ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After two weeks of being picked up by their otherworldly offense, the Patriots defense had a chance late in the game Sunday to bail out a unit that gave the ball away four times while allowing the Bills to rally ahead.
And in a mere three plays, Buffalo essentially ensured victory, covering 80 yards and setting up a 28-yard field goal as time expired in a 34-31 triumph at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Devin McCourty got beat on a 29-yard pass to Donald Jones to start the drive and Fred Jackson covered 12 yards on a screen pass to move the ball to the Patriots 39. New England still had a chance to produce a stop, but, on the very next play, Jackson turned a short grab into a 38-yard reception that -- fortuitously got ruled down at the 1/2-yard line upon video review -- allowed Buffalo to run out the clock before Rian Lindell's winning boot.
But what happened on the play? Let's break it down:
Buffalo came out in a five receiver set with Jackson and Steve Johnson to the right of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Without a blocker in the backfield, the Bills anticipated linebacker Jerod Mayo might blitz from that same side, leaving the middle of the field open with safety Sergio Brown far off the line of scrimmage.
"It was something we knew would be an opportunity for us to make a play on," said Jackson. "The way they play, the way they blitz to empty. It was something Fitz and I saw. Any time we line up out there and we point away from a linebacker, this one over here blitzes and leaves that gap open. Fitz held the ball and let me get in the second window and I was able to make a play on it."
Just as Jones detailed, Buffalo's line was able to kick the defensive ends wide and, even as Mayo screamed towards the quarterback with an open lane created, Fitzpatrick waited the extra moment to allow Jackson to get into the vacated area. That's when things go from bad to worse for New England.
Linebacker Gary Guyton correctly identifies the play and leaves his man at the left hash, but he takes a poor angle and is left grasping at air as Jackson catches the pass in stride and turns on the jets. He's not the only one made to look foolish as safety Josh Barrett falls to the turf trying to turn back to his right as Jackson races by.
At this point, the Patriots probably should have elected to allow Jackson to score. But making that recognition on the field isn't quite as easy as in hindsight and second-year corner Devin McCourty chases Jackson down, tripping him up at the goal line (cornerback Leigh Bodden was also in the area, but appeared to simply make a try at the ball as Jackson went by). Originally ruled a touchdown, video review overturns the call.
The Bills were able to then kneel out the clock before the winning boot.
"You’re trying to score," said Jackson. "As an offense, you’re trying to put points on the board. Once we got in the first and goal, the whole mentality changes. Run the clock out, you want to keep that offense off the field. They’re a great offense and the longer we can stay on the field and keep them off the field is a great advantage for us."
Added Fitzpatrick: "After the fact when they reviewed it and said he wasn’t in, that was probably a good thing for us just because we were going to be the last ones with the ball in our hands, but you’re competitive out there, you want to score and we were still trying to score at that point and it would’ve been nice to see him get in but we were fortunate he didn’t, as well."
Even Bills coach Chan Gailey didn't mask the fact that the team got some good fortune with the automatic review.
"I was so pleased they made that ruling," he said. "I want to score, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t want them to have the ball back, I knew that."