Bills Rally to Beat Raiders 38-35

After a wild back-and-forth fourth quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick found David Nelson wide open on fourth down for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left to secure a 38-35 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

“I don’t know what happened, but I think they misaligned to be honest,” Fitzpatrick said, in noting how wide open Nelson was over the middle. “I was lucky enough to see it.”

Chalk it up to luck, pluck and resilience, because the Bills are showing they’re improved.

A week after a convincing 41-7 win at Kansas City, the Fitzpatrick-led offense had a 35-point second half in overcoming a 21-3 first-half deficit.

Buffalo scored touchdowns on each of its five second-half possessions as the teams traded the lead five times in the final 14:10.

Fitzpatrick went 28 of 46 for 264 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Fred Jackson scored twice in the Bills’ home opener.

“I can’t recall one quite like that,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “It was an amazing gut-check by our football team. What they did coming out of halftime was really amazing.”

The Raiders (1-1) saw the result from a different perspective in squandering a chance to open a season at 2-0 for the first time since 2002.

“Not a whole lot to say other than that effort isn’t going to be good enough,” defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. “We didn’t seem to give the offense any help in the second half. That’s on us. It isn’t good enough.”

The 38 points were the most allowed by Oakland in a loss since a 43-37 defeat to Seattle in 1998. And they allowed 481 yards — 326 in the second half — and 34 first downs.

“Good job by them, bad job by us,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “When it’s all said and done, we did not finish the game.”

And yet, the Raiders nearly pulled off an improbable comeback of their own.

From his own 44, Jason Campbell threw a desperation pass into the end zone, that was intercepted by rookie cornerback Da’Norris Searcy, who outwrestled receiver Denarius Moore for the ball.

Campbell went 23 of 33 for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Darren McFadden scored twice in finishing with 72 yards rushing and 71 receiving. Moore had five catches for 146 yards and a touchdown in filling in for an injury-depleted receiving group that was down three starters, including Darrius Heyward-Bey (knee).

As if the game needed any more drama, officials required 10 minutes to review the final play — Searcy’s interception — to determine the call on the field was correct. Referee Mike Carey returned to a near-empty stadium to announce the interception had in fact stood.

Seymour didn’t think the call would be overturned, and then lamented: “We had opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. That’s the bottom line.”

Two plays before Nelson’s decisive score, cornerback Chris Johnson dropped an interception in the Raiders’ end zone on a pass intended for Donald Jones.

“The game would’ve been over,” Johnson said. “I take this loss for the team today.”

There was also no excusing how the Raiders left Nelson to slip free over the middle.

The Bills looked down and out after a dreadful first half which ended with Oakland’s Tyvon Branch blocking Rian Lindell’s 39-yard field goal attempt.

Buffalo then came out running in the third quarter, as Jackson opened the scoring on a 43-yard run.

Then came the offense from both teams at the start of the fourth quarter.

Jackson gave the Bills their first lead, 24-21, on a 1-yard run 50 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The Raiders responded five minutes later, as McFadden caught a swing pass to the right and rumbled in from 12 yards.

Buffalo went up 31-28 with 4:48 left when Fitzpatrick capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 6-yard pass to tight end Scott Chandler.

Back came the Raiders, who regained the lead 1:07 later when Campbell hit Moore on a 50-yard pass over the middle.

Fitzpatrick then led a 14-play, 80-yard drive in which he twice converted on fourth down.

“Determination,” said receiver Stevie Johnson, who scored on a 7-yard catch. “We had the determination. Everybody was just a unit. We came out and did what we had to do.”

Searcy, certainly wasn’t going to let anyone take the interception away. Not Moore, who got a hand on the ball, or the officials.

“Once I grabbed it, I told myself nobody’s going grab it away from me,” Searcy said.

Notes: Bills owner Ralph Wilson was unable to attend his first home opener in the team’s 52-year history because he’s recovering from a broken hip. Wilson watched the game from his home in suburban Detroit. … Wilson did provide a videotaped tribute at halftime, when former defensive lineman Phil Hansen was inducted on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. … According to STATS LLC, the 35 points were the most allowed by the Raiders in a second half. … Discipline continues to play a factor against the Raiders. After being flagged 15 times for 131 yards against the Broncos, they had eight penalties for 85 yards against Buffalo.

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The Perils of Celebrating Before Anything’s Won

When turned a bare back to reporters before slipping a black T-shirt over his head, the five-word tattoo might as well have been blinking red, a warning to those who would mock him for the felonious mistake that cost him 20 months of his life and career.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Burress, it turns out, may be the best reason there is hope for — as a playoff contender and as a team that has become notorious for compulsively misbehaving and shooting itself in the proverbial foot.

Stevie Johnson — the Buffalo receiver who pretended to take aim at his leg after a touchdown catch and whose penalty for excessive celebration was a primary reason the Jets beat the , 28-24, on Sunday at MetLife Stadium — still could have had the last word.

But Johnson dropped a perfect pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick on the run deep in Jets’ territory on Buffalo’s last-ditch drive and then failed to make what would have been an extraordinary catch on a Fitzpatrick overthrow in the end zone on the game’s final play.

Practical reason being, Johnson is 6 feet 2 inches, or three inches shorter than Burress, who has long been the elastic man of the N.F.L.

As Burress has been advising Mark Sanchez during their first season together, “Just stay focused, trust what you see.” And if Sanchez should see Burress towering over a defender in single coverage, just throw him the ball and let nature run its course.

This was no better suggestion or option for the much-maligned Sanchez on third-and-11 from the Bills’ 36 and the Jets’ season perhaps on the line coming out of the two-minute warning. Under blitzing pressure, Sanchez spotted Burress on the left sideline, without separation from cornerback Justin Rogers.

As Sanchez let fly, Rogers was positioned so that part of his body was between Burress and the ball. But here was the essential Burress, with a six-inch advantage on the 5-11 Rogers, reaching high, pulling the ball in with his right hand while somehow keeping his feet in bounds.

Having repeatedly done this during his career, Burress said, “It felt like a regular catch to me.” On any given Sunday, maybe. On this one, with the Jets in danger of falling under .500, it was a mini-MetLife miracle.

Two plays later, Sanchez rolled right from the 16 and hit Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone for his fourth touchdown pass and the margin of a sweaty palms victory that had even Coach Rex Ryan struggling for words.

His postgame news conference began: “OK. Whew. We’ll take it. Wow.”

These were the sounds of Ryan feeling profound relief. He could plainly see that this was looking like every other desultory Jets performance this season when Drayton Florence intercepted a second-quarter Sanchez pass intended for Holmes at the Jets’ 27 and Johnson beat Darrelle Revis on a 5-yard slant for a touchdown and a 14-7 Buffalo lead.

Here, Johnson decided to enjoy himself at Burress’s expense, pulling an imaginary trigger, mimicking the accident in a Manhattan nightclub that got Burress locked up and ended his run with the Giants. Johnson then spread his wings in the manner of a celebrating Jet, only to crash to the turf and — finally — incur a 15-yard penalty.

When Dave Rayner botched the ensuing squib kickoff from the Buffalo 20, the Jets took possession at the Bills’ 36 and scored in four plays, Sanchez to a wide-open Burress for 14 yards.

The damage done, Johnson at least struck the proper tone afterward. “It was very stupid of me going through that, and I feel like I cost our team the win,” he said. “It was a bad decision. I have to apologize to everyone and talk to the coach.”

Johnson is Buffalo’s problem. But can the Jets learn from the reflection of their own repellent behavior that begins with Ryan’s increasingly unconvincing bravado? Can this team that was supposed to embody his belief in smash-mouth football commit itself to more smash and less mouth?

Can the Jets learn from how Burress coolly dealt with Johnson’s insolent display?

He explained that he hadn’t seen it, was learning about it from reporters for the first time and what, after all, was the big deal?

“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’ve already been through the wringer with that situation and dealt with it accordingly. I’ve seen worse and I’ve heard worse. He’s young. Maybe he understands one day later.”

Burress’s teammates were also calm, if less kind. Tight end Dustin Keller said: “He’s an idiot for that one. He should be embarrassed for that.”

Receiver Patrick Turner said that he didn’t see Johnson’s performance but that he, too, had Burress’s back.

“And then he dropped that last ball,” Turner said of Johnson. He nodded for effect and added a one-word summation.

“Karma,” he said.

Did it all happen for a reason? As it related to the playoffs, that will be up to the Jets over the next five weeks. For a team promising a , 2011 has been a humbling experience, if nothing compared with what Burress has been through.

From Ryan on down, they could all look at him, read the writing on his back, and find reasons to behave and believe.

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Struggling Bills Heading Toward Uncertain Future

After five straight losses, barring a sporting miracle, the Bills (5-7) will miss the National Football League (NFL) playoffs for a 12th straight year, a run of gridiron failure that could stand alone.

If the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans clinch a post-season spot as expected, the Bills will become the only NFL team not to make a playoff appearance since 1999, heaping more misery on a franchise that has had just one winning campaign in 11 seasons.

“It’s hard. It’s tough. It’s no fun,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said about his team’s flickering playoff hopes. “I know we’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and you don’t ever concede it until you are, but at the same time it’d be very difficult for us to make it.

“You feel a huge responsibility to the organization, to the football team and to the fans.”

The glow from a 4-1 start to the season, which included an upset of AFC East powerhouse New England, has long faded as evidenced by the more than 16,000 unsold seats at the Bills’ home loss last Sunday to the Tennessee Titans.

The game was the first this season the Bills failed to sell enough tickets for to prevent a local television blackout and with two home dates remaining against Miami on December 18 and Denver on December 24 the chances of a full stadium seem remote.

“The fans have been awesome especially early on when we were winning games,” said Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was rewarded with a six-year $59 million contract extension after the team’s quick start. “This was truly a home field advantage and it was electric.

“The way that we’ve played lately hasn’t been good enough.”

Sitting at the eastern end of Lake Erie, winters are long and hard in Buffalo and this year’s could be particularly nasty with the franchise’s future once again in doubt.

The Bills’ 93-year-old owner Ralph Wilson has been secretive about succession plans for the franchise while the 38-year-old stadium that bears his name in the tiny hamlet of Orchard Park is in desperate need of major renovations with the current lease agreement set to expire in 2013.

“You absolutely have the perfect storm for a team that may get relocated,” Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University’s Tisch Center told Reuters. “The NFL has its roots in small cities like Buffalo and Green Bay, around the Great Lakes and if you are the NFL, you would hate to lose that legacy.

“But on the other hand the city of Toronto beckons 60 miles away with incredible wealth and a cosmopolitan environment that has to seem appealing.”

FAN BASE

The Bills’ problems extend well beyond a losing record and aging stadium. Like other cities in the Rust Belt, the city of Buffalo has watched businesses flee and its population shrink.

Desperate to expand its fan base, Wilson sold five regular season games and three preseason contests between 2008 and 2012 to their northern neighbours in Toronto for $78 million.

With a robust corporate community, the Toronto market is one the Bills may have to keep leaning on to remain viable.

But Toronto has an eye on a permanent NFL team of its own while Los Angeles, with plans for a new stadium in place, will soon be looking for a tenant.

The biggest concern for Bills fans, however, may well be the health of the team’s owner.

It is not known if Wilson has a succession plan in place and without one the Bills franchise could die with their owner.

“Let’s say the Bills get a very conservative evaluation of $600 million, you’re talking about an inheritance tax for Ralph Wilson heirs of around $300 million,” explained Boland. “They may be forced to leave Buffalo because of the inheritance tax situation.

“If Mr. Wilson were to pass away, this team in Buffalo may not be savable.

“The sad part about this is that if Buffalo were to lose their team is that there is no other city other than Green Bay where a pro sport franchise probably means as much.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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