As has been the case most of this season, the Buffalo Bills found themselves in another close game in the fourth quarter. The Bills were tied against the Miami Dolphins at 14 with only 3:35 left to play in the game.
The Bills had the ball at the Miami 47 and had just allowed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to be sacked for the sixth time by the Dolphins defense on the play before. The Bills were now faced with a 3rd-and-18 and they completed a seemingly harmless screen pass to Marshawn Lynch that took the ball down to the Dolphins' 38.
Faced with a 4th-and-10, you realize at the 38-yard line you are in no-man's land.
Your options are quite limited. You can either:
1) Risk giving the Dolphins great field position if you go for it and fail (risky choice, but possible)
2) Punt it and keep Miami bottled up deep in their own end (conservative and safe)
3) Kick a field goal, which is the last thing you would do if you were a rational and sane coach (crazy, loony-bin choice that would make Bill Belichick's decision against the Colts look like child's play)
Why? Well for starters, your kicker has never kicked a field goal this long (56 yards) in his entire career. The percentage of 56-yard field goals made would discourage most people from even considering it.
Finally, and most importantly, a missed field goal would give Miami even better field position than turning it over on downs.
There are plenty of stories during the 50-year history of the Bills regarding long field goals that have failed when the game was on the line. But right now, this team belongs to Perry Fewell, and he is going to continue putting his own unique stamp on the team.
Fewell tore up the conventional wisdom playbook and ordered Rian Lindell to go out and try the 56-yard field goal. Lindell, with the wind at his back, split the uprights with at least four yards to spare, giving the Bills a 17-14 lead, one that they would never relinquish.
Perry Fewell Demonstrates Strong Decision Making Ability
This call took guts. I find it hard to describe the courage, insanity, or craziness that led Fewell to throw all caution to the wind and go for it. The Bills were playing at home, and they desperately needed a win there, having won only once in their last nine home games.
But more importantly, Fewell is making a statement that he has what it takes to lead a team and be a head coach in the NFL. In my mind, his stock, which had already been rising, shot up dramatically within the Bills hierarchy with this win.
After Lindell made the kick, I thought to myself, "There is no possible way that Dick Jauron would have made that same call. He is just too conservative for his own good." Fewell operated with daring and bravado, and in doing so, he is showing the Bills how to take control in the fourth quarter, how to take a game over and how to win.
He is also teaching the Bills to believe in each other and themselves. Fewell showed that he had faith in Rian Lindell. Earlier in the game, Lindell was wide on a 43-yard try, but the faith that Fewell demonstrated in his kicker was richly rewarded.
The fourth quarter has been a thorn in the Bills' side all year long. In the past three weeks, they were outscored in the fourth quarter by a combined score of 54-0.
Today, they outscored the Dolphins 24-0 in the fourth quarter. Quite a dramatic turnaround. Earlier in the week, Fewell addressed the fourth quarter woes in a press conference and said it would be something he would be working on.
Fewell's ability to seize clock and game management situations should also be mentioned. He demonstrated it last week in his debut against Jacksonville, and did the same thing today against Miami.
This time, he utilized his saved up time outs to allow the Bills to have more than a minute to orchestrate a drive at the end of the first half. The drive stalled when Fitzpatrick threw a pick that I blame Shawn Nelson for.
That wasn't Fewell's fault, however. He showed faith in his guys and got the ball back for them to do something with it one more time before the half ended. His management of the clock and understanding of game situations appears to be light years ahead of anything we saw from Dick Jauron.
Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Brian Billick, Jim Haslett, Mike Martz, and all of the other prospective options for the Bills next full time head coach have been put on notice. Perry Fewell has the reigns of this team, and he is coaching like he wants to keep them in his possession. He just may be the right guy for the job after all.
What Did We Learn About The Bills In This Game?
For the Bills, there appears to be a growing level of confidence that they can be a big-play offense and are capable of putting up points on the scoreboard. After one of the four interceptions generated by the Bills defense, the Bills were able to score on a long distance play on first down.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a beautiful long pass to Terrell Owens for a 51-yard score, which meant for two consecutive games that this combination has hooked up for scores longer than 50 yards.
Fitzpatrick continues to show his ability to be a playmaker. One specific play had all three receivers running routes to the left side of the field.
When the pressure started to flush him out of the pocket, Fitzgerald found a way to scramble over to the vacated right side. He ran untouched for a 31-yard touchdown scamper.
Fitzpatrick was running for his life. Six sacks will do that to you, but he looked poised and remained calm in the face of adversity.
His only interception resulted from Shawn Nelson inexplicably running a route where he decided to let the defender take the inside position at the last second.
Another win as a starter ensures that Fitzpatrick's stock is rising, while Trent Edwards is all but forgotten now. If the Bills are winning under Fitzpatrick, we may not see Brian Brohm's debut this year after all.
Fred Jackson had gone the entire season without registering a single rushing touchdown. He had one called back due to penalty last week, but today Jackson scored two rushing touchdowns. His hard work has been rewarded.
