Bills Use All-Around Effort to End Skid

Jairus Byrd and Spencer Johnson returned Tebow interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays from scrimmage in the fourth quarter to seal Buffalo’s 40-14 rout of the Broncos on Saturday. The Bills snapped a seven-game slide and stalled the Broncos in their bid to secure their first playoff berth since 2005.

Tebow finished with a career-worst four interceptions as the Broncos (8-7) lost their second in a row and fell into a tie with Oakland for first place in the AFC West. The Broncos close the season at home against Kansas City next week, while Oakland hosts San Diego.

The Bills, meanwhile, will close out their 12th consecutive season without a postseason berth next week at New England.

“We’ve been well overdue for a big game as a team,” Wilson said. “To come out with the offense, defense, and special teams all hitting on all cylinders, it’s a great feeling to have.”

C.J. Spiller scored on a 4-yard run and Leodis McKelvin busted an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown to help the Bills to their first win since blowing out Washington at the end of October in Toronto, a victory that made them 5-2.

“Guys came out and played hard,” said Spiller, who surpassed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his two-year career by gaining 111 yards on 16 carries. “That was the team that was 5-2 that performed out there.”

Byrd scored on a 37-yard return with 8:03 left and Johnson had a 17-yarder just 18 seconds later as Buffalo (6-9) won its home finale.

Dave Rayner shook off two missed field-goal attempts — and a booing crowd — to hit his final four, all from within 29 yards.

The Bills held the Broncos to 293 yards.

“I thought our guys played extremely well,” Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said. “I thought we kept the pressure on the run game the whole game. It was a great job of planning and playing by our defense.”

The Bills set a single-season franchise record with five interceptions returned for touchdowns.

“When we had opportunities to get our hands on the ball, we took advantage of them and pulled down interceptions,” Wilson said.

Tebow finished 13 of 30 for 185 yards with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Fells. He added 34 yards rushing, and scored on a 1-yard plunge.

“My confidence is just fine,” Tebow said. “I have to do a better job of not giving them opportunities. I tried to make something happen, and I tried to force it.”

While Tebow was struggling, his Bills counterpart, Ryan Fitzpatrick enjoyed his most efficient game in two months by going 15 of 27 for 196 yards with no interceptions. Fitzpatrick took plenty of heat during the seven-game skid, in which he threw eight touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions.

“I think the losses that piled up motivated us,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was fun to be on the sidelines to see the guys jumping around. (The defense) smelled blood out there in the water, and they were going after that.”

Tebow had generated a national buzz for his ability to produce in the clutch. Entering the game with two interceptions all season, he was picked off four times in the second half as his record dropped to 7-3 since taking over the starting job.

“We did a good job of keeping (Tebow) in the pocket and making him throw from the pocket,” Johnson said. “Everybody did a great job of being disciplined in that area.”

Buffalo will attempt to sweep the season series from the Patriots in the regular-season finale. The Bills defeated New England 34-31 in Week 3.

“There’s a lot of good football left to be played with the guys in the locker room,” Kelsay said.

NOTES: After McKelvin scored, Denver’s Eddie Royal returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, but it was negated by a block in the back penalty against Dante Rosario. … Broncos RB Willis McGahee had 64 yards rushing to give him 1,054 this season. He became the second NFL player to reach 1,000 yards rushing with three teams. He previously did it with Buffalo and Baltimore. Ricky Watters rushed for 1,000 yards with San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle. … The Bills finished 5-3 at home (including a win over Washington at Toronto), matching their best record since going 5-3 in 2004.

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With Sanchez, Jets Weigh Momentum Against Rest

Knowing the pain in his injured right shoulder, knowing the Jets have already clinched a playoff berth, knowing they need Pittsburgh to lose and Baltimore to win in order to improve their postseason standing, Sanchez said only, “I’m glad I’m not a head coach.”

Instead, the decision falls to the man who holds that title, , who reiterated Wednesday what he said Monday, that he had not made a decision regarding Sanchez, and that he might not until shortly before Sunday when Buffalo comes to town for the regular-season finale. Ryan labeled it unlikely that Sanchez would play the entire game, but he also did not dismiss the possibility that Sanchez would sit out.

Ryan said he told all of his players except safety James Ihedigbo to prepare as if they would play Sunday. “And as the week goes on,” Ryan continued, “we’re going to do what’s in the best interest of our team.”

Sanchez’s health, of course, remains the Jets’ primary concern. But Ryan also continued to point to his quarterback’s last two performances, both against stout defenses and Chicago, both on the road, both solid. Ryan also knows that three of Sanchez’s worst performances came after extended downtime: in the season opener against Baltimore, against Green Bay after the bye week and more than one week after the Jets played Thanksgiving night.

