The Bills offense saw an opportunity deep down the middle of the field. Tight end Charles Clay slanted down the middle from the right side of the line of scrimmage, wide open. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor heaved the ball 21 yards. Clay dropped it. Incomplete. Three-and-out. Colton Schmidt came on to punt with 12:13 left in the fourth quarter.
But on the first play after the two minute warning, Taylor saw the same look. Clay sprinted up field on a delayed go route, again uncovered. This time, he caught the ball. Forty yards. Touchdown.
"Those guys put a ton of trust in me, after the drop, to come back and give me a chance to make another play," said Clay. "Tyrod trusted me in that situation. He put that ball on the money. Those are the hardest ones to complete when a guy is wide open, hardest one to catch too. I feel like I did a pretty good job of trying to put the drop behind me. I have a lot of teammates, like Richie (Incognito) telling me that I'll make up for it. For them to come back to me meant a lot."
"It was very big. I could tell he was a little down after the first drop, but it's important for guys to remember that there are a lot of plays in the game," said Taylor. "Of course you want to make every play, but you have to brush it off, get to the sideline and brush it off, and be ready for the next opportunity. He was."
The play worked because Texans safety Quintin Demps followed backup tight end Matthew Mulligan on a corner route to the right sideline. Without Demps in deep center field, the defense had nobody to stop Clay.
"When you've got a guy who is playing as fast as [Mulligan] was, you have to cover, and he was hauling. He did a good job of clearing it out. He cleared two maybe three people with him," said Clay. "His job is basically to hold that safety where he is. You can bend it, but you definitely want to keep him high. He did it perfect. His job is to take one person and he took two."
Mulligan may only have 17 career receptions and just one catch this season, but strong route running on the play convinced Demps to commit to him. When asked after the game about his role on the game winning score, his face lit up.
"I'm a threat. Teams know that," Mulligan said. "They're scared. I tell people that all the time."
Mulligan addressed the idea that Demps should have let him run free to stick with Clay by citing the importance of crisp route running.
"Here's the thing," he said. "When you go out there, and you run hard, and you play fast, you can spook people. Those guys [today] played it probably the way that they should have. If I'm out there running hard, they should take me."
By Mulligan's logic, Demps did the right thing. The Texans paid for it, as Clay's third touchdown of the season, his first since Week Three, proved to be the decisive score.
Clay began his first season with the Bills with two touchdowns in three games, but since Week Four, he has had three games with just one reception, and four games with less than 32 yards. Even though the statistics haven't always glistened, Mulligan argued that Clay is extremely involved in the offensive game plan.
"The dude has 50-something catches, so he's been pretty involved," said Mulligan. "It doesn't matter who you are, you're going to have games where the ball doesn't always come your way, but Charles has been extremely productive this year. He's on pace to break every tight end record here at the Bills."
With a strong finish, Clay could set single-season highs for a Bills tight end in receptions and receiving yards. Currently, he is on pace for 66 catches and 692 yards. The team records in those categories are 68 (Peter Metzelaars, 1993) and 726 (Paul Costa, 1967) respectively. Clay is three trips to the end zone away from tying Scott Chandler's team record six touchdowns.
"It's good to just get a win," said Clay. "I don't get too much into the numbers. However they want to use me to present an advantage for us against the defense, I'm all for it."