Mitch Morse took the temperature of the sideline as the Buffalo Bills watched a 28-3, third-quarter lead dissipate into a four-point deficit against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
The veteran center has seen it go both ways during his six NFL seasons. A team can crumble under that sort of adversity, or it can rally around it.
"I'll tell you what, when things weren't going well, when they scored 29 straight, our sideline was urgent, but it was positive," Morse said. "… It's a sign of a resilient team. It's a sign of a team that cares about each other."
The Bills responded with a rollercoaster of a final drive that featured two third-and-long plays and a game-saving penalty on fourth down. It ended with a touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Allen to embattled tight end Tyler Kroft that secured a 35-32 victory.
Afterward, those involved detailed the plays that made it all possible.
Los Angeles took a 32-28 lead with 4:30 remaining on a one-yard run by Darrell Henderson Jr. It was the fourth straight touchdown drive for the Rams, who trailed 28-3 with five minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Bills opened the next drive at their own 25-yard line. Allen completed a pass to Beasley for 18 yards on first down but fell into trouble quickly thereafter. Under pressure, the quarterback tried to extend a play by rolling out left but was sacked before he could toss the ball out of bounds.
Beasley: "I mean, I'm cool with that. The guy wants to win. He's got a lot of fire in him and that spreads throughout the team. We feel that. Any time you've got a guy like that, you're going to run through a wall for him. I mean, he's a dog. You love that out of a quarterback because there's not many quarterbacks like that. A lot of them shy away from the physicality of the game and he does not. He's just a baller and a grinder. We'll put everything on the line for him. I'll put my body on the line for him because I know he'll do the same."
Kroft: "You see that look in his eyes, especially when he comes in the huddle. He's going for it and he ain't worried about the last play. He's just fully focused on what he has next. When you have a quarterback who is that locked in, it takes a lot of extra pressure off of you because you know he is going to be ready to go and lead us that way."
The sack put the Bills in a second-and-22 from their own 31. It became third-and-22 when an Allen pass under pressure to Beasley was hauled in out of bounds.
Allen went back to Beasley once more with the game on the line. This time with room in the pocket, Allen waited as Beasley scrambled to find space in the middle of the field and then found him at the 49-yard line. Beasley dashed to pick up the extra five yards needed to for the first down.
Beasley: "Me and Josh actually talked about this route Week 1 because there was a time last year, when we were playing the Jets the very first week of the season, when we ran this play and we weren't on the same page, he threw it and I wasn't ready.
"So, we talked about it and I was really just getting in the middle and finding a window for him. He knows exactly what I'm going to do and I know exactly what he wanted from me, so just all the talking that we've done off of the field helped us on that play."
Allen: "Late in that game obviously they were doing a good job of getting pressure on me and honestly it just kind of turned into some backyard ball. So, I just tried to find some time to throw. Me and Cole, we've talked about this route many a time. They just kind of went outside, Cole found a spot in the middle, made a good catch, got a first down. It was a huge play for us."
Allen found Isaiah McKenzie on the ensuing first-and-10 for a gain of six yards, then waited as the clock hit two minutes. Devin Singletary rushed for the first down on the following play, then Allen connected with Beasley again for a 19-yard gain. The Bills had a first-and-10 at the Los Angeles 15-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.
Then, the rollercoaster took its next turn.
Allen's first-down attempt eluded McKenzie. On second down, Allen tried to his wrestle his way out of sack attempt by Justin Hollins and dragged the linebacker to the turf by his facemask in the process. The 15-yard penalty made it second-and 25 from the Los Angeles 30, which became third-and-25 following an incomplete attempt to Singletary.
It was on this play that Allen felt his experience shine through. Rather than try to win the game on a single heave, the quarterback took what the defense gave him. In this case, it was a 17-yard completion over the middle to Stefon Diggs.
Allen: "I'm just trying to make good decisions, rely on the other 10 guys out there and that's all it really came down to at the end of that game. I wasn't trying to do too much. I wasn't going for the end zone every single play where maybe last year I would have, especially in that third-and-long. Just getting it into fourth-and-manageable where we can call the play that gets us in the end zone."
The play set up a fourth-and-eight at the Los Angeles 13. Twenty-five seconds remained. Allen passed to rookie receiver Gabriel Davis, who was grabbed by corner Darious Williams as he attempted to slant toward the end zone. The attempt fell incomplete, momentarily signaling a Bills loss.
Then came the flag.
Davis: "I was trying to run my route and I thought he was holding me and grabbing me and pulling me. I couldn't get to where I needed to be. So, I heard the whole sideline saying it was a holding call. Once I saw the flag in there it made me real happy to see that we got it."
Kroft: "It was a little bit of a roller coaster for a second. But one thing I know about this team is we're going to keep fighting."
The call was pass interference against Williams, setting up a first-and-goal from the three-yard-line with 21 seconds to play. The Bills turned to a play they had attempted in the first quarter, one that had resulted in a touchdown to Diggs but was called back for holding. This time, it was Kroft who beat his man as he crossed to the left and leaped to haul in the game winner.
Kroft: "There was a little contact coming through the line but when you're down that low, you've got to be ready for that. You can't be caught off guard by that. So, just had to rip through it and Josh put that one up there and allowed me to go make a play."
Allen: "It was a staple play for us. We practiced it many times this week. It's really just kind of read it out and find the open guy. Tyler did a great job of separating and he made one hell of a catch."
The touchdown was the second of the game for Kroft, who saw an increased role due to an injury to Dawson Knox. They were the second and third touchdowns of Kroft's Bills tenure, which began with an injury-plagued first season in 2019.
Diggs met Kroft with an emphatic high-five. The tight end was then swarmed by teammates as he returned to his feet. Beasley said afterward that it was emotional to see Kroft's success.
Beasley: "He's just a good dude, really. We've spent so much time off the field together and he hasn't really had a chance to really be on the field that much, you know what I mean? They invested money in him and he came in with me as well. I know his expectations were through the roof for what it was going to be like and I know what that's like. I've experienced that in Dallas a little bit, having a big year and then expecting something the next year. When it doesn't go that way, it really kills you, man. It really does.
"I don't think people really understand the mental aspect of this game and the toll it takes sometimes. But just the way he battled back and stayed with it. It would have been easy for him to just go in the tank and say, 'This just ain't it.' He battled back and he made a lot of freaking plays for us today."
Morse: "I think when you talk about Tyler Kroft you talk about one hell of a dude. A guy who kind of had a B.S. deal given to him the first year with the injury and a guy who's taken everything with grace and a guy whose only mentality was to take it day-by-day and come be the best player he can be. And holy cow ... when he scored that touchdown our sidelines erupted."
The win gave the Bills back-to-back 3-0 starts for the third time in franchise history and the first since 1992. Allen became the first Bills quarterback to lead back-to-back comeback wins since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2011.
Beasley: "You never really know how a team is gonna react in those moments right there, when we find out what we're really made of. Because that's tough, man.
"... That can deflate a team. But these guys are all dogs and they don't shy away from that. They're all competitive as hell and they fight to the finish. I'm just glad I'm here."