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A 'legendary' comeback: Why Bills QB AJ McCarron savored playing preseason finale

CHICAGO – AJ McCarron doesn’t know what’s coming.

The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback faces an uncertain future with final cuts looming Saturday. So in the team hotel the night before Thursday’s preseason finale, McCarron gathered those who were scheduled to play against the Bears to deliver a message.

“Some of the guys that played today, it's no secret – you know, me, anybody – we might not be here tomorrow or whenever they make their final cuts,” McCarron said after leading the Bills to a 28-27 victory at Soldier Field. “I just wanted everybody to know they were special to me. We've been through a long process to get here, and I wanted to take that upon myself to show them my gratitude to them.”

McCarron has been through this process four times before in his professional career, and knows that the fourth preseason game can also be the final professional appearance for teammates and friends. That’s why he was determined not to pack it in when the Bills fell behind, 27-3.

“I mean, it's just a good group of guys,” he said in the visiting locker room at Soldier Field. “It's awesome to be a part of. It's fun playing the game with guys that just love playing, love being part of a group, love being out there with you. It makes you feel good as a quarterback, as a person.

"My thing was I didn't want to let them down. So I wasn't going to give up. I mean, I've never given up. It's just the person that I am. I just wanted everybody to trust that we were going to keep battling and we were going to have a chance to win.”

Buffalo Bills defensive back Siran Neal (29) has been contributing on third downs. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

How much did Thursday’s win mean to McCarron? He called it the most fun he’s ever had. Keep in mind that this is coming from one of the most decorated players in college football history, someone who won back-to-back national championships at Alabama.

“I kept telling everybody to, you know, trust the process,” he said. “I know we say it all the time, but trust the process during the game and not worry about the end result. It's not always going to be perfect. You're going to have bad plays. You're going to have things that don't bounce your way, but just stay focused. It was awesome.”

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: McCarron has had a tough preseason in his first year with the Bills. A shoulder injury suffered in the second preseason game against Cleveland all but took him out of the competition with Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen to be the starting quarterback – even though coach Sean McDermott said Thursday that McCarron “absolutely” is still being considered for that job.

“I don't know if it says anything because he was out there competing at a high level,” McDermott said when asked what it said about McCarron’s roster status that he played the entire fourth preseason game – traditionally a contest starters are held out of. “I thought he brought our football team back, and showed great leadership. That was one heck of a comeback. It was a great job.”

McCarron understands the great deal of interest, and thus questions, about the quarterback competition, but wasn’t ready to go into much detail about it Thursday.

“I have no clue, guys,” he said when asked about his roster status. “Listen, I'm enjoying this game. I understand you all want to talk about the QB competition, but I'm enjoying the game.”

There wasn’t much to enjoy in the first half, as McCarron and the offense failed to get anything going. The low point came when he threw a pick-six to Bears cornerback Doran Grant on an attempted out pattern to running back Travaris Cadet. McCarron owned the interception after the game, saying it was a ball he shouldn’t have thrown.

"First half, being a little rusty from being out a week not practicing, I couldn't get things to go our way,” he said. At one point in the game, McCarron had completed just 6-of-20 passes for 43 yards and two interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 0.0 at that time.

From there, though, he led a fourth-quarter comeback by accounting for all four fourth-quarter touchdowns, the first on a 5-yard rush, then a 24-yard scoring pass to Robert Foster, a 6-yard connection to Malachi Dupre and finally the go-ahead 6-yard score to tight end Keith Towbridge with 13 seconds remaining.

“It's just one of those feelings you can't explain,” McCarron said. “First I said, ‘watch this, we're going to go down and win.’ You're going to remember this for a long time. This is going to be legendary for us, our group. Final game together, it's part of the business not knowing who's here tomorrow and what not. I'm just super proud of the guys. That was just awesome to battle with them. Probably the most fun I've ever had.”

It remains to be seen when McCarron will next get his chance to play, or even where that will be.

“We're blessed to be able to play this game for a living. It's a game that we get paid handsomely at, and it's fun,” he said. “I love being a part of this team, and I loved being out there being able to battle with the guys. It was awesome.”

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