Good teamwork keyed the game-saving interception by Kiko Alonso in the Buffalo Bills’ upset of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The Bills were clinging to a three-point lead with 1:04 to go. Two more first downs and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would have his team in position for a game-tying field goal.
Alonso and safety Da’Norris Searcy were bracketing Ravens tight end Dallas Clark on the third-and-8 play from the Buffalo 48.
“I told Kiko, ‘I got anything up high and he could play heavy on anything down low,’ ” Searcy said. “Kiko got a good shot on the tight end near the line of scrimmage to slow him down and he got him off his route. So when Flacco threw it I broke on it. I tried to reach around him and catch it but I ended up tipping it. I saw Kiko dive over me and intercept it. Great play by Kiko.”
A week after being skewered by the New York Jets on the ground and in the air, the Bills’ defense rose up and keyed the 23-20 victory before a crowd of 68,296 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills’ 31st-ranked run defense held the Ravens to 24 rushing yards.
A Bills pass defense that was missing three of its four secondary starters picked off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times.
Vindication tasted oh-so-sweet on the defensive side of the locker room.
“Obviously we’ve had our share of adversity in that room,” said safety Jim Leonhard of the secondary unit. “I think we’ve proven through four weeks we’ve got a roomful of guys on the back end that will fight week in and week out, whatever happens.”
“I really believed we were a better defense than what’s been showing,” defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said. “You watch the games. We’re a solid defense.”
The stars of the defense included:
• Aaron Williams, who was forced to convert from safety to cornerback and played the finest game of his three-year Bills career. Williams made two interceptions and broke up four other passes.
• Searcy, who played one of the best games of his three-year career. He broke up four passes.
• Dareus, who played one of the best games of his three-year career. He had two quarterback sacks and six tackles.
• Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his staff, which got the players to rebound from last week’s disaster and stayed aggressive despite all the injuries.
• And Alonso, the second-round draft pick who is starting to look like a strong candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Alonso’s two interceptions gave him four on the season, to go with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The defense set the tone early by stuffing the Ravens’ rushing attack.
Baltimore’s star back, Ray Rice, has been hobbled by a sore hip and did not look 100 percent. Baltimore struggled to establish the run in the first three games and even in the preseason.
The Ravens (2-2) rushed seven times for 15 yards in the first 26 minutes of the game. During the next 29 minutes of the game, the Ravens called 31 straight pass plays without a run.
“We wanted to stop them from running,” coach Doug Marrone said. “I thought our defense did a heck of a job there.”
“I think that’s a sign of respect when you get a team runs the ball as well as they do and they only ran the ball twice in the second half,” Leonhard said. “You gotta give a lot of credit to the guys up front. I think they’ve earned that respect.”
With the Ravens in a one-dimensional mode, the Bills teed off on Flacco and took the ball away.
Williams made the first pickoff at the Baltimore 31. He had outside coverage on receiver Torrey Smith, but knew he had safety help over the top. Williams left his man and cut in front of an underneath throw to slot receiver Tandon Doss. It set up a field goal that gave the Bills a 6-0 edge.
“That was one of Pettine’s calls,” Williams said. “He’s really smart, knowledgeable about the game and how the Ravens were going to play that certain down. You gotta really give hats off to Coach Pettine because he made the call.”
The second pickoff was by Leonhard, who rebounded a carom off the hands of Ravens tight end Ed Dickson, who dropped his sixth pass of the season on a hitch pattern at the Ravens’ 28. That led to a 16-yard TD run by Fred Jackson that put the Bills ahead, 20-7.
Williams showed off his athleticism on the third pickoff, leaping in the back of the end zone while covering Smith to thwart a Ravens drive that had reached the Buffalo 19. Williams was playing on a sore shoulder he dinged early in the second quarter.
“That was unbelievable,” Leonhard said. “There’s not many guys in this league that can go from safety to corner and play the way he did and gut it out. He’s nowhere near 100 percent right now. You have to give him a lot of credit. I think he earned a lot of respect today.”
The Ravens had cut the lead to 20-14 and were driving at the Buffalo 46 when Alonso stepped in front of an underneath pass from Flacco for receiver Marlon Brown. Pressure by Manny Lawson up the middle affected the QB.
That set up a 22-yard Dan Carpenter field goal late in the third quarter that proved to be the winning points.
But the Bills still needed one more pickoff to improve to 2-2. Alonso showed off his athleticism by diving to grab Searcy’s deflection just before it hit the turf.
It was the most interceptions of Flacco’s six-year career. He passed for 327 yards but was held to 50 percent completions – 25 of 50 – and was sacked four times.
“We just got after it,” defensive end Mario Williams said. “I said earlier in the week we were going to bring it regardless of the injuries. … That’s a reflection of the coaching staff we have. It was a great game plan, and the players definitely did what they needed to do.”