It was a game that came down to who had the ball last as the Buffalo and Denver offenses went back and forth all afternoon. In the end the Bills persevered in a thrilling 30-23 final. Buffalo prevented the Broncos from clinching the AFC West title and got their first victory over a team with a winning record as they raised their record to 7-8 on the season.
"We're fighters and that's what we do each week," said Trent Edwards. "Regardless of whether we win, lose or tie, what it is each week, we're going to come to work the next day the next week and come ready to play on Sunday. And that's the attitude of this team and our head coach."
"It's a really good group of people who really work hard and suffer when we lose and don't give up and don't lose heart," said head coach Dick Jauron of his players. "I can't say enough about them. There were so many plays made. So many guys on the defensive side of the ball made plays, but it was a terrific team win for us."
Denver had a last chance to tie it down 30-23 moving into Buffalo's red zone with just over a minute to play. But three of Jay Cutler's last four passes fell incomplete including the critical 4th-and-5 at the Bills 15-yard line as Reggie Corner broke up a touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with 32 seconds remaining to force a turnover on downs.
"He hit me with a double move on the play before, so I kept competing and that's all it was," said Corner. "He had the ball in his hands and I kept going and knocked it out. I had to just run where I knew he would be and that's what I did."
"I always knew Reggie had a lot of talent," said Kawika Mitchell of Corner. "He came in doing the things he's been doing on the field now from the start. It's nice to see our young guys contributing and we need that if we want to win games."
Buffalo's offense kneeled down to kill the clock and seal the victory.
The Bills took the lead with 8:54 left. After a Fred Jackson kick return gave the offense a drive start at the Buffalo 45, Edwards hit Josh Reed on consecutive plays for 16 and 11 yards to set up 1st-and-10 at the 18. Jackson set up first and goal with a 10-yard run and then cut the ball against the grain for an eight-yard touchdown run and a seven-point lead (30-23).
Buffalo's defense put an end to the ping-pong scoring when they got the big stop they needed. On Denver's ensuing drive facing a 3rd-and-15 at the Bills 15-yard line Cutler's attempt over the middle for Brandon Marshall was picked off by Kawika Mitchell at the Bills two-yard line.
"They ran that little out earlier in the game, this time the way I played it I just looked at the receiver and he didn't sell the out as good as he should have," said Mitchell. "I saw him break back up so I just played back in my zone, he threw me the ball and I made the catch."
But Buffalo's offense could only give Brian Moorman just enough breathing room to get off a punt with 3:30 left going three-and-out and giving the ball back to Denver on their final failed attempt to tie the game.
Buffalo's defense delivered big plays in the second half. Donte Whitner separated Brandon Marshall from the football with a big hit following a reception over the middle with nine minutes left in the third quarter. Reggie Corner recovered the loose ball and ran out of bounds at the Buffalo 42. It led to the Bills first lead of the game.
"I'm ball hungry so when I saw it I went after it," said Corner. "Donte made a great play and I capitalized on the ball when it was on the ground. I tried to make something happen and it didn't work, but we got a field goal off of it so that made it worth it."
A 22-yard pass interference penalty on a deep pass attempt from Edwards to Lee Evans then put Buffalo in Denver territory at the Broncos 36. But the drive was halted after Fred Jackson gained just a yard on a shovel pass reception on 3rd-and-10 at the Denver 11. Lindell put the Bills in front for their first lead of the game with a 28-yard field goal with 4:58 left (16-13).
But Denver answered right back as Jay Cutler had three big completions on the drive, two of which went to Daniel Graham for 24 and 23 yards to move into Buffalo territory. Cutler eventually finished the drive with a six-yard bootleg for his second rushing touchdown of the game putting Denver back in front (20-16) in the waning seconds of the third quarter.
Buffalo responded with a big play drive as Fred Jackson pulled in a pass deep down the right sideline and galloped 65 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal at the Broncos three-yard line. Facing third-and-goal at the three after a pair of runs yielded little, Edwards dropped back and hit Steve Johnson on a quick out near the front left corner of the end zone to re-take the lead (23-20) with 12:47 to play.
"That touchdown pass I take a lot of gratification in because in Friday's practice I probably threw three consecutive passes on that particular play to Steve Johnson no higher than his ankles," said Edwards. "I one-hopped them and I hadn't worked with Steve all year on that play particularly, but Steve came up in a big situation."
Denver put together a field goal drive of their own to tie it less than two minutes later on a Matt Prater 43-yard field goal (23-23) before Trent Edwards led Buffalo back in the other direction for what proved to be the game-winning drive.
Edwards in his return to action finished the game 17-25 for 193 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of better than 104. The Bills quarterback needed some time early in the game to shake off the rust, but was sharp particularly in the second half.
"Obviously he hadn't played in a while and was a little rusty at first," said Jauron. "But he's a very tough guy, very resilient. You can see him in the pocket he's not a person that panics. And he takes some hits and he'll stand in there and do what he has to do to try to help the team win."
"The thing we were trying to prepare for all week was all out pressure on third down and second and long and that's what we were getting," said Edwards. "I hadn't played in two weeks so I was trying to get back in the flow of the game. I took some shots, but you've got to get back up and we were able to put a drive together at the end of the first half to get momentum on our side."
His steady play helped the Bills completely erase a 13-0 first half deficit early in the third quarter. Buffalo mixed the run and the pass effectively on their first possession of the third quarter, but the drive stalled at the Denver 30. However, Rian Lindell bailed out the offense with a 49-yard field goal to tie the game at 13.
Denver got off to a lightning fast start in the game as they put together a pair of eight play scoring drives on their first two possessions. Rookie running back P.J. Pope ripped off 38 yards on five carries on the first drive before Jay Cutler ran a naked bootleg in for an easy two-yard touchdown run.
That was followed on their next possession by a 23-yard Matt Prater field goal to stake Denver to an early 10-0 lead. The field goal was set up by a 71-yard gain on a reverse to Broncos rookie wideout Eddie Royal.
Buffalo's offense was stuck in neutral on their first two possessions as Denver used an array of pressures to keep the Bills out of sync. Trent Edwards and company ran only seven plays from scrimmage on their first two drives.
The Broncos eventually added another field goal for a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter before Buffalo could mount a scoring drive of their own. The Bills got a big third down conversion from Roscoe Parish on a 3rd-and-8 at the Denver 46 and a roughing the passer penalty on Elvis Dumervil put Buffalo in the red zone with a fresh set of downs. Ultimately however, the Bills had to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Rian Lindell (13-3).
Denver's offense then went in reverse on their next possession and a missed 54-yard field goal attempt by Prater gave the Bills the ball at their own 44-yard line. Trent Edwards then executed an effective two-minute drill drive going 4-5 passing for 38 yards with Marshawn Lynch capping the drive on a two-yard pitch play to the front left corner of the end zone to make it a three-point game (13-10).
"Our defense just kept battling and kept forcing them to kick field goals, which was huge," said Jauron. "Then to take it and finish it like that and get seven on the board was a big pick me up for everybody. To take it down the field and put it in the end zone was huge for us."
With the scoring run Lynch set a new single season career high as it was his eighth rushing touchdown of the season.
Buffalo will try to close out the season with a .500 record when they host New England at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.