bills seemingly started to unravel? Really, how could they not.
“A little bit,” Wood said. “It helps if you’ve won tight games already this year, and we’ve played tight games. So we were prepped. You can’t ride the emotions. You’ve kind of just got to stay locked in. Ultimately, we were able to make some really big plays at the end.”
Here’s how they did that.
McCoy lost his fumble because impact Bucs linebacker Lavonte David ripped the ball out and fell on it at the Tampa Bay 46 -- his third forced fumble of the season, and second recovery.
With most of the 68,561 in attendance at New Era Field feeling victory evaporating again, Wood said to hell with that.
“I kind of told everyone on offence, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens here. (The Bucs have) got pretty good field position ... We need a touchdown, regardless. It’s a tie game, or we’re down three, or we’re down seven (when we get the ball back). So regardless of what happens we need to go down and score a touchdown. So just get it in your mind. Don’t let it faze you.’”
The Bills wound up down by seven because of Winston. The 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick ripped off four impressive completions before perfectly hitting his favourite target, a sprinting Mike Evans on a crosser, just inside the right edge of the end zone for the TD that gave the Bucs their 27-20 lead.
Enter unlikely hero Tyrod Taylor.
His success rate in crunch-time over the past three seasons had been akin to Charlie Brown’s on Lucy-held placekicks. Taylor, though, was determined to kick leather this time.
Wood said when the Bills offence gathered on the field after the kickoff touchback, with 3:14 left, Taylor was “getting us going, like, ‘Right here, right now, let’s do this,’” Wood said.
Clearly, Taylor meant it.
On the first play he found wide-open receiver Deonte Thompson -- an old teammate and friend re-signed by the Bills only five days earlier -- far down the left sideline, and fired a pass into his hands for a 44-yard gain. Thompson was unnecessarily roughed, so the gain amounted to 59 yards, to the Bucs’ 16.
Taylor then hit rookie receiver Zay Jones for nine yards, before McCoy blasted in from five yards out to tie the game, 27-27.
Eight seconds later the Bills got the ball right back. On Tampa’s first play, Winston hit wideout Adam Humphries with a short pass, but rookie Buffalo cornerback Tre’Devious White stripped Humphries of the ball and recovered it at the Tampa Bay 33.
Seven ball-hogging plays later -- including a nifty Taylor shovel pass to backup running back Taiwan Jones on an end-around for 11 yards on 3rd-and-9, and a nine-yard Taylor completion to McCoy on 3rd-and-10 -- Bills kicker Steven Hauschka drilled the game-winning 30-yard field goal, with 18 seconds left.
Buffalo’s victory, McDermott said, “to me, personifies this city, doesn’t it? Heart, toughness, blue-collar -- and fans stuck with us all day. I thought it was awesome, man.”
Bucs’ eight-laterals, ‘Cal’ style ending resulted in two-yard loss
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did a pretty good imitation of the famous 1982 Cal “into the Stanford band” kind of game-ending, multi-laterals play.
Only instead of scoring a touchdown to turn a 30-27 Buffalo Bills win into a 36-33 miracle Tampa Bay win, the Bucs’ combo of a pass completion, runs and eight laterals resulted in a two-yard loss.
The play started with eight seconds left and the Bucs at their own 31. In succession:
* QB Jameis Winston hit WR Adam Humphries for five yards;
* Humphries lateralled to RB Charles Sims III for -3 yards;
* Sims then lateralled to WR Mike Evans, who ran for -8 yards before fumbling;
* LT Donovan Smith picked it up and rumbled for five yards;
* Smith lateralled to TE Cameron Brate and he ran for seven more yards backward;
* Evans picked it up, ran for no gain and lateralled to Humphries for -3 yards;
* Humphries lateralled to Sims six yards farther backward;
* Sims lateralled to WR DeSean Jackson eight yards farther backward (the ball was now 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage!);
* Jackson lateralled to Evans, who run eight yards ahead;
* Evans then lateralled back to Jackson, who ran 15 yards forward before Bills DT Marcell Dareus finally ended the game by tackling him, at the Tampa Bay 29, for a two-yard loss.