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Jay Skurski's observations: Big brawl shifts momentum to Bills in win

The Buffalo Bills were on the ropes, but they fought back Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at New Era Field.

A massive brawl erupted late in the third quarter Sunday, with the end result benefiting the home team in a 24-21 win. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette started throwing punches at Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson, who returned the favor. That led to both players being ejected – a trade the Bills happily welcomed after Fournette had carried 18 times for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns up to that point.

“We're not going to let anyone come in here and try to bully anybody,” said Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who found himself in the middle of the skirmish. “If they want to fight, we can do that, too. After, before, it doesn't matter.”

Fournette and Lawson got into it after Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles found receiver Donte Moncrief with what was originally ruled a 30-yard touchdown pass. Moncrief and Bills cornerback Levi Wallace were wrestling for the ball as Bills safety Micah Hyde looked on. Hyde got shoved by Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook, and it was on from there.

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“We played each other last year in a hard-fought game,” Hyde said. “I just think Bills-Jaguars, when we get together, we want to duke it out.”

According to Hyde, the tension between Lawson and Fournette had been building all afternoon.

“I don’t know what the history is. I'm not going to pretend like I know, but here was something there,” he said. “I feel like Fournette was going after Shaq the whole game, just talking junk to Shaq. I know Shaq, he’s not quiet. I’m surprised we can’t hear him right now. He’s not a quiet guy. But that’s my teammate, and I understand the circumstances he was in. … As a man, you have to defend yourself.”

Even coach Sean McDermott got bloodied during the melee.

“Those things happen fast, and believe me, when you’re in it, it happens even faster. I was glad the players supported one another,” he said. “I never want to see a fight break out like that. I don’t think it’s good for our game. At the end of the day, we’re going to fight, and that’s between the whistles is what I’m looking for.”

The skirmish certainly lit a fire under the fans. With Fournette out, Carlos Hyde took over as running back and stuffed for a 1-yard loss on first and goal. With the crowd going nuts, the Jaguars committed a false start to push themselves back even more.

“It gave energy to the whole stadium,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “It gave us a lot of juice, and we took it and ran with it.”

“I love it. I love the crowd getting into it,” McDermott added. “That’s playing in Buffalo. That’s what we’re all about here.”

On second and goal from the 7-yard line, Bortles connected with Westbrook on a touchdown pass, but  it was negated by a holding call. Bortles was then stopped after a gain of 1 yard on second down, then got sacked by Kyle Williams on third down. That pushed the ball back to the Buffalo 23-yard line, and Josh Lambo missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt.

“That’s how we have to respond,” Poyer said. “That’s the mindset that we have, no matter where they are on the football field. We have to defend our grass. That was a huge moment for our defense in this season. Not just in this game, but in this season.”

As all of that was going on, Lawson and Fournette were led off the field and up the tunnel at the same time. That proved to be a mistake, as they continued to jaw at each other. A fan near the tunnel entrance even appeared to push Fournette, and Lawson had to be restrained by at least three Bills employees.

Lawson did not speak to reporters after the game, while Fournette took the blame for the loss.

“I apologize to all the kids who look up to me and their parents,” he said. “The biggest thing is, this loss is totally on me. I take full (responsibility).”

Momentum shifted after Lambo’s miss, as the Bills went 68 yards – aided by 30 yards in penalties against Jacksonville – for the go-ahead touchdown.

“If he was in or not, I don’t know if the game would have changed,” Hyde said. “I think we had momentum after that regardless. It didn’t matter who we were playing – we felt like we were going to win that game after that big fourth down and missed field goal.”

2. Please, make it stop Walt Coleman. The veteran official’s crew was flag happy, calling a combined 23 penalties against both teams (13 for 80 yards against the Bills and 10 for 90 yards against the Jaguars). Even if all the calls were right, and most of them appeared to be, any sort of flow to the game was erased.

"They just call it and we have to keep going," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. "We don't really have time to reflect and think about that."

3. The Bills determined once that they needed an upgrade from Colton Schmidt at punter. They might be in a position to do so again. Schmidt got a good bounce on his first punt to pin the Jaguars at their 1-yard line, but his hang time all afternoon was abysmal. Needing a good punt in the fourth quarter, however, he came through – thanks once again to a friendly bounce that pinned the Jaguars at their 2-yard line. Bortles was intercepted three plays later, setting up an important insurance field goal for the Bills.

4. Bills cornerback Lafayette Pitts suffered a head injury covering a punt in the first quarter and was knocked out for the rest of the game. That left the team with just three relatively healthy cornerbacks – rookie nickel Taron Johnson is dealing with an ongoing shoulder issue and was questionable for the game -- and forced star Tre’Davious White into a new job as gunner on special teams. The Bills also shifted safety Rafael Bush to cornerback, which he’s done several times this season, to make up for being shorthanded at the position.

Miller exited the game in the second quarter with an abdomen injury. He was replaced by Ryan Groy. Lawson (elbow) and Trent Murphy (knee) were both questionable, but each was in the lineup Sunday. Lawson got the start, but Murphy got into the game early as the Bills kept with their usual rotation along the defensive line.

5. Starting tight end Charles Clay missed his second consecutive game because of a hamstring injury. Jason Croom started in his place. Croom finished with two catches for 15 yards. He missed a chance to make a big play down the right sideline late in the second quarter when a Josh Allen pass sailed through his hands. That prevented the Bills from getting into field-goal range.

6. Rookie guard Wyatt Teller made his second straight start at left guard Sunday. That makes it look more permanent that he’s taken that job away from veteran Vlad Ducasse, who was a healthy inactive after starting the first nine games of the season. Starting center Russell Bodine played despite being listed as questionable because of a shoulder injury.

7. In addition to Clay and Ducasse, the Bills’ other inactives: Quarterback Derek Anderson (concussion), wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, cornerback Ryan Lewis and offensive linemen Conor McDermott and Ike Boettger.

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