The Buffalo Bills defeated the Oakland Raiders in a 38-35 shootout that brought back memories of the glory years, like the Bills’ Frank Reich-engineered 32-point come from behind victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1993 playoffs, still the greatest comeback in NFL history.
Sunday’s game featured a comeback from an 18 point deficit and five lead changes in the fourth quarter, and it was such a nail-biter that the referees were still trying to sort out who won the game 10 minutes after the teams and most of the fans had left the stadium.
“I can’t recall one quite like that,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said of the comeback. “It was an amazing gut-check by our football team. What they did coming out of halftime was really amazing.”
After a scoreless first quarter by both teams, the Raiders outplayed the bills in the second quarter to quickly build a 21-3 lead on touchdown runs by Michael Bush, Darren McFadden and quarterback Jason Campbell.
The Bills came out in the second half looking like the team that dismantled the Chiefs last week 41-7. They responded to their 18 point deficit with 14 unanswered points in the third quarter, including a 43-yard touchdown run by Fred Jackson, who finished the game 117 rushing yards and 2 TDs.
The fourth quarter was a boxing match as the teams traded scores and long scoring drives, until the clock ultimately ran out on the Raiders.
“Determination,” said receiver Stevie Johnson, who finished the game with 8 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. “We had the determination. Everybody was just a unit. We came out and did what we had to do.”
Fred Jackson scored his second touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Bills the lead 21-24. The Raiders responded with an 80-yard TD drive capped with a 12-yard TD pass from Campbell to McFadden, putting the Raiders back on top 28-24.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills battled back with their own 80-yard TD drive, culminating with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to TE Scott Chandler to recapture the lead 28-31.
In two games so far this season, Chandler has 79 receiving yards and 3 TDs, and has become an important part of the Bills passing game, complementing their young receiving duo of Stevie Johnson and David Nelson.
The Raiders responded with a very quick 88-yard touchdown drive that took just 67 seconds, featuring a 50-yard TD strike from Campbell to Denarius Moore, the rookie fifth round draft pick out of Tennessee, to retake the lead 35-31 with 3:41 left in the game. Moore had a breakout game for the Raiders, finishing with 5 receptions for 146 yards and the one touchdown.
The one problem for the Raiders was that they left too much time on the clock for Fitzpatrick, who is justifying the faith the Bills showed in him when they gave him the starting job and didn’t look for a young quarterback in the draft.
Fitzpatrick worked underneath the Raiders prevent defense to march the Bills down the field in the last few minutes of the game, setting up a 6-yard touchdown pass with 0:14 left to second year receiver David Nelson, who appeared to be totally uncovered in the end zone. Nelson ran out of the back of the end zone leaping into the arms of screaming Bills fans, in a Buffalo version of the Lambeau Leap.
“I don’t know what happened, but I think they misaligned to be honest,” Fitzpatrick said of the final touchdown pass to Nelson. “I was lucky enough to see it.” Fitzpatrick finished the game 28 of 46 for 264 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.
But with only 0:14 left, the drama wasn’t over. The Raiders quickly completed a couple of passes to get the ball to their own 44-yard line with one second left on the clock. With only time for one play, the Raiders passed on an opportunity for Sebastian Janikowski to try what would have been a record-breaking 73 yard field goal for the tie. They did let Janikowski try a 75-yarder once in 2009, and he tied the NFL record last week with a 63-yarder.
Instead, on the last play of the game, Campbell scrambled to buy time and heaved a Hail Mary into the end zone from his own 40-yard line, but Bills’ rookie cornerback Da’Norris Searcy outfought the Raiders receivers and came down with the interception to end the game
“Once I grabbed it, I told myself nobody’s going grab it away from me,” Searcy said after the game.
The battle for the ball was so close that while the fans and players filed out of the stadium, the referees decided to review the final play to determine in Searcy or one of the Raiders’ receivers had possession in the end zone. A reversal of the call would have handed the game to the Raiders.
The refs spent a full 10 minutes reviewing the call before ultimately upholding the original call on the field. The final announcement was made to a mostly empty stadium, as Bills fans rushed out to celebrate the hard fought victory.
“Good job by them, bad job by us,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “When it’s all said and done, we did not finish the game.”
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