After a shining performance from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the first-team offense plus a late rally by the Buffalo reserves, the Bills defeated the Jaguars 35-32 in overtime Saturday night in Buffalo’s first home exhibition contest of 2011.
In what has to be a huge relief after Buffalo’s struggles in the first two preseason contests, Buffalo’s starting offense was very effective, scoring on the team’s first three possessions. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in particular was excellent, connecting on 11-of-12 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. After leading the team to a field goal on Buffalo’s first drive, Fitz hit Marcus Easley for an 11-yard touchdown and Stevie Johnson for a 52-yard score later in the quarter, giving Buffalo a 17-0 lead.
Johnson and Easley had big nights for the Bills, with Easley hauling in five passes for 51 yards and the aforementioned touchdown and Johnson catching four passes for 76 yards and a score. If Easley wasn’t a lock to make the team yet, he’s got to be pretty close to one now.
In Fred Jackson news, the Bills certainly sent a message tonight that Jackson is going to get the bulk of the team’s running back work this season. Jackson, who felt “disrespected” after last week’s preseason contest in Denver in which C.J. Spiller got a ton of action, had nine carries for 33 yards (all in the first half) and also hauled in a pass for 30 yards. Spiller had four carries for 21 yards.
The starting defense also looked pretty decent, holding the Jaguars to 10 first half points – seven of which came after a pretty questionable pass interference call on Drayton Florence on a third down – and generally made life difficult for Jaguars QB David Garrard. Now-wealthy DT Kyle Williams picked up a sack.
Unfortunately, the Buffalo second-string once again had its share of struggles, and the Jaguars dominated the third quarter. The Jaguars began the quarter by rolling right through the Buffalo second-string defense with a drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by Brock Bolen that tied the game at 18. Backup QB Tyler Thigpen then handed Jacksonville the lead by giving Jacksonville’s Jacob Cutrera a touchdown via a terrible interception.
It got worse at the beginning of the fourth, as rookie Jaguar QB Blaine Gabbert hit Dujuan Harris for an 11-yard touchdown. Jacksonville went for two for some reason and converted it to take a 32-17 lead.
From there, the Bills rallied back behind Thigpen. Thigpen started the comeback by leading the team on a nine-play, 58-yard drive that ended with RB Bruce Hall scoring for Buffalo on a 5-yard run. The big play in the drive was Thigpen hitting undrafted rookie WR Kamar Aiken for 24 yards. Aiken can play. He’ll be on Buffalo’s practice squad or another team’s roster in all likelihood.
After an interception by rookie safety Da’Norris Searcy, the Bills had another chance to score, but Thigpen threw a second bad interception, this one in the endzone.
However, the Bills got the ball right back as Searcy forced a Jaguars fumble that was recovered by fellow rookie Michael Jasper (who recently gave an exclusive interview to us here at BLD!). Thigpen and the Bills’ offense took advantage, with Thigpen hitting WR Paul Hubbard for a four-yard touchdown with 38 seconds to play to bring the score to 32-30.
After that, things simply got weird. In a move that is pretty controversial for a preseason game, Chan Gailey elected to go for two and try the score. Thigpen hit Hubbard again to convert, sending the game to overtime. Yes, preseason overtime. I thought all 32 coaches had an informal agreement that no preseason game should ever go to overtime. If they didn’t, they really should now.
Overtime was a ridiculous farce that simply would not end. To start, an ugly Jaguars drive still managed to slowly meander its way into Buffalo territory, but fortunately (?) Josh Scobee missed a 53-yard field goal that would have won the game. The Bills took over, and handed the ball to little-used QB Levi Brown. Brown led the team down the field, and then new WR Ruvell Martin fumbled in Jacksonville territory. The play was actually reviewed by the officials (for a long freaking time) and overturned.
Mercifully, the game ended soon after with a 40-yard field goal by Rian Lindell.
A lot of positives to take away from this one. Buffalo’s offense looked fantastic in the first half, and that has to be a huge boost of confidence headed into the regular season. The defense was also stout, and that was without starting outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay. If I’m Chan Gailey, my starters aren’t getting on the field for the preseason finale against Detroit on Thursday. This is enough to build on. Let’s not have important people get hurt.