The Denver Broncos needed no incentive Sunday. A win at home and they'd lock up the division title and a ticket to the postseason. The Buffalo Bills? Not so much. With each loss more devastating than the last, the bumbling Bills were just looking for mercy.
With one comeback, the future of a coach, a quarterback and a team's direction were delightfully complicated.
With Trent Edwards back from injury, the Bills played an inspired 2nd half and stunned the Broncos, 30-23 at Invesco Field Sunday. In the second coldest game ever at Denver, the Bills triggered parties everywhere in San Diego. Now Denver heads into a win-and-you're-in showdown with San Diego next week.
Edwards played a flawless game, going 17-of-25 for 193 yards and a touchdown, as Fred Jackson relieved an injured Marshawn Lynch to supply some big plays to the once-stale Bills offense. Jackson accounted for 103 total yards, including the game-winning 8-yard touchdown run with 8:54 left.
Denver had two golden opportunities to tie the game at the end of the fourth quarter and the Bills ‘D' stepped up both times. With less than six minutes to go, linebacker Kawika Mitchell picked off Jay Cutler at the goal line. The Bills were forced to punt and Denver mounted one last rally, driving all the way to Buffalo's 15-yard line. But on 4th-and-5, Cutler's pass to Brandon Stokely in the back of the end zone was broken up by Reggie Corner --- sealing a gutty win for a Bills team that needed one in the worst way.
Buffalo fell into a 13-0 hole early, but headed into halftime on a high note. Mike Shanahan opted for a long field goal attempt with under 2 minutes left in the half, but the decision backfired. Matt Prater missed the 54-yard try and Buffalo drove 56 yards to close the score to 13-10. Edwards calmly was 4-of-5 for 38 yards on the drive, as Marshawn Lynch punched in the key touchdown.
Game on. Buffalo and Denver engaged in a back-and-forth classic from there.
Two Rian Lindell field goals put Buffalo ahead 16-13, the second kick the result of a forced fumble by Donte Whitner that was recovered by Corner. Cutler (359 yards), who set a new team record for passing yards in a season (4,210), fired back. He led his team on a nine-play, 84-yard drive, capping the drive with his 2nd rushing score of the day.
Edwards, needing a solid game to solidify his spot as the Bills' starting quarterback, responded to Cutler. He hit Jackson up the right sideline for 65 yards that got the ball to Denver's 3-yard line. The pass was a well-timed, in-stride wheel route to Jackson, who then reversed direction to gain more yardage. Three plays later, Edwards placed another ball perfectly. This one to Steve Johnson's outside shoulder in the end zone to put Buffalo ahead 23-20.
A Prater field goal knotted the game back up, and Jackson struck again. The do-it-all back took the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Broncos' 45-yard line, later scoring on his own to put the Bills ahead for good.
On Denver's final incompletion to end the game, Stokely said afterward he felt the ball in his hands before Corner knocked it out --- a stroke of luck that has eluded Buffalo all season long.
But instead of Denver cruising through the struggling Bills as expected, Buffalo earned a marquee win in a season full of heartbreaking losses. This past week, it was reported that head coach Dick Jauron and the team had agreed to a contract extension earlier in the season. Also, the up-and-down play of Edwards began to raise doubts about his future with the team.
After the team's high-energy output Sunday, the future of Jauron, Edwards and this team in general is anyone's guess. The team somehow rebounded from last week's surreal, last-minute loss to the Jets --- possibly a reflection of Jauron. And Edwards played possibly his best game of the season, cooly dissecting Denver's defense in the 2nd half to perfection. Regardless, the Bills will take a win in any form they can.
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