With wide receiver Lee Evans being blanketed by Broncos cornerback Dre Bly and a safety for most of the afternoon, Trent Edwards needed only to look across the field to find his next reliable target in Josh Reed.
While Evans ended up with only two catches, Reed came up big all day, but especially during the Bills' game-winning drive, as his possession skills were on display when he made consecutive catches of 16 and 11 yards to give the Bills a first down at the Denver 18-yard-line.
"We'd been looking at this particular formation on tape all week and we were expecting the linebacker to kind of carry Josh a little bit but I kind of stared him down and saw that Josh was open single coverage and I delivered the ball to him," Edwards said.
All the offense needed after Reed's clutch catches were two Fred Jackson runs that ended in the end zone and with the Bills ahead, 30-23 with just under nine minutes to go.
Two more stops by the Buffalo defense gave the playoff-eliminated Bills their first win in four games and their first in Denver since 1967. A win would have clinched the AFC West for Denver, but instead the Broncos will have to play at San Diego next week to decide the division. While many Bills players said they were just focused on winning a single game, Reed said he took satisfaction in successfully playing the spoiler role Sunday.
"It feels great, man. We're 4-0 against the AFC West and things didn't go our way this season but we just went out there and had fun and spoiled it for another team," Reed said.
Reed's career-high nine receptions for 79 yards gave him 54 on the season, the third time in his career he has reached the 50-catch mark. To put his importance in perspective the rest of the Bills receiving corps combined for eight receptions. Reed said he wasn't aware he was having a career day because he was busy focusing on only the catch in front of him.
"That's what everybody was talking about it (the career day), but we were just having fun out there," he said. "The more they come, you just want to make sure you catch more. You don't know how many you're going to get, you don't know how it's going to change the game but you just want to go out there and make them count."
Reed made the catches count after a first quarter in which the Bills gained minus two yards on the ground. The offense regrouped to take the momentum with two scoring drives before halftime. Reed made two key catches of 11 and eight yards on that drive to set up running back Marshawn Lynch's two-yard touchdown run.
"I think that's what really, really changed the game around is when we went in right before half," Reed said. "We had moved the ball kind of like we wanted to. They came out and blitzed us a lot and we felt like they were going to keep doing it as long as we weren't able to handle it and that last drive, we knew we had the ball coming out and we just wanted to capitalize on that."
Edwards said much of Reed's success came from finding Reed in the middle of the field after being matched up against Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who was returning from a groin injury that kept him out seven games.
"We knew going into it that Dre Bly was going to cover Lee all day and that they were going to bring a safety over the top and that's pretty much what we got all day," Edwards said. "There were a couple times they dropped some balls, I'm going to say I could have given them a chance but with Josh on Champ Bailey on the other side with no help, we were able to get him some balls. That's impressive with the way Josh played and I'm very comfortable with Josh Reed in that position and it showed."
"Josh is such a good football player," Bills center Duke Preston said. "I was joking around with him when he was out (injured) when people were questioning how much is the team missing Josh Reed, so I asked him jokingly, 'Are you really that good?' And apparently he is. Nine catches and moving the chains, he's like clockwork out there. For Trent to have a guy that he can throw to like that is a big plus for him."
Edwards has certainly appreciated having Reed back in the lineup after his three-and-a-half game absence just after midseason that spurred from a bruised Pelvis suffered in week eight against Miami. Edwards threw for just 186 yards per game in the Bills' three game skid without Reed. Since Reed's return, Edwards has thrown for 233 yards per game in games he has played start to finish.
Bills coach Dick Jauron said it best when talking about Reed's fearlessness against the eight–time Pro Bowler Bailey and his value to the team.
"What can you say about Josh Reed?" Jauron said. "He's a player. He knows how to play the game. He's crafty, he's tough. He's a physically tough guy. He'll compete with anybody at anytime. He's a real asset to this football team."