Like a typical coach, Chan Gailey pointed out first what the Buffalo Bills needed to correct on special teams following their 34-18 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“If Justin [Rogers] just doesn’t field that punt,” Gailey said, referring to a muffed punt that gave the Jaguars possession in the fourth quarter. “I think he touched it at the 5-yard line. If he just doesn’t field it, let it go, we might have had it at the 1. So what? But overall, special teams did a really nice job.”
Rogers’ gaffe aside, the Bills had an otherwise dominant day in the third phase of the game. The successes:
• A 50-yard field goal by Rian Lindell, his first from that distance since Oct. 24, 2010. That it came a week after Gailey elected not to try a field goal from 52 yards indoors should not be forgotten. Lindell is now 19 of 34 (56 percent) in his NFL career on attempts of 50 or more yards.
• A 55-yard kickoff return by Marcus Easley and a 38-yarder by Brad Smith, both of which set up Buffalo scoring drives. The Bills’ only punt return, a 12-yarder by Leodis McKelvin in the first quarter, set up the team’s first touchdown.
“Marcus, man, I’m just proud of him,” Smith said. “Happy for him that he was able to take advantage of that opportunity. He hit that hole like he was supposed to hit it.”
Easley’s return came on the first time he touched the ball as a professional.
“I was pretty sure when they saw me back there that they would give me a shot,” he said. “They ended up kicking it to me and I decided to make a play for it. It was a big confidence boost for me as it was one of my first plays in the NFL and I got the team going a little bit by scoring on that drive.”
• Four punts from rookie Shawn Powell that went for a net average of 39.3 yards, including a booming 61-yarder and another that was downed inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line.
• The Bills’ kick and punt coverage units — which had each allowed a touchdown in the last two games — held the Jaguars to 99 yards on five kick returns (19.8 average) and 21 yards on two punt returns.
“It was a real good game for us,” said special teams captain Corey McIntyre, who celebrated one of his two tackles in the fourth quarter with the “Lights Out” dance of teammate Shawne Merriman. “We just wanted to go out there and get better on our coverages. That was a goal for us this week, and we wanted to go out there and complete that goal.”
“We wanted to play the way we’re capable of playing. … Other than two plays, we’re playing really well the last couple weeks,” Smith said. “We don’t want to be six out of seven or five out of six plays that are good, we wanted to be perfect. Special teams is huge, man. I don’t think it gets enough credit. Whether it’s a tackle inside the 20, punts, punt returns, it’s all huge.”
The Bills’ punt coverage unit entered Sunday’s game ranked dead last in the league, allowing 16.4 yards per return, almost 3 yards more than any other team.
“It’s always a point of emphasis,” said Bills rookie linebacker Nigel Bradham. “Any time you give up any kind of big play on special teams, it hurts the field position for the offense or defense. We have to stay consistent with it. We’ve been good at certain times, but we have to be ready to play every down and not give up those big plays.”
The Bills’ average drive start after four Jacksonville kickoffs was their own 38-yard line, while the Jaguars started at their own 22 after seven Buffalo kickoffs.
“That was huge [Sunday] with the wind and rain and it being slippery,” Bradham said.“We just tried to contribute any way we can.”