HOUSTON – Jordan Poyer saw the play clock expire before the Houston Texans converted on third-and-18, Deshaun Watson hitting running back Duke Johnson on a checkdown-turned-gut punch deep in Houston territory on the first of two critical plays on their game-winning drive, the one that ended the Buffalo Bills’ season, 22-19, in overtime Saturday.
“There was a couple of times out there the play clock expired before the play,” Poyer said, “but they’re going to give them that half-second right after it hits zeroes, so you can’t do nothing about that.”
Moments earlier, Siran Neal had dropped Watson for the Bills’ seventh sack of the game. But now Johnson was diving for the sticks, and Tremaine Edmunds couldn’t stop him short of the first down, and the defense couldn’t come up with one last stop.
“We were just kind of playing off and he checked it down to the running back and he made a play … ” Edmunds said. “The guy was kind of diving, so it really wasn’t a real head-on tackle.”
The Bills dominated the Texans through nearly three quarters of their wild-card playoff game before blowing a 16-0 lead, allowing Houston to score 19 consecutive points in regulation before a wild finish to force overtime.
Four plays after that long conversion, Neal had Watson in his sights once again.
Matt Milano was right there, too.
And yet somehow, Watson spun away from what would have been the Bills’ eighth sack of the day. Somehow, he found Taiwan Jones, the former Bills' running back, wide open on the right sideline.
And he was off to the races, picking up 34 yards before he was finally dragged down at the Buffalo 10.
And then it was over.
Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 28-yard field goal to send the Texans into the divisional round, capping the Bills’ collapse.
“That’s the difference between an elite team and just what happened to us, I guess,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said. “We didn’t make the clutch plays that we needed to make to stay in it.”
Jerry Hughes, looking for his first career playoff victory in his hometown, finished with three sacks, becoming the first player in Bills franchise history to rack up that many sacks in a playoff game.
Trent Murphy added two sacks.
But the big plays were too often followed by failures.
The Bills probably should have lost this game in regulation, but the defense somehow pulled off a miracle, Star Lotulelei stuffing Watson for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Buffalo 30-yard line to breathe new life into a team that largely flatlined after building that 16-point lead.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien went for the first down and the victory, rather than a field goal to take a six-point lead with 1:21 to play in regulation.
“We understood the situation,” Lotulelei said, “and we knew if we got a stop we’d still have a chance to keep going, so the defense went out there and got a stop.”
The Bills’ defense dominated this game, holding the Texans to less than 100 yards of total offense until late in the third quarter, but the offense hadn’t done enough to put it away, settling for three field goals from Stephen Hauschka before a miracle opportunity for the kicker to tie it with a 47-yard boot with 5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Texans finished with 360 yards of total offense.
“They had a long drive and we weren’t able to get off the field on a couple of third downs and obviously a couple of two-point plays that put them back in the football game, things that we’ve just got to be better at,” Poyer said.
Watson completed 20 of 25 pass attempts for 247 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 121.2, hitting DeAndre Hopkins for a 41-yard gain over Tre’Davious White in the fourth quarter on the drive that gave the Texans their first lead of the game.
Watson hit Carlos Hyde for a 5-yard score to give Houston a 19-16 advantage with 4:37 to play.
Watson also rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown and came through on two two-point conversions.
Hopkins had been held without a catch on two targets in the first half. He finished with six catches for 90 yards.
“We did just enough to lose the game,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “We need to find a couple more turnovers in there. I think that’s what the difference in this game was.”
Each team lost a fumble. There were no interceptions.
The Bills led 13-0 at halftime, before the Texans seized momentum with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, beginning a stretch where Houston scored on three consecutive possessions.
“We weren’t complacent or anything,” safety Micah Hyde said. “We came in at halftime confident, going out there, ‘Let’s go win this ballgame.’ Then we get out there and we can’t let teams, especially in big road games like this, we can’t let teams get momentum. Their defense kind of came alive and offense started moving the ball and you see the results.”