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Sunday, December 14, 2008
Bills throw away victory, Jets run with it


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
 
 AP Photo/Burnett
 Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman's fumble handed the New York Jets an unlikely 31-27 victory Sunday and brought back memories of Joe Pisarcik's infamous fumble at the Meadowlands 30 years ago.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thirty years ago on this site, New York Giants coach John McVay signed off on a play that ended his coaching career.

Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron might suffer a similar fate with an excruciating 31-27 loss Sunday at the Meadowlands on a call that had the New York Jets laughing in their locker room.

"I couldn't believe what was happening, a lot of mixed emotions because the game was looking dark," Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery said, "and he tried to drop back to pass. I'm thankful for that.

"It was looking darker than dark. Whoa. I can't even explain the emotions after that play happened."

That play might have salvaged the Jets' season.

That play also lost the game for the 6-8 Bills at a time when it looked like they would demonstrate some pride in a once-promising season gone utterly wrong. Not only that, they were on the verge of slobberknocking the Jets' precarious playoff hopes. But the Jets are 9-5 and still tied for first place in the AFC East.

The play in question occurred when the Bills were ahead by three points with 2:06 left in the game. They had rushed for a first down and ran another 5 yards on the following play, forcing the Jets to start calling timeouts and setting up second-and-5 from the Bills' 27.

Buffalo had rushed for 187 yards and a 5.8-yard average against the NFL's fourth-ranked run defense.

"When they made that first down," Jets fullback Tony Richardson said, "it was like 'Oh, shoot.'"

So naturally, if you're a Bills fan, your team decided to have their backup quarterback J.P. Losman -- who lost his starting job because of poor decision making and inability to read defenses quickly enough -- throw the ball.

Buffalo's brain trust asked Losman to pass. Jets safety Abram Elam grabbed Losman and forced a fumble. Defensive end Shaun Ellis picked up the loose ball and scampered 11 yards for the dramatic winning touchdown to keep the Jets in a first-place tie atop the AFC East.

"I, probably like most people, was thinking they were going to run the clock out, and we were going to be saying "What if?' " Jets quarterback Brett Favre said. "All I could say was 'Wow.' There were several things on that play that makes you scratch your head, but I'm just glad it was in our favor."

The play was reminiscent of Joe Pisarcik's infamous Nov. 19, 1978 fumble in the waning seconds of what should have been a guaranteed Giants victory in the Meadowlands. Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Herm Edwards scooped the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. McVay finished the season and never coached again.

As Favre mentioned, all Buffalo had to do was run down the clock and -- maybe -- have to play a little defense.

But Jauron did the seemingly unthinkable.

Maybe offensive coordinator Turk Schonert played a role in the decision. But Jauron repeatedly insisted "It's on my shoulders."

There was nothing on Jauron's shoulders when he made the call because he apparently lost his head. Now he could lose his job. Although the Bills refuse to address it, Jauron is believed to have signed a three-year contract extension earlier this season.

Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon declined to comment on whether Jauron's contract extension existed, and didn't want to talk about the decision to throw on second-and-5 either.

"It turned out to be one of those times in the game that's pretty good for a pass because it's right before the two-minute mark," Jauron explained. "So if it's incomplete you don't give them any more time. The clock was stopped, and no matter what they are stacked in the box, playing the run.

"I thought it was a good time, it just ended up backfiring on us."

The Jets couldn't believe the Bills' decision to throw.

The Jets had two timeouts left and the looming two-minute stoppage. The Bills were running strong, but even had they failed to make another first down, the Bills had Pro Bowl punter Brian Moorman and a defense that had given up only 94 yards in the second half.

"I was very surprised," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "When we saw Losman drop back ... Very surprised. Very surprised.

"I don't know what they believe over there, but I guess they saw something with our defense that they could try and take advantage of."

Said Cotchery: "With the way their defense was playing, I would have thought they would try to run the clock down and put the rest on the defense because they played well in the second half."

All that was missing after the snap was Benny Hill music.

Losman, the happy-footed quarterback, rolled right and was engulfed from behind by Jets safety Abram Elam.

"Initially, when I saw him dropping back," Cotchery said of his view from the sideline, "I thought 'Man, they're trying to seal the deal.' Then I saw Abe coming off the edge. My eyes kept getting bigger and bigger. Once I saw Abe wrap him up a little bit, I hoped he did what the coaches taught him to do: Strip the ball."

Out came the ball.

Ellis snatched the dribbler in stride and rumbled down the sideline, pinballing off a few hapless Bills on his way into the end zone.

"I don't think I would've called that," Richardson said. "I wouldn't have thrown a pass. But I'm glad they did. Our backs were against a wall."

How unlikely was the touchdown? The last time a team that was losing scored a come-from-behind defensive touchdown in the final two minutes of a game was 1981, when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tom Howard returned a fumble to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It's sickening," Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "You have a sick feeling in your stomach. I think I speak for the entire team because this game meant so
much to many of us. You give yourself a chance like that and lose it like that in the last couple minutes is always tough."

The poll's not scientific, but Jauron's once-lofty SportsNation NFL head coach approval rating dwindled to 8 percent last week. He had pulled down a 95 percent approval rating after Weeks 3 and 4 and was as high as 92 percent after Week 7.

A small group of reporters asked 90-year-old Bills owner Ralph Wilson how Sunday's game might affect Jauron's job.

"I think I should get back into the insurance business," Wilson replied.