Another factor that has been a sore subject for Bills fans is converting in the red zone. Today the Bills cracked the 20-yard line twice, and came away with two touchdowns. Can't get any better than that.
Converting on third down has been a struggle all year as the Bills are last in the NFL in that category. Miami, on the other hand, is first in the NFL in that category.
So how did they fare today? The Bills converted on 3-10 for 30 percent, while the Dolphins converted on 5-13 for 38 percent. That is definitely better.
Newly signed free agent guard Kendall Simmons had some penalties and was bowled over for at least one of the Dolphins six sacks. The offensive line still is a big problem area, and with the loss of Eric Wood last week, this is a situation that will probably exist for the rest of the year.
Outside of Marshawn Lynch's catch of the screen play that led to the Lindell field goal, he was basically absent from the game. Fred Jackson has taken over as the feature back and he had a strong game again for the Bills.
Not only did Jackson score his first two rushing touchdowns of the year, but he also amassed 73 yards rushing, 43 yards receiving, and another 61 yards in kick returns. I think that Fred Jackson is the Bills' MVP so far this season. I can't think of any other player that excels at every aspect of the game more than Jackson does.
His unassuming professional manner is something that people should try to live up to. He demonstrates no ego, and is all about the team. Give me a roster of all Fred Jacksons, and you will have a winner on your hands.
What Did We Learn About Miami Today?
For the Dolphins, this game reminds me of the Bills-Jets game in New York. That was the game in which the rookie shine began to fade off of Mark Sanchez when he threw five interceptions on the day. I had a flashback to that game watching Chad Henne play.
Now that Ronnie Brown is gone for the year, the onus is on Ricky Williams to produce. However, Ricky is no longer a 20-something running back. In his 30's, he needs to be spelled and rested when he is carrying most of the load.
The Bills gave Ricky his 100+ yard rushing game, but when the game was on the line, Ricky was worn out. Instead, the Dolphins had to rely on the arm of Henne to move the ball in the fourth quarter.
So the Bills defense pinned their ears back and started turning up the heat on Henne. The end result was three interceptions off of Henne, with each of the following registering one pick apiece: Donte Whitner, Drayton Florence, and just-up-from-the-practice-squad defensive tackle Corey Mace, the least likely pass interceptor you could imagine.
The Bills padded their AFC lead in interceptions by forcing Henne to put the ball up in the air. Jairus Byrd was unable to get any interceptions, as he still appears to not be playing at 100 percent, and was giving way to Donte Whitner for much of the game.
We also learned that Ricky Williams is not much of a threat when it comes to throwing the ball out of the wildcat formation. The last time Ricky attempted a pass was in 1999, and that nine-year layoff was very evident when he attempted to throw a pass into the end zone that was picked off by linebacker Chris Draft.
I suspect that it will be another nine or 10 years before Williams attempts another pass. The play by Draft was huge for the Bills at the time.
The Dolphins defense put strong pressure on Fitzpatrick all day long and caused an interception just before halftime. The Dolphins did give up a long touchdown to Terrell Owens, and they have to find a way to cure their own fourth quarter woes as well.
Coming into the game, the Dolphins had allowed the most points in the NFL in the fourth quarter with 117. The Bills were next in line at 109. Since the Bills added 24 points today in the fourth, Miami is now running away with that distinction.
Today's game should give the rest of the league the formula for beating the Dolphins. Without Ronnie Brown, let Ricky wear himself out in the first half, and then pin your ears back and take it to Chad Henne in the second half. That simplified version of what happened seemed to work pretty well for the Bills today.
Most Memorable Game of the Season?
In this, the Bills' 50th anniversary season, this game will be one of those contests that sticks in your head for quite a long time. The motto of this year's marketing campaign was: "It is Amazing How Long a Moment Can Last". The memory of Lindell making that field goal, and the follow up play of Fitzpatrick hitting T.O. for the long touchdown, are right in line with the marketing slogan.
The fact that these plays came against the hated AFC East rival Miami Dolphins makes them all the sweeter. Miami had dominated the last three meetings, but failed to dominate this one.
Short Week of Practice For The Bills
The Bills now have to quickly game plan for the New York Jets as they go up to Canada for an odd Thursday evening contest in their annual "Toronto home game". Toronto fans should be excited to see the new T.O. and Fitzpatrick combination at work. The Bills are playing with more passion and sense of purpose under Fewell, and the team is becoming fun to watch again.
The Bills will be attempting to sweep the Jets this season, and once again will want to put pressure on Mark Sanchez, getting inside his head one more time. Or maybe we should make that five more times to be exact?
Is There Any Downside To This Win?
With each victory that the Bills secure under Fewell, they are going to be separating themselves from a high draft seed. The talk about going after a franchise quarterback will be more difficult if they wind up drafting in the 12-16 range.
I know it is way too early to know who is declaring, and how well some QBs are able to perform at the combines, but it is something to keep in mind. If the Bills keep winning, I am not sure that too many people are going to be complaining about it.