What Ryan called Sanchez’s “hot hand” on Wednesday, Sanchez described as rhythm and following the same routine. He compared it to a shooter in basketball who continues to fire away, who does not want a rest. He noted that extra repetitions, especially in real games, would not hurt.

“You don’t want to disrupt it,” he said. “You want to keep everything in stride.”

Sanchez also said his shoulder felt better, more healthy, than at this time last week.

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Needy Bills Hope NFL Draft Goes as Easy as 1-2-3

Once the first two selections are made Thursday night, the general manager figures all he has to do is look down the list of his top-three prospects and pick the one still available.

“We’ve got three guys and we figure one of them will be there,” Nix said. “Actually, I could tell you exactly who we’re going to take if you would guarantee me who the first two picks are.”

It sounds simple enough. With so many holes to address on a team that’s coming off a 4-12 season, the Bills aren’t in a position to be choosy.

A pass-rushing or run-stopping linebacker’s an option, with ‘s Von Miller listed in numerous mock drafts as a potential selection. Buffalo’s porous defensive line can use help. How about an offensive tackle?

Who knows, with coach Chan Gailey’s reputation for developing quarterbacks, maybe this is the year Buffalo takes a serious run at filling the face-of-the-franchise-sized position that’s been left unsettled since Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season. Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, anyone?

Nix, of course, won’t provide any hints. But with four picks among the first 100, and nine overall during the three-day draft, he considers this weekend an ideal opportunity to help make the Bills relevant once again.

“We feel really good about making the next step,” Nix said in addressing season-ticket holders last month. “I know you’ve heard that before, but we’re optimistic.”

He was right about one thing, at least.

In his second season on the job, Nix isn’t the first Bills general manager to have made that claim to a win-starved fanbase that’s endured 11 seasons without a playoff berth — tied with Detroit for the NFL’s longest active drought.

If Nix intends on delivering upon his high hopes, it begins with reversing a spotty drafting history that has put the Bills in this position as a perennial NFL pushover in the first place.

Of all the holes the Bills have, the one thing they don’t need is yet another first-round bust.

There was offensive tackle Mike Williams, who flamed out and was cut three seasons after being selected fourth overall in 2002. The Bills got very little in return from trading back into the first round to land quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd overall in 2004) and defensive tackle John McCargo (26th overall, 2006).

Then there’s supposed pass-rushing specialist Aaron Maybin, who has as many NFL career sacks as he does starts — namely, zero — since being selected 11th overall two years ago.

“Certainly we’ve had our misses up at the top,” chief scout Tom Modrak said. “But there are a bunch of things that go into making a team. In this draft, you’re going to try to solve some of those problems. I don’t think that you can solve them all.”

Nix set an even higher goal.

“Where we’re picking, we’ve got to hit it on the nose,” Nix said. “There’s no way around it.”

The Bills braintrust has made it no secret that their top priority is bolstering the front-seven of a defense that was undone by injuries and had difficulty making the switch to a 3-4 scheme. Buffalo allowed 200 yards rushing eight times last year, and 2,714 overall — the second-highest total in team history. The 425 points allowed was also second worst.

To make matters worse, the Bills were unable to generate a consistent pass rush, failing to fill the loss of Aaron Schobel, who was cut in August after Buffalo couldn’t wait any longer for the veteran player to decide on whether to retire.

The Bills did claim Shawne Merriman off waivers in November, but the former star pass-rusher failed to make an impact. He didn’t play a snap for Buffalo after aggravating an Achilles’ tendon injury.

Despite the injury, the Bills re-signed Merriman to a two-year contract in January.

Don’t rule out the Bills selecting a quarterback, if not with the No. 3 pick then potentially in the second round, 34th overall, which makes Florida State’s Christian Ponder a possibility.

Though confident in how journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick provided the Bills offense a spark last year, Nix and Gailey haven’t ruled out finding his eventual replacement.

“Now, our greatest need is not quarterback,” Nix said. “But if there were to be a franchise guy there and one we deem as a guy that can go eight or 10 years, be the face of the organization and take us to the playoffs and win every year, you can’t pass him up.”

Gailey maintains Fitzpatrick will remain his starter next season. That was particularly apparent during a telephone conference call last week.

In fact, in promoting the Bills annual game in Toronto, Gailey was asked who his starter would be Oct. 30, when Buffalo “hosts” Washington.

“I would expect Fitz to be that,” he said, “unless you think he’s going to get hurt or something.”

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