GLENDALE, Ariz. – For the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, it was Operation: Save the Season.
Consider it mission accomplished. Barely.
The Bills’ wild, 19-16, overtime victory over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium salvaged a split of their two-game West Coast trip and, more importantly, helped them leave behind two straight historically inept defensive performances.
“I am excited for those guys who have worked their rears off,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “They lost some respect the last couple of weeks, and they were out to gain some respect back. I think they did that.”
A game that could be described as somewhat dull for the first 56 minutes had more ups and downs than an elevator in the final four.
The Bills watched as Cardinals kicker Jay Feely booted a career-long and franchise-record 61-yard field goal with 74 seconds left to tie the game, then had to hold their breath when – after the offense went three-and-out – Arizona got in position for a 38-yard field goal try at the end of regulation.
That kick, however, was partially blocked by defensive tackle Alex Carrington, who got just enough of it to force it off the left upright.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Carrington said. “I thought it was still going to go in because the ball just kept going. Me, Marcell [Dareus], Shepp [linebacker Kelvin Sheppard], we were able to get under their pads. I was able to get a hand up and got the ball. It was crazy. We just tried to give it all we had. The game was on the line, we had to do something.”
“You can’t explain the emotions. There is just no way,” Gailey said. “You don’t think there is any way a guy is going to make a 61-yarder, and then you think for sure he is going to make the short one and he doesn’t. There are highs and lows. As football teams, you have to handle highs and lows not only in a game but in a season. You just keep fighting.”
The Bills won the toss in overtime and drove to the Cardinals’ 35-yard line. They elected not to try a 53-yard field goal with Rian Lindell, however, when the drive stalled, instead punting the ball away.
The decision worked.
Free safety Jairus Byrd intercepted Cardinals quarterback John Skelton – who replaced the injured Kevin Kolb late in the fourth quarter – on a third-and-10 play and returned the ball 29 yards to the Arizona 6.
Lindell knocked in the game-winner, a 25-yard field goal, two plays later.
“It’s huge, but it’s not relief,” Gailey said.
“It’s excitement about where our team can go. This was a tough football game, and it was against a good football team. To come out on the road and win it the way we did, I am impressed with the way the team played.”
The Bills looked to be in good position to win in regulation, until an ill-timed Wildcat play call.
Leading by 16-13 at the Cardinals’ 36 with four minutes left, Brad Smith threw from the formation for the first time this season. The ball, severely overthrown for Donald Jones, was intercepted by Patrick Peterson in the Cardinals’ end zone.
“We were trying to throw it more in the middle of the field to keep it away from the outside. We designed it to go to the middle of the field, but it ended up not hitting the middle of the field. If we hit that, we are all talking about what a great call it is, and if we don’t, it’s a dumb call,” Gailey said.
“So it was a dumb call. If I had to do it over again, I’d run it.”
The Cardinals drove 10 plays to the Buffalo 43 to set up Feely’s bomb despite losing Kolb, who was injured with 2:06 left to play when he scrambled right and was brought down by Chris Kelsay and Carrington.
The Bills sacked Kolb five times – maligned defensive end Mario Williams had two of those – and hit him several others.
“As early as Monday when we got in from San Francisco we started watching film and to put it bluntly, we knew they must have had a really good defense,” said Kelsay, whose first-quarter sack of Kolb resulted in a safety for Buffalo’s first points.
“Up front, if they’re able to throw on time, they’re going to make plays. They’ve got the receivers to do that obviously but we knew that [if] we could just turn it loose, play fast and get pressure on the quarterback we should fare pretty well, and that was the case [Sunday].”
It was a hop, skip and a jump in the right direction for a defense that had given up 90 points in its last six quarters.
“When we go back and watch the film, yes those losses are ugly, but when we watched the film, there was nothing that was not correctable,” linebacker Bryan Scott said. “When you get those things corrected you can see what the results will be.”
The Bills, who got 88 yards on just 12 carries from running back C.J. Spiller, won despite an uneven performance from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He went just 18 of 32 for 153 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
A Picasso this was not.
“It wasn’t pretty at times, but it was a gut check and that may got a long way for our football time,” Gailey said.
The win evened the Bills’ record at 3-3, pulling them into a four-way tie for first in the AFC East.
“We came out here with one goal, and that was to win,” Fitzpatrick said. “In the NFL you celebrate those victories, because we know they’re tough to come by. We put a lot of work in this week. In general, our whole organization put a lot of work into this week. This was a very satisfying win for us.”