TORONTO - The Atlanta Falcons took this victory away from the Buffalo Bills. Not once, but twice.
Two forced fumbles -- one as regulation was winding down and one in overtime -- proved to be the difference, and Matt Bryant kicked a 36-yard field goal with 12 minutes remaining in the extra session to give the Falcons a 34-31 victory at the Rogers Centre on Sunday.
It was Atlanta's first road victory in six tries this season and improved its record to 3-9. The Bills dropped to 4-8 and lost for the fifth time in six seasons at their once-a-year, home-away-from-home.
It appeared the Bills were on their way to their second consecutive victory near the end of regulation when quarterback EJ Manuel completed a 14-yard pass to Stevie Johnson. But before the Bills receiver could get out of bounds, cornerback Robert McClain punched the ball out of his hands and Falcons safety William Moore recovered at the Atlanta 28 with 20 seconds remaining.
The Bills won the toss in overtime, and Manuel hit Scott Chandler over the middle for 22 yards to the Buffalo 45-yard line, but the Falcons' opportunistic secondary struck again. Moore forced the tight end to cough the ball up, and Falcons cornerback Robert Alford scooped it up, then lateralled to Desmond Trufant, who returned it to the Buffalo 47.
Running back Steven Jackson ran for four yards, quarterback Matt Ryan completed a 20-yard screen pass to Harry Douglas, and Jackson carried twice more for six yards to set up Bryant's game-winner.
"As a defensive unit, we take pride in our jobs, we take pride in what we put up on the board, we take pride in our stats, we take pride in winning,'' McClain said. "The season hasn't gone the way we wanted it to go, but we go out there and we fight non-stop, regardless of the score."
The Falcons offense did its part, too. Ryan survived six sacks and numerous pressures to complete 28 of 47 passes for 311 yards and one score. Wide receiver Roddy White was his favorite target with 10 catches for 143 yards. And Jackson finished with 84 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
What the Falcons said
"We talked as a team about finishing the season strong, and we know exactly what we're playing for. We're playing for pride. We're playing to show our character as a team overall." - RB Steven Jackson
What the Bills said
"We had the game in our grasp and we let it slip away." - RB Fred Jackson
What we learned about the Falcons
1. The Falcons offense can be dynamic with a healthy Steven Jackson at running back. At full strength now after missing four games, Jackson is beginning to look like the back he was in St. Louis, when he strung together eight straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He's a load, and he still has a burst. This season might have turned out differently had he not been sidelined.
2. The Falcons aren't just packing it in. They seem to have some pride left. There were several opportunities Sunday when they could have quit, but they kept fighting, particularly their defense, which came up with two huge takeaways near the end.
What we leanred about the Bills
1. RB C.J. Spiller is back to being C.J. Spiller. The bye week did him wonders. After rushing for just 29 yards in 21 carries in his previous two games combined, Spiller spent the off week resting his sprained ankle and studying film. The result was a monster game, including a 77-yard burst, the longest of his career.
2. QB EJ Manuel continues to progress. He was calm and collected during crunch time, making excellent passes to Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler. Had those two completions not resulted in fumbles, Manuel probably would have had another victory on his resume.