Buffalo stamped itself a legitimate AFC contender as they sent a perennial AFC power in San Diego to a sub-500 record (3-4) with an inspiring 23-14 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday. The Bills advanced their mark to 5-1 maintaining sole possession of first place in the AFC East as they made it four straight wins off the bye week.
"I think so," said Chris Kelsay when asked if it was a statement win. "You look at what they've achieved and they're obviously one of the best teams in not only the AFC, but the whole league. We beat them. There wasn't any trickery. They played great football and we played great football and we beat them."
Kawika Mitchell made the play of the game midway through the fourth quarter. With Buffalo holding onto a 20-14 lead, Mitchell dropped into coverage and made a leaping interception in his own end zone on an attempted touchdown pass by Philip Rivers returning it out to the Bills 30.
The Bills offense then moved into field goal range where Rian Lindell hit his third field goal of the day from 44 yards away to make it a two-score game (23-14) with just over three minutes remaining. But a sack by Mitchell forced a Rivers's fumble on the second play of the possession. Copeland Bryan recovered effectively ending any last ditch comeback effort by the Chargers.
"As always in games, every play matters, but there were a couple of huge ones," said head coach Dick Jauron. "Kawika's interception and then turnover late in the game. Just huge plays in any football game."
Buffalo's attack used a short to intermediate passing game to move the ball as Trent Edwards completed seven passes to Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson and another nine to inside targets Roscoe Parrish, Josh Reed and Robert Royal.
Edwards finished 25-30 passing for 261 yards and a touchdown for a 114 passer rating.
"I expected a little more man coverage because they have two well respected cornerbacks," said Reed. "I was shocked when we went out there and a lot of times they were in zone and so it was a matter of going out there and finding the open holes. And when you hit that many receivers it makes it hard to double team certain people."
The offensive line set a goal of keeping their quarterback upright just two weeks removed from a concussion, and were successful as Edwards consistently had time to throw and was not sacked in the game.
"We did a great job all day of neutralizing their pass rush and allowing me to go through my first, second and third progression and get the all off when I needed to," said Edwards. "The most important part was I wasn't taking hits and as a quarterback you feel more and more comfortable throughout the game."
The Bills best offensive drive of the day came late in the third quarter. Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish had first down yardage receptions of 15 and 22 yards respectively to get Buffalo into scoring territory. On a 1st-and-5 from the nine-yard line, Langston Walker, Jason Whittle and Fred Jackson led the way for Marshawn Lynch on a nine-yard touchdown run as Buffalo went up 20-14.
"I thought we fought and everyone competed," said Derrick Dockery. "We knew we were playing a very talented team. We knew they were going to make plays and we knew we would have to respond. Trent Edwards did an outstanding job of leading us down the field and getting us points."
Buffalo's defense was able to hold the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson in check throughout the game as he finished with just 41 rushing yards on 14 carries for a 2.9 yards per carry average.
"That's what we wanted to do," said Marcus Stroud. "We wanted to come in and get a lot of guys around him and try to gang tackle him. He is the type of back that you don't want to let get going."
However, a well-executed reverse by Vincent Jackson, who also had two receptions on the drive including a 12-yard touchdown reception, helped put San Diego back in front 14-13 midway through the third.
Buffalo's had built a 13-7 lead through the first two quarters using short passes to double as a running game as yards on the ground as the Bills averaged just 2.4 yards per carry with 24 yards on 10 rushes in the first half.
The Bills got on the board first as Edwards and Lee Evans were a popular combination on the team's opening drive. Evans accounted 43 of the 52 yards on the drive with three receptions all of which went for first down yardage. But the possession stalled at the San Diego 20 as Buffalo was forced to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Rian Lindell and a 3-0 first quarter edge. Evans finished with eight receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown.
San Diego followed with an 11-play drive of their own as Philip Rivers was 7-8 passing on the drive with his final completion coming on a 14-yard touchdown strike to Malcolm Floyd for a 7-3 lead. The Chargers overcame an offensive pass interference penalty on the drive that negated a touchdown a few plays earlier.
Buffalo responded with a nice drive of their own, but when the Chargers got a third down stop it brought up a 52-yard field goal attempt from Lindell, who pushed the kick wide right.
The change of possession didn't last long however, as Rivers fumbled on a 3rd-and-3 at the Chargers 48 when he was sacked by Kyle Williams. Marcus Stroud recovered at the San Diego 38. Stroud was satisfied with the pressure they were able to generate on Rivers through the course of the game.
"It was very important," said Stroud. "When you have a guy like that who has those types of weapons around him and you give him a chance he will pick you apart. We were able to get pressure on him and make him make decisions."
Seven plays after the takeaway the Bills re-took the lead as Evans made an extremely difficult one-handed catch in the right side of the end zone while toeing the sideline for a two-yard touchdown catch and a 10-7 advantage late in the first quarter.
"I caught it with one hand and trying to bring it in I used my shoulder pad and helmet and did a good job of getting my feet in," said Evans. "It's one of those things you don't really practice, you just have to make a play on the ball when it comes."
Before the half expired, the Bills added a second Lindell field goal from 27 yards out to take a six-point lead to the locker room (13-7).
Buffalo remained undefeated at home (3-0) and carries momentum into an AFC East division slate over the next three weeks beginning with next Sunday's road date at Miami.