ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)—Byron Leftwich spent the first 58 minutes looking terrible, and the last two looking remarkable.
So much for the criticism that followed the second-year quarterback through four preseason games in which he failed to generate a touchdown drive. And what a confidence-boosting effort for a young Jaguars team which opened the season hoping to improve on last year’s 5-11 finish.
“I don’t know how to put a measuring stick on it, but it’s got to do something,” receiver Jimmy Smith said. “This is huge for us.”
The transformation of Leftwich was impressive.
Before the winning drive, Leftwich had gone 11-of-23 for 75 yards, converted just two of 10 third-down attempts and threw two interceptions. In the final 2:07, he went 7-of-13 for 72 yards, and converted three fourth-down plays.
That included the touchdown, when the Jaguars faced fourth-and-goal from the 7 with four seconds remaining. Leftwich sent up a touch pass to the back of the end zone, where Wilford out-muscled three Bills defenders and came down with the ball as he fell out of bounds.
The play was reviewed, and the officials’ ruling on the field that Wilford was pushed out stood, stunning a soldout crowd that had spent most of the game cheering on a strong defensive effort.
Leftwich chose Wilford because at 6-foot-4, he presents a tall target and, as a former basketball player, possesses great leaping ability.
“Anytime you’re 6-foot-4, you’re open,” Leftwich said smiling.
Just as impressive was Leftwich hitting Smith up the left sideline for a 45-yard reception when facing fourth-and-14. Smith made the catch in one-on-one coverage by out-muscling cornerback Nate Clements along the left sideline.
For Wilford, a fourth-round pick, it was his only reception of the game. For Leftwich, it was his second fourth-quarter comeback after he rallied the Jaguars back in last year’s 28-23 win over Indianapolis on Nov. 9.
The win snapped a nine-game road losing streak for the Jaguars that dated back to a Dec. 15, 2002, win at Cincinnati.
The loss ruined coach Mike Mularkey’s debut with Buffalo, and the blame can squarely be placed on a Drew Bledsoe-led offense that bumbled. Buffalo dominated the time of possession by more than seven minutes and settled for 10 points despite three trips into the red zone.
“I’m a little bit in shock,” said Bledsoe. “I really felt we were in control of the ballgame the whole way.”
Bledsoe finished 17-for-26 for 153 yards.
So sure was Bledsoe that things were going to turn out well, that he spent the past two weeks preparing how he was going to present the game ball to Mularkey.
That’s now on hold.
Defensive end Aaron Schobel deflected blame to the defense.
“If we’re such a great defense, we got to stop them,” Schobel said. “You beat them all day like that … maybe this will make us stronger but, damn, this was our time to stop them.”
The Jaguars win erased some of the troubling memories of last season, in which six of their 11 losses were decided by seven points or less.
“This is big,” Leftwich said. “We went on the road and didn’t win a football game all year. And if we want to be successful, you have to win games on the road.”
Buffalo’s Willis McGahee made his NFL debut after missing all of his rookie season last year recovering from a severe left knee injury. The former first-round pick played most of the fourth quarter after Henry left the game complaining of cramps in his left leg.
McGahee finished with 31 yards on nine carries and a catch for 12 yards.
Reese’s interception was the first by a Bills safety in 43 games, going back to Buffalo’s 13-10 win at Jacksonville on Oct. 18, 2001. … Moulds’ touchdown, which followed Clements’ interception, matched his total from last season, in which he was limited for most of the year with a groin injury. … Fred Taylor led the Jaguars with 61 yards rushing and Smith had four catches for 83 yards.