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Quarterly Report / Mark Gaughan breaks down the game quarter-by-quarter

FIRST QUARTER: McGahee milestone

Willis McGahee is rolling along at age 30 and nine years into his NFL career. He crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the first quarter.

McGahee and Ricky Watters are the only two players in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards for three franchises. McGahee did it in his first two seasons on the field for Buffalo in 2004 and 2005. Then he did it in his first of four seasons in Baltimore in 2007.

McGahee was beaten out for playing time by Ray Rice and averaged just 531 yards rushing over his last three years in Baltimore. But he has found a revival in Denver, which signed him to a four-year deal in August worth $2.3 million a year.

The University of Miami product entered the game ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing with 990 yards. He has had six 100-yard games this year.

Key plays: Denver drove 73 yards in 11 plays on its first drive to take a 7-0 lead. Buffalo's Dave Rayner missed a 45-yard field-goal try wide left with 5:03 left, then missed a 31-yarder wide left with 25 seconds left.


SECOND QUARTER: McKelvin unleashed

One unintended benefit of Leodis McKelvin losing his starting cornerback job is he's free to return more kicks.

With rookie Justin Rogers excelling on kickoffs, the Bills have used McKelvin on punt returns. McKelvin excelled on punt returns in college at Troy, taking five back for touchdowns, including three in his senior season. McKelvin ranked second in the NFL on kickoff returns as a rookie in 2008 but returned only eight punts in three seasons before this year.

He showed his ability in the second quarter with an 80-yard return for a score to give the Bills a 10-7 lead with 4:05 left in the half. McKelvin burst up the left sideline for the score. It was the Bills' first punt return for a touchdown since Roscoe Parrish did it in the 2008 opener.

Key plays: C.J. Spiller gave the Bills a 17-7 lead with a 4-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left. A 30-yard catch by David Nelson set it up.

Key injuries: The Bills lost center Kraig Urbik early in the quarter to a right knee injury. That forced Colin Brown into the center spot. Denver lost safety Brian Dawkins to a neck injury midway through the quarter. David Bruton took Dawkins' spot.


THIRD QUARTER: It's Spiller time

C.J. Spiller kept the Bills in control of the game in the third quarter.

Denver drove 74 yards in seven plays on the opening drive of the quarter to a touchdown that pulled it within 17-14.

But the Bills drove to two field goals in the quarter, thanks to good running by Spiller. He gained 64 yards on five carries to keep the momentum on Buffalo's side. Spiller had a 25-yard run up the middle to put the Bills in position for a field goal to go ahead, 20-14. Spiller had a 26-yard run around right end (Erik Pears had a great block on Von Miller) to lead to a field goal that made it 23-14.

Key plays: Dave Rayner kicked a 25-yard field goal with 6:19 left and a 29-yarder with 2:32 left. A 17-yard punt return by Leodis McKelvin provided good field position before the second kick.

Cold-air effect: It's nice to kick in the thin air in Denver. Broncos kicker Matt Prater leads the NFL in touchbacks, forcing them on 73.8 percent of his kickoffs. Denver forces the opposition to start, on average, on its own 20.5-yard line. But the Bills returned all three of Prater's kickoffs, taking them out to the 34, the 29 and the 29.


FOURTH QUARTER: Pouring it on

The Bills broke their cold-spell on takeaways in the fourth quarter.

Buffalo was leading the league in takeaways through seven games of the season with 17. But over the next seven games, all losses, it managed just seven takeaways.

But the Bills intercepted three Tim Tebow passes in the final 15 minutes and took two of them back for touchdowns. For the game, the Bills had four interceptions.

The touchdowns came on a 37-yard return by Jairus Byrd that gave Buffalo a 33-14 lead with 8:03 left, and on a 17-yard return by Spencer Johnson to make it 40-14 with 7:45 left.

Key plays: Dave Rayner kicked a 29-yard field goal to put Buffalo ahead, 26-14, early in the quarter.

Flipping the field: Just before Byrd's game-breaking interception play, Brian Moorman kicked a booming 50-yard punt down to Denver's 16. Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy had excellent coverage, and Denver's Dante Rosario was flagged for an illegal block in the back, pushing the Broncos back to their own 10. It was a big field-position shift at a time when another dramatic Tim Tebow comeback still was not out of the realm of possibility.