The Bills never make it easy, so naturally it came down to a dramatic play at the end that could have gone either way. It all happened so fast, but from a distance it seemed as if the ball was airborne for a month after bouncing off Da'Norris Searcy and making a slow-motion descent like a scene out of NFL Films.
As you might expect, Kiko Alonso didn't see it quite the same way on the field. He was still trying to make sense of it all moments after the game while standing in front of his locker stall. He had more problems navigating the button downs on his shirt than he did making the biggest play for the Bills through four games.
“Da'Norris Searcy made a great break on the ball,” he said. “He tipped it. I finished it.”
He made the play sound simple, but it was hardly easy.
Alonso didn't have time to think when Joe Flacco's pass bounced off Searcy and bounced skyward on a third-and-8 play with the Ravens threatening to complete a fourth-quarter comeback from 23-14 deficit. It was turning into a classic Buffalo game, you know, the kind in which the Bills tease their fans and lose in the end.
Instead, one of their good rookies — no, their best rookie through the first four games — allowed his instincts to take over and secure the win for them. Alonso in a split-second reaction extended his arms and dived for the ball while falling to the turf. He made that play a thousand times in the backyard while growing up in Los Gatos, Calif.
And he made it again Sunday with 57 seconds remaining to secure a 23-20 victory over the Ravens, also known as the defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens were driving toward field-goal range or possibly the winning score when Searcy batted the ball into the air. Alonso came out of nowhere and made his second pick.
“You just have to visualize those things,” Alonso said. “You have to visualize plays like that before the game or you won't make them.”
You can't help but visualize Alonso having a long and successful year with the Bills, who appear to have a core of good young players. The defense intercepted Flacco five times, but none was bigger than the last one. Alonso could make the argument as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year based on his play so far.
The 6-foot-3, 238-pound linebacker has four interceptions in his first four NFL games, which is four more than Kelvin Sheppard had in two seasons playing the same position for the Bills. He's the first rookie with an interception in three consecutive games since safety Jairus Byrd picked off passes in five straight in 2009.
“Four interceptions? His instincts are phenomenal,” said cornerback Aaron Williams, who also intercepted two passes. “That's the kind of plays we need out of young players like him. He's doing a really good job of leading the defense and being vocal on the field. Hats off to Kiko.”
Flacco must have wondered on the flight home where Alonso came from after seeing him all over the field Sunday. He has a nose for the ball, a knack for baiting quarterbacks on mid-range passes and the speed to make a break on them. He's had two interceptions this season in which he appeared to be the intended receiver, including his first pick Sunday.
The Bills knew he was a good athlete coming out of college, but nobody would have predicted he would be this good, this soon. He made a seamless adjustment to the speed of the game, a transition made easier by practicing against the speedsters that decorated Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense at Oregon.
Alonso had only six takeaways, all interceptions, in his two years as a starter in college. He has five in four games with the Bills, including a fumble recovery in the season-opening loss to New England. Eight months after seeing Baltimore beat San Francisco, the team he grew up watching, in the Super Bowl — he was on the field beating the Ravens.
“Every game for us is the Super Bowl,” he said. “Every game is a huge game no matter who we're playing. That's how you have to prepare.”
Alonso is a man of few words who looked uncomfortable with the attention after the game. He had a tougher time explaining the big play Sunday than he did making it. He was in such a hurry to see his family that he didn't bother showering. His brother, Carlos, a utility man in the Phillies' organization, drove across the country to see the game.
If he keeps playing the way he has through four games, his family will need to wait much longer before he's finished answering questions. He locked up the win over Carolina with a sack on the last play of the game. He finished with five tackles Sunday and helped limit the Ravens to 24 yards rushing.
The Bills dominated much of the first half. You would think they would have been blowing out the Ravens after shutting down the running game and picking off four passes in the first 59 minutes. But we're talking about the Bills, of course. As you know, it usually comes down to the final minute.
And they needed one more interception to complete the highlight reel.
“Every game is like this,” Alonso said. “Every game is hard and is going to come down to the wire. We just have to keep fighting.”