Willie McGinest thought the whole play looked too easy. The Patriots' defensive end was supposed to be rushing Jim Kelly on the critical play of the Patriots' 28-25 victory last night. But when right tackle Glenn Parker didn't make much of an attempt to block him, he figured something was up.
So he adapted and wound up making an interception and then returning the ball 46 yards for the winning touchdown.
"I started in but I started to slow up because I felt they let me get into the backfield too easy," McGinest recalled. "I mean the tackle never lets you go as easy as (Parker) let me go on that play. Just about then Thurman (Thomas) came out of the backfield and he just brushed me. Anytime, a running back does that, you know there's something wrong."
Seeing that, McGinest slowed his rush to a halt. "I looked up and the ball was just coming at me."
The throw wound up a little short of Thomas because pass rusher Tedy Bruschi had broken through the middle of the Bills protection and hit Kelly around the knees as he delivered the ball. That caused the ball to be a little lower than intended, low enough for McGinest to tip it into the air and then gain control of it before it hit the ground. He then sprinted down the left sideline for a touchdown to complete the 46-yard play. It was the first interception and the first touchdown of his three-year career.
"No doubt it was the play of my life," said McGinest, who played linebacker his first two years but was switched to defensive end at the start of this year. "I'd never scored before. I'd kept visualizing that play happening, but I didn't know it was going to be me that did it."
For a while there was a question about whether the touchdown would stand up. As McGinest crossed the goal line there was a penalty flag on the field back at the 40. Initially the officials ruled that the touchdown wouldn't count but later changed the ruling. An overzealous teammate left the sideline in the process of McGinest's return and accidentally bumped into an official, causing the penalty. After some initial confusion, the officials allowed the touchdown to stand and stepped off the 15-yard penalty on the following kickoff.
Asked about his reaction to the possibility that his run might not be allowed because of the penalty, McGinest just shrugged. "I honestly didn't care," he insisted. "As long as we had the ball, I knew our offense could either run out the clock or score, and they'd probably have scored again anyway."
Although that appeared to seal the victory, making it 28-18 with 41 seconds left, the Patriots inability to stop another Hail Mary heave allowed the Bills to score another touchdown and keep their hopes alive -- at least temporarily.
McGinest is usually part of the Pats' prevent pass defense on those heaves toward the end zone. But with the lack of success the team had against Jacksonville (surrendering completions on the play at the end of the half and again at the end of regulation), McGinest was taken off the detail for this game.
"I feel like I've been in a fight," McGinest said after the game. He looked like it too. In the third quarter he caught a finger in the eye during a play and had to leave the game for a couple of plays. When he came back, he was sporting a patch over his left eye. It came off after a couple of series even though his vision was still blurry -- even on the play on which he made his interception.
"I took it off after the tight end came at me off the ball and I didn't even see him coming," McGinest said. "It's still blurry. I had trouble seeing the ball."
"Maybe that was a help," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "Maybe if he saw it coming, he would have dropped it. That was a big-time play for us. It ended the game."