Things could have been significantly different this Monday morning in Buffalo Bills land. Head coach Chan Gailey may not realize it nor may he particularly care anyway, but Jairus Byrd literally saved him from a world of spoken and written angst with one spectacular interception in overtime.
Byrd’s diving pick of John Skelton not only won the Bills a game over Arizona but as the team’s official website even stated, may have saved the season—and certainly spared Gailey a whole lot of venom courtesy of fans and the media covering the team at every level.
For anyone with a set of functioning eyes, it was pretty transparent the Bills managed to move to 3-3 on the season not because of their quarterback and their head coach, but utterly in spite of both. While Ryan Fitzpatrick’s struggles on the field were completely physical, decisions by Gailey left many scratching their heads and others steaming mad.
First was the precarious (I’m being real nice here) Wildcat call late in the fourth quarter. Facing a second down and nine from the Arizona 36 with exactly four minutes remaining, the Bills lined up with Brad Smith at quarterback and Fitzpatrick split to the left. Another first down would’ve led to Arizona being forced to burn their timeouts and in all probability, a Bills field at worst.
The Bills had success earlier with Smith running out of the Wildcat, a 19-yard run that led to a Fred Jackson touchdown. Inexplicably however, Gailey called for Smith to throw the ball. His pass intended for Donald Jones sailed over his head and was picked off by Patrick Peterson, who amazingly came off Stevie Johnson to make the play after Johnson foolishly dragged him down deep into the play.
After the game Gailey said the throw was designed to have Jones more down the middle of the field. He then admitted it was a “dumb call” but in the very next breath said if he had to do it all over again, he’d still run it.
10 plays and 2:51 later the game was tied.
To make matters worse, only a 38-yard “chip shot” miss by Jay Feely prevented the Bills from being losers in regulation.
Then, with the Bills getting the ball to start overtime, Buffalo drove down to the Arizona 35 in eight plays. Facing a fourth and 10 from their 35, Gailey elected to punt rather than try a 53-yard field goal with either Rian Lindell or long kickoff specialist John Potter.
The Bills have not one, but two kickers on their roster and they’re not going to even bother attempting a long field goal in overtime?
Want more lousy play calling from the book of Gailey? How about C.J. Spiller’s 17-yard run in overtime to move the ball to Arizona’s 35 in overtime, followed by three straight incomplete passes by Fitzpatrick. Spiller only averaged 7.3 yards per carry for the game—why would you want to try and run him a few more times?
Of course, everything worked out for Buffalo thanks to the individual play by Byrd. His interception and return to the Arizona six yard line made it impossible for even Gailey to make a wrong decision.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment here. Let’s say that Byrd didn’t come up with that interception and the Bills went on to lose that game, fall to 2-4 and essentially see their realistic playoff hopes die out west.
Can you imagine the heat Gailey would be feeling today?
Gailey played to put the icing on the cake late in the fourth when Buffalo should’ve better protected a league, and then when the sensible thing was to go for the points in overtime, elected to punt.
Even though they came out victorious, this was not one of Gailey’s finer days, and I’m reasonably confident fans will be more than willing to remind him at Ralph Wilson Stadium this Sunday if the team gets off to a rocky start.
Winning is always good, but it’s not comforting knowing a football team won in spite of their head coach’s lousy decision making.