The assortment of issues plaguing the Bills offense improved Sunday, but couldn't produce a notch in the win column. While it was difficult finding a positive outlook following the 18-15 loss to Jacksonville, the main headline was Terrell Owens' most productive game in a Bills uniform.
Owens finally had the type of game the team and fan base envisioned when he signed a one-year contract in March. He certainly hasn't lived up to expectations thus far, catching just 26 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns before torching the Jacksonville secondary Sunday.
Owens hauled in nine balls for 197 yards including a 98-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
The score was not only the longest of Owens career, but his 48th career 100-yard receiving game, breaking a tie with Michael Irvin for fifth most in NFL history. But for the veteran receiver his personal stats were less than fulfilling.
"For me personally it's all for nothing if we don't get the win," Owens said. "But I thank God for the opportunity to make plays and that's what I've always wanted to do. Offensively we made some strides, but still came up a few plays short."
Owens pointed to the offense's struggles in the fourth quarter, and the importance of finishing games, before speaking of his individual accomplishments.
The long touchdown, however, remained the biggest highlight. The Bills trailed 10-9 at the break, and started their first possession of the second half pinned on their own two-yard line. Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back on a 1st-and-10 play and heaved a deep pass down the right sideline for Owens, who had a step on Jaguars corner Tyron Brackenridge. He ran under the pass, catching the ball in midstride, and escaped a shoestring tackle running to the end zone unscathed.
While it quickly gave the Bills a 15-10 lead, the score marked the ninth time in NFL history a pass has covered 98 yards and is the longest passing play in franchise history. The previous record was established on Dec. 1, 1996 as Todd Collins hit Quinn Early for a 95-yard touchdown against the Colts.
The original play call was a short pass, but Fitzpatrick saw a favorable matchup on the outside and took advantage.
"We had a quick pass called and I just saw the corner sitting out there one-on-one with Terrell," Fitzpatrick said. "It looked pretty good to me, it looked enticing. I just threw it up there with a lot of air on it, and Terrell did his thing and ran under it. It's a simple go and throw route. Everyone has that in their offense and it was matter of getting it at the right time."
Owens credited Fitzpatrick's ability to make the audible, and said it was a situation where the signal caller read the single coverage and made the right adjustment.
"Ryan is a smart quarterback. He knows how to assess the defense and put us in the right situations," Owens said. "Even on the long touchdown, we had a run play called and got out of that based on what the defense showed us, then made a great throw."
Despite his below average numbers thus far, Owens was targeted early and found creases on several crossing routes. By halftime, Owens caught six passes taking advantage of a Jaguars secondary missing corner Rashean Mathis and linebacker Justin Durant to injury.
"It's every week because with the guys we have out there, we feel it's an edge for us just because of how talented Lee and Terrell are," Fitzpatrick said. "We thought we could throw the ball around a little bit and unfortunately we came up short."
Interim head coach Perry Fewell said Owens' track record makes him dangerous in any situation.
"He's Terrell Owens and if we could just protect well enough, he's still a good receiver," Fewell said. "We tried to get our playmakers the ball, and I thought Alex (Van Pelt) did a great job of getting T.O involved, Lee involved."
With his final reception today, Owens moved past Marvin Harrison for fourth place on the all-time receiving yardage list at 14,586 yards.
"I don't play the game for a lot of the records, it's just part of what I do," he said. "Again, I thank the Lord for the opportunities I've been longing for since coming here."
Owens remains an integral part of his team's success, yet the Bills playoff aspirations are all but dashed at 3-7. For this reason he just wants to see improvement no matter the outcome.
"It's tough because you want to approach every season with the eye on the prize, and that's the Super Bowl. In order to get there, you have to get wins and make the playoffs. It looks bleak, but we have to finish strong. I feel like I've put that on my shoulders, and want to finish strong no matter what."