The fourth quarter had been dubbed Tebow time by those that closely followed the Broncos, but on Christmas Eve in Buffalo the fourth quarter belonged to the Bills defense. Buffalo posted back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns on two straight Denver possessions to turn a comfortable lead by the Bills into a rout in a 40-14 victory over the Broncos. The win snapped Buffalo's seven-game losing streak.
"It's special," said Spencer Johnson, who had one of the interception return touchdowns. "We had a monkey on our back for a long time for a bunch of weeks. It feels good for the defense to play like we did and how we knew were capable of playing. We finally put together all the pieces and had a dominant performance."
Buffalo had built a 26-13 on three straight field goal drives, with the last coming on a late third quarter interception of Tebow by Justin Rogers.
On Denver's second series of the fourth quarter Tebow was picked off on a late throw over the middle by Jairus Byrd, who returned it 37 yards for a touchdown to make it 33-14. On the very next play from scrimmage, Chris Kelsay hit Tebow from behind as he wound up to throw jarring the ball loose. The fluttering ball was intercepted by Spencer Johnson, who rumbled 17 yards to pay dirt for another score to put the game away with 7:45 remaining (40-14).
Tebow in an attempt to rally would throw his fourth interception of the game on a pass to the end zone intended for Eddie Royal, but Aaron Williams had good leverage on the play and intercepted it for a touchback. For Tebow it was the first four-interception game of his career.
With the two interception returns for touchdowns Buffalo set a team record for interception touchdowns in a season with five.
"Defensively, we fought hard and our defensive coordinator did a great job of calling the game," said Chris Kelsay, who had a team-leading nine tackles, a pair of sacks and a quarterback hit that led to Johnson's interception return. "I know the guys and the excitement in our locker room I'm really happy for this win, but more so just proud of our defensive coordinator and how he put us in position to make plays."
Buffalo's defense stacked eight players in the box and dared Denver to throw to beat them. Tim Tebow struggled to do so going 13-30 for 185 yards with just a single touchdown pass against his four picks. More importantly the Broncos number one ranked rushing attack averaged just 3.8 yards per carry as they held leading rush Willis McGahee to 64 yards on the ground.
"They got a couple of passes on us, but really I thought we kept the pressure on the run game the whole day," said head coach Chan Gailey. "They did a good job after the first drive of seeing things and getting a feel for the speed of what they were doing with that option stuff. I thought it was a great job of planning and playing by our defense."
C.J. Spiller had his first 100-yard rushing day with 111 yards on 16 carries and a score as Buffalo improved to 6-9 on the season. He also had Buffalo's only offensive touchdown of the day on a four-yard run.
The Broncos took their opening possession and quickly put seven on the board with Tim Tebow firing a 17-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Fells on a post route to pull Denver to within a field goal (17-14) just over three minutes into the second half.
Buffalo responded with a nine-play 64-yard drive led by C.J. Spiller. After a pair of short passes by Ryan Fitzpatrick maintained short down and distance, Spiller ripped off a 10-yard run on a 2nd-and-2 and followed on the next play with a 25-yard burst up the middle to the Broncos five-yard line. For the third time in the game however, Buffalo could not punch it over the goal line and the Bills settled for a 25-yard field goal by Dave Rayner (20-14) with six minutes left in the third.
After the Bills defense got the ball back following the sixth three-and-out by Denver, the offense orchestrated a seven-play 56-yard drive, but again had to take a short field goal from Rayner from 25 yards away for a nine-point lead (23-14).
A Tim Tebow interception by Justin Rogers would lead to another three points. The Bills got as close as the Denver 11, but again could not find the end zone and took a 29-yard field goal by Rayner to balloon the lead to 26-13 with 13 minutes remaining.
"I'm not going to sit and complain and analyze everything we did on offense that we could've done better in the red zone and stuff," said Fitzpatrick. "After a win like this especially since we lost so many in a row you enjoy the victory, enjoy it in there with your teammates and take your hat off to the defense and special teams guys and to C.J. who had his first 100-yard game."
Denver came out and established their ground game early pounding out 53 yards on a 73-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Tim Tebow capped the possession with a one-yard touchdown plunge to give the Broncos an early 7-0 lead.
That lead would stand despite two quality scoring opportunities by Buffalo. The first was set up by C.J. Spiller run to the Broncos 38. Though the drive stalled the Bills had a shot at a 45-yard field goal, but Dave Rayner hooked it wide left.
Rayner unfortunately would hook a second attempt wide left on Buffalo's next possession from 31 yards out allowing Denver to remain ahead by a touchdown.
Buffalo finally got on the board with six minutes remaining in the second quarter when a 55-yard pass play from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson got the Bills inside the Broncos 15-yard line. Though the offense again was unable to punch it in Rayner put a 28-yard field goal through to make it 7-3.
After the Buffalo defense forced Denver three-and-out for a third straight possession Leodis McKelvin returned the punt down the near sideline 80 yards for a touchdown to put the Bills in front 10-7.
"I told the guys before the game if you give me three times with the ball in my hands I guarantee one ball will go to the end zone," McKelvin said. "They gave me a great opportunity to return the ball and everything happened for a reason."
Following a big third down stop by Chris Kelsay on a 3rd-and-1 the Bills offense went into their two-minute mode and again a big pass play put Buffalo in scoring position. On a 2nd-and-5 play from the Denver 37, Fitzpatrick hit David Nelson on a deep out for a 30-yard hook-up to set up 1st-and-goal at the Broncos seven-yard line.
Two plays later C.J. Spiller scored on a delayed hand-off for a four-yard touchdown to push Buffalo's lead at halftime to 17-7.
For Buffalo it was their fifth home win of the season to finish the 2011 home campaign at 5-3 the best since 2004.
"I think it was a good thing for everybody," said Gailey. "You don't belabor the point, but at the same time it's kind of sitting there in the back of everybody's mind. I didn't say we've got to go out and have it, but everybody knows it feels better to have a win like this and we have one more opportunity, which is great."
The Bills hit the road to wrap up the 2011 season at New England for a 1 pm kickoff on New Year's Day.