Week 13 – Cleveland @ Buffalo: Can one play save a season?

Can one decision, one play call, one completion change a season? Bills fans may get to find out.

8:36 remaining in the 3rd quarter against a fellow playoff contender, Cleveland. Buffalo had been held scoreless for over 36 minutes by a combination of good defense and Kyle Orton’s struggles. Dan Carpenter had had a 53 yard field goal blocked as the first half ended. The Bills now sat at 4th and 2 on the Cleveland 37 and either a punt or 55 yard field goal attempt beckoned.

A trend from the Jets game continued. The offense stayed on the field. A signal of confidence in a misfiring attack? Unlikely. More like acceptance that for this Bills team to score, chances have to be taken and if that means putting pressure on their top five defense so be it.

Orton dropped back, felt the pocket collapsing and ambled to his left. Robert Woods had run a weaving route before heading vertical and had a yard on his attendant and isolated cornerback. Orton found his man for a completion to the two yard line. The tone of the game changed in an instant.

Over the next ten seconds of game time the Bills would score twice. First an Orton touchdown to Chris Hogan. Then on the first play of Cleveland’s drive, Jerry Hughes fought through a block, drew a penalty, made the tackle on the running back at the sideline and stripped the ball. Not finished yet, he remained in bounds, gathered the ball and ran 18 yards for the touchdown.

Credit must go to Doug Marrone. He has been criticized heavily this year for a seemingly conservative mindset, demonstrated most effectively by a reluctance to go for it on fourth down. This strategy was to win the field position battle and give a feeble offense as short a field as possible.

For instance 4th and 6 on the Miami 47, 10 points down and 9:55 to play against the Dolphins. The Bills punted, Miami kept the ball for five minutes and the Bills were effectively out of the game. This was the Bills of the first 11 weeks; fourth down was kept behind the emergency glass. It appears the criticism stung in the aftermath of that Miami loss.

In the last two weeks the counter argument has held sway. This is to prolong drives that are ten yards from scoring range with a calculated gamble of going for it on fourth and short. Bizarrely he was then criticized in the Buffalo press for listening too much to the criticism when he changed his approach during the Jets game. Being proactive may have preserved Buffalo’s playoff hopes for at least one more week.

Of course their playoff hopes now rest on defeating teams led by Aaron Rogers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. So hold off on the champagne order just yet.

A few honorable mentions before I sign off.

Da’Norris Searcy had his breakout game, two interceptions and another straight through his hands capped off a fine all round performance. Jarius who?

“Just call me Q.” Post game tweet from MarQueis Gray. Playing his first game for the Bills and now with his third team having been cut by Cleveland and Minnesota. Plays at tight end and had two receptions for 71 yards. The second of these went for 41 yards on an important 3rd and 1 prolonging the Bills drive immediately after Johnny Manziel had put the Browns back within 10 points. The drive would go on to chew another three and a half minutes of fourth quarter clock and add three points.

Nov 30
Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo NY (68,576)

Cleveland 3 0 0 7 – 10
Buffalo 0 0 14 12 – 26

Passing: Brian Hoyer (CLE), 192 yds, 2 INT’s
Rushing: Fred Jackson (BUF), 21 car, 70 yds
Receiving: Miles Austin (CLE), 7 rec, 86 yds
Pigskin Almanac “Ralph” award: Nigel Bradham (BUF)

About

Sean Walsh grew up in Regional Victoria at a time when only two sports existed, Australian Football in Winter and Cricket in Summer. Boarding school and University opened his eyes to a wider world of sport. A Buffalo Bills fan since 1991 thanks to Don Lane and his NFL highlights.

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