Watkins Caps Wild Bills Comeback
In the cozy confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium against an inferior opponent most expected to be handled easily, the Buffalo Bills spent Sunday afternoon playing with fire. It wasn’t, literally, until the game’s final second the Bills were able to put away the Minnesota Vikings, 17-16 for their third win against an NFC North opponent in as many tries.
Kyle Orton hit Sammy Watkins on a two-yard pass near the left chalk line of the end zone and Dan Carpenter delivered the game-winning extra point with the clock showing one second remaining, capping an improbable 15-play, 80 yard drive over the final 3:06 of the game.
It was improbable due to the reckless nature the Bills offense spent the lion's share of the game playing. For a second consecutive week Buffalo gave the ball away four times, including a telegraphed Orton interception for a third straight game. To make matters worse the offensive line, particularly Cyril Richardson and Cordy Glenn were abused as Orton was sacked six times.
It was Buffalo's first victory when giving up four turnovers since 1997.
The biggest offensive blow of them all were significant injuries to their top two running backs in the first half. Fred Jackson was carted off the field with a significant groin injury in the second quarter and not long after that, C.J. Spiller was carted off in visible pain after apparently breaking his collarbone falling to the ground after a 53-yard run. It was his first and only carry of the day.
Both had towels draped over their heads when carted off, obviously hiding tears.
Fortunately for Bills fans, Watkins wouldn’t be denied sending home the sold-out crowd happy. After being held to just two catches last week was obviously a major part of the Bills game plan against the Vikings and answered the bell with career-highs of nine catches, 122 yards and both Orton touchdown passes.
"The more that we can get stuff to him, we trust," Marrone said of his rookie receiver. He can get open, he has excellent hands, he can run after the catch and he can make plays. "It’s something that every week we’re looking at. At the same time, we’ve got to be able to spread it out all over the place. It’s not as easy as people think. "
Marrone’s right. When it mattered most, other players stepped up with big catches. Scott Chandler gave the Bills a chance on the final winning drive with a 24-yard catch over the on fourth and 20 from their own 40 with 1:27 left. Chris Hogan made a great catch for 28 yards down the left sideline to set up Watkin’s lasts second touchdown.
There was no doubt in Marrone’s mind the ball was going to Watkins with the game in the balance.
“We moved him into the boundary. We knew the route and everything. We moved Sammy into the boundary and went there.”
The ugly turnovers that plagued the Bills against New England last week quickly resurfaced Sunday. Hogan fumbled away Buffalo’s opening drive when Chris Blanton recovered a loose ball at the Vikings 12. The Bills defense held but Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr stripped receiver Robert Woods and recovered the fumble at the Buffalo 27 on their next drive, leading to a Blair Walsh 40-yard field goal for the only points of the first quarter.
The Bills used a turnover to their advantage to take the lead at 5:37 of the second quarter. Leodis McKelvin made a brilliant interception of Teddy Bridgewater at the Vikings 26-yard line and just one play later Orton found Watkins down the right sideline for a touchdown and 7-3 Bills lead.
Orton completed 31 of his 43 passes on the day for 283 yards and the pair of touchdowns to Watkins.
They didn’t hold the lead for long. The Vikings had a five play, 60-yard drive highlighted by Teddy Bridgewater connecting with Greg Jennings for 38-yards on third down to the Bills 19, and two plays later hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a four yard score.
Carpenter and Walsh exchanged field goals as Minnesota led at halftime, 13-10.
There was no scoring in the third quarter, mainly because Orton committed Buffalo’s fourth turnover of the day and second in the Minnesota red zone after fumbling the ball away on a sack by Everson Griffen.
Griffin dominated Richardson and Glenn and finished with three sacks.
The Bills defense was pretty dominant themselves. Marcell Dareus had two more sacks to raise his total this season to seven while Jerry Hughes added 1.5 sacks.
They’ve easily been Buffalo’s best two defenders this season.
The Bills did allow a season-high 158 rushing yards, including 103 by the unheralded Jerick McKinnon but held their ground, particularly on third downs as the Vikings converted less than a third of their attempts.
As for the Bills running game, Spiller is likely done for the season, although Marrone said he’ll miss an “indefinite amount of time” while Jackson’s fate could be decided Monday after a MRI. Regardless, Bryce Brown will see his first action next week against the New York Jets, and the Bills could add another running back as well.
Dixon, who ran for 51 yards on 13 carries, thinks he’s ready to carry the load for as long as it’s necessary.
“I’ve been preparing of my life for that,” he said. “I work hard every day, working on the little stuff and working on making plays for this team. I was prepared.”
To label this an ugly win almost feels like too much of a compliment. It was, for the most part a pathetic showing they somehow got away with. Four turnovers, two talented running backs down and six sacks is typically a recipe for a lopsided loss, but the 2-5 Vikings and their rookie quarterback simply didn’t have the firepower to put the Bills away when they had (many) chances.
Bottom line—the Bills improved to 4-3 and remain just one game back of New England in the AFC East. They have a winnable road contest next Sunday against the 1-6 New York Jets before their bye week.
“A win’s a win and we’re all ecstatic. We’re happy. We’re going to enjoy this for tonight then we’re on to the next one getting ready for the (New York) Jets.”
We’ll have much more reaction to Buffalo’s latest victory on Mix 96 Buffalo tomorrow.