September 25, 2011
Having their tiebreaking touchdown overturned in the final two minutes of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots game ended up being the best thing that could have happened to the Buffalo Bills.
With the scored tied at 31 and the Bills driving for the go-ahead score late in the game, running back Fred Jackson(notes) caught a Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) pass mid-stride and bolted 38 yards to the end zone. He was hit inside the 5-yard line by New England's Devin McCourtey but appeared to get over the line to give Buffalo a touchdown lead with 1:43 remaining. However, a replay review showed Jackson's knee was clearly down before he broke the plane and the Bills had their points taken off the board. A touchdown and a lead turned into first-and-goal and a tie. Bad news for Buffalo and good news for New England, right?
Not this time.
Because the Bills didn't want to give Tom Brady(notes) and the Pats a chance to even the score, Ryan Fitzpatrick took a knee to run down the clock so the team could attempt a game-winning field goal as time expired. New England was powerless to stop it; the Pats only had one timeout. (That didn't stop them from taking some cheap shots at Fitzpatrick and drawing a penalty, though.)
The plan worked to perfection. Buffalo ran down the clock to three seconds, called timeout and kicker Rian Lindell(notes) booted a 28-yard field goal as the clock hit zero, giving the Bills the victory and continuing the most improbable 3-0 start in recent memory. The touchdown that wasn't helped them get there.
Could the decision to play for the field goal have backfired? Absolutely. Lindell may have missed the kick or Fitzpatrick could have fumbled a snap. But those risks are minimal compared to how much could have potentially gone wrong trying to get the ball in from a yard out. The circumstances made the field goal the safer play.
Buffalo still would have been thrilled if Jackson had scored the touchdown. Points are points and you never can pass up the chance to put them on the board. Thus, the idea that Jackson could have fallen before the end zone even if there wasn't a defender around (something I heard a Buffalo fan say in the aftermath of the game) is ludicrous. You always take the points, even if it gives Tom Brady 103 seconds to try and put together a game-tying drive. When the touchdown was stripped, there were no points to take off, only points to set up.
Maybe it was New England that should have employed unorthodox late-game strategies: Let Fred Jackson score and Brady gets his chance to orchestrate a comeback.
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