HOUSTON – The Buffalo Bills made a perfect defensive call.
They schemed up not just one, but two free rushers on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson on a second-and-6 play from the Buffalo 44 with more than four minutes remaining in overtime.
But Watson somehow slipped out of the grasp of Siran Neal and Matt Milano and threw a 34-yard pass to Taiwan Jones.
It was the play of the game and led to the winning field goal in Houston’s 22-19 overtime victory over the Bills in the wild-card playoff game Saturday.
Here’s what the Bills had to say about some of the critical plays in the game.
1. Watson’s great escape.
Neal and Milano both were mystified that they did not come up with a sack on the play.
“It was a blitz and I came from the right side,” said Neal, the Bills’ nickel cornerback. “When I hit him, he was falling, and whoever it was came in from the front, and he spun off of it. I don’t know.”
The Bills could not afford to surrender another first down, because that would have led to a certain field goal attempt by the Texans. So defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sent a six-man rush at Watson.
Neal came free off the left side of Houston’s line. Just as he got within a yard of Watson, the quarterback tucked the ball and moved forward to prevent a big hit in the back.
“I had him,” Neal said. “When I hit him, I saw somebody hit him from the front and he just spun off. We hit him from the back and hit him from the front and he stayed up. It was a great quarterback play.”
Milano hit Watson solidly in the shoulders but didn’t knock the QB down.
“It’s just like you saw, we missed the tackle,” said Milano. “We just missed it. It’s that simple. I’m not going to go into making excuses for it. We missed the tackle.”
“Breaking the tackles ... I knew I was gonna do that honestly,” Watson said. “I mean, I just knew I wasn't going down. ... Once I split out, they kept blocking for me and gave me half a second to readjust my eyes and helmet a little bit to find Taiwan.”
2. Missed TD catch.
The Bills almost had a touchdown late in the second quarter when Josh Allen threw a fade pass down the right sideline to the end zone for Duke Williams.
It was a good throw. Williams had a half step on cornerback Gareon Conley and leaped for the ball. It would have been a great catch. He couldn’t come down with it.
The Bills settled for a 40-yard field goal to take a 13-0 halftime lead.
“That’s a play I’ve got to make,” Williams said. “If I want to separate myself, that’s something I’ve got to come down with.”
Williams caught four passes for 49 yards and a couple produced key, third-down conversions.
But like his teammates, he was heartbroken in the locker room afterward.
“It hurts,” he said. “I feel like we left it all on the field. We put ourselves in position to win and didn’t do so. I feel like I could have played better, I could have made more plays.”
3. Blindside block.
Right tackle Cody Ford was flagged for an illegal blindside block on a third-and-9 play from the Houston 42 on the Bills' only possession of overtime. Allen was scrambling to the right sideline and ran for 4 yards, producing what would have been a fourth-and-5 play from the Houston 38.
Would the Bills have tried a 55- or 56-yard field goal to win it? Probably not. They had passed on a 56-yard field goal earlier in the game. Corey Bojorquez wound up punting, giving the Texans the ball at their 17.
The NFL’s blindside block rule reads: “It is now prohibited for a blocker to initiate forcible contact with his head, shoulder or forearm when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line.”
By the letter of the law, it probably was a penalty, although some NFL observers, including former Giants lineman Shaun O’Hara disagreed, on social media.
Was Ford surprised?
“In the moment, yeah,” he said. “We practice that every day and every chance we get, so it all comes down to me. ... It wasn’t like I had a vengeance for him or anything. I was honestly just trying to make the play. I was focused on the fundamentals because we practice that stuff.”
#BillsMafia you were so amazing all year. This team can feel your energy every game. I love this team and what we have. We’ll be back🤞🏽.
— Cody Ford ✞ (@Cody_Ford74) January 5, 2020
4. J.J. Watt shows up.
Houston’s star pass rusher beat Ford wide for an 8-yard sack on a third-and-8 play from the Houston 12 to force a field goal in the third quarter. Watt simply got a better jump off the ball than Ford, but the Bills’ rookie did not blame crowd noise. It was a momentum-shifting play.
“We were going silent count anyway,” Ford said. “He probably just had a good jump. Kudos to him. The noise wasn’t really a problem.”
Said Watt: “We were saying the whole game up to that point, we just need a play, we just need a play. We need a spark. I was happy to provide it.”
5. Key penalty.
Tight end Tyler Kroft held linebacker Jacob Martin in pass protection and was flagged on a second-and-5 play from midfield in the third quarter. It thwarted another promising Bills drive.
It will go down in Bills lore as an infamous play. Watson threw underneath to running back Duke Johnson for 18 yards on the Texans' winning drive. Houston sent all its other receivers beyond the first-down sticks, driving the picket fence of Bills defenders backward. Tremaine Edmunds didn’t come forward quickly enough to stop Johnson short of the first down. The first down ruling was reviewed and upheld.