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.