ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – On a day of record setting warm temperatures in Western New York, the Buffalo Bills beat Michael Vick and the Eagles 31-24 to improve to 4-1 on the season.
This game was very different than anything the Bills have experienced this season. This wasn’t a blowout like their win over the Chiefs or a dramatic comeback like their wins over the Raiders and the Patriots. This was a true gut check win were the Bills needed big plays from both sides of the ball to hold off a desperate charge from Vick and the Eagles.
Midway through the third quarter the game looked to be out of reach as the Bills took a commanding 28-7 lead. Well Michael Vick had other ideas. All of a sudden the Bills defence couldn’t stop Vick and the Eagles offence.
Vick scrambled for 53 yards to set up a LeSean McCoy touchdown. McCoy ran for 32 yards to set up a Vick to DeSean Jackson touchdown pass. Moments later, McCoy took off on a 21-yard run to set up an Alex Henery field goal.
All of a sudden it was late in the fourth quarter and the Bills were clinging to a seven point lead.
If the Bills were going to win this game, the defence had to find a way to stop Vick. Even better, they needed to find a way to force a turnover.
Just after the two minute warning Vick threw a pass to Jason Avant. Drayton Florence was able to strip the ball out of his hands and linebacker Nick Barnett was right there to grab the ball for his second interception of the game.
Following the game, Florence described what happened on that crucial play. “We preached turnovers all throughout the week and we were lucky to get four or five off of Vick. I was just playing Cover 2 and they ran into the flat. I tried to get the pick but I broke it up and Nick Barnett was in the right place to get the interception.”
Now none of the nervous 69,083 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium knew it at the time, but Barnett sensed he was going to come up with a turnover just as the defence broke the huddle. “Right before the play, I didn’t know what they were doing or anything, I just had a feeling that went over me. I told (linebacker) Danny Batten we’re going to make a big play right here. I don’t know, I just felt good and I smiled and then it happened. I don’t know how it happened. I am not going to say I’m Nostradamus or anything but I just had a good feeling.”
Linebacker Shawne Merriman said the Bills defence was on a mission when Vick and the Eagles took to the field for their final drive. “We knew we had to come out and make a play to get off the field. We did that and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
Coach Chan Gailey said winning the turnover battle was a big factor in the win. “You get a 5-1 (turnover ratio), you give yourself a great chance to win.”
Merriman is quick to point out that the defence almost blew it in the second half. But as he says, the important lesson they learned from this win was the importance of never giving up, no matter what the score or the situation in the game. “We got into some positions we didn’t like. They drive the ball on us and we gave up too many yards and that type of stuff. But we’re causing turnovers. We’re ripping the ball out; we’re running to the ball and we’re getting it out. We’re not giving up and we’re working hard and that’s all you can really ask from a team and eventually things are going to work the right way.”
While Barnett, Florence and safety George Wilson led the way on defence for the Bills, there’s little question who led them on offence; running back Fred Jackson.
Jackson led the Bills in both rushing and receiving as he continues to send a not so subtle message to management that he deserves a huge raise and a new contract.
Jackson ran for 111 yards and one touchdown and also had six catches for 85 yards.
Merriman said that Sunday’s win over the Eagles was important in the evolution of the 2011 Bills. “This is a great team win. It wasn’t one side of the ball that played better than the other. We came together as a team when we needed to make it happen. That’s what builds great teams, when you come together when you absolutely have to and we did that.”
For all their flaws, the Bills defence has intercepted Tom Brady and Michael Vick a combined eight times this year.
To put that into perspective, the Bills defence had 11 interceptions the entire 2010 season.
Up next, the 4-1 Bills travel to the Meadowlands next Sunday to take on the Giants before they have their bye week.
Game notes: Another sign that the rest of the NFL is taking notice what the Bills are doing this year can been seen in the amount of national media that was in the locker room after the game. Even NFL Films had a full crew walking around the locker room, documenting every word the players had to say. Nick Barnett’s second quarter interception return for a touchdown means the Bills defence has a pick six in their last three games. The last time the Bills did that was back in 1960 when they accomplished the feat in four straight games.