GLENDALE, Ariz. – Once they were finished hooting, hollering and kissing the right paw of defensive tackle Alex Carrington, there was no mistaking a sense of relief oozing from the visitors’ locker room after the game. The Bills knew they were fortunate they didn’t throw this one away because heaven knows they tried.
The Bills boarded their charter without fretting over how they arrived at a 3-3 record. They took off with a 19-16 victory in overtime over the Arizona Cardinals after being left for dead in the desert. They snapped a two-game losing streak and doubled their number of road wins from a year ago.
Buffalo took a Machiavellian approach because it was the safest, most positive means of making sense of a weird game that fits perfectly into this strange season. Forget the tiebreakers and concentrate on the big picture. The Bills left Arizona in much better shape than when they arrived, well, even before the final play of regulation.
Somehow, they’re locked into a four-way tie for first place in the AFC East.
“What happened the last two weeks?’’ George Wilson said. “I don’t even remember.’’
The Bills were better off forgetting about their two previous games because revisiting the recent past would have meant returning to the Land of the Lost. And that’s not how players view winning in the NFL. They ignore aesthetics, forget the missed tackles and ridiculous decisions and embrace the beauty of the scoreboard.
All they knew, all they wanted to know, was that Jairus Byrd’s second interception set up Rian Lindell for a game-winning chip shot in overtime. Anything that happened before Byrd’s big play was immaterial. All that mattered to the Bills was winning the game and going home. And the atmosphere?
“Euphoric,’’ Byrd said.
Suddenly gone were back-to-back blowout losses to New England and San Francisco, but the Bills shouldn’t get swept away in exhilaration just yet. Their passing game was inept for much of the game. They allowed Cards quarterback Kevin Kolb to get loose in the fourth quarter before sending him to the sidelines. Tight end Lee Smith took an aptly named penalty for unnecessary roughness in the fourth quarter.
And let’s not forget Chan Gailey’s gem when the Bills had the lead late in the fourth quarter and the ball in Arizona territory. What most teams would have deemed a favorable situation Gailey viewed as an opportunity to throw deep out of the Wildcat formation. Sure enough, the pass was intercepted. Sure enough, Jay Feely tied the game with a 61-yard field goal.
Surprised? Heck no.
The Bills have taken enough missteps and made enough bad decisions to remove shock from the equation even when they win.
Shawn Powell, signed to replace Brian Moorman a few weeks ago, gagged under pressure and watched his punt sail 30 yards and out of bounds. Feely lined up for a 38-yarder, a gimme for him, on the ensuing drive, but Carrington diverted the kick into the left upright.
If that kick goes through?
“Devastating,’’ receiver Stevie Johnson said. “It would’ve hurt because of the way we played that game. We finally got a full game out of everybody. It wasn’t perfect, but we got a full game. If he would’ve made that field goal, it just would’ve felt like it’s just not our season. But it didn’t go that way. There’s still hope.’’
One kick made a huge difference, much more than did one extra week away from Buffalo.
The Bills’ decision to spend a week in Tempe was sold as an opportunity to get acquainted with the desert heat and get adjusted to the time difference. You’re not going to find this is the master plan, but it also allowed them to come together and remove themselves from the residual criticism after the debacle in San Francisco.
Mario Williams had his best game since signing a $100 million contract. He had two sacks and harassed Kolb all afternoon while pushing rookie tackle Bobby Massie around like a shopping cart. Kolb should have expected Williams to be waiting in the medical room after the game.
The Bills weren’t playing the Patriots or Giants, two teams among seven that were averaging 400 yards per game, on Sunday. The Cardinals had the 31st-rated offense and hadn’t had 300 total yards in any game before piling up 332 Sunday. Their offensive line was a mess, their 4-1 record a mirage.
Fitzpatrick had problems throwing with accuracy again. He averaged 2.4 yards per attempt in the first half, only 4.7 yards for the game. Fred Jackson fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. The defense allowed 182 rushing yards to a team that had less than 100 in the previous two games combined.
In the end, it didn’t matter.
“These guys are so resilient,’’ linebacker Bryan Scott said. “Before this game, everyone counted us down and out. Was it all pretty? Of course not. There were parts that were ugly. It’s a huge relief. The last two weeks, to have those losses in our mouths, it hurt. Hopefully, this was the start of something very positive.’’