By Leo Roth Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
ORCHARD PARK – It took an entire half for the aftereffects of Thanksgiving to wane, 30 minutes of “action’’ in which I thought was watching a Seinfeld re-run in which the characters kept asking each other “More turkey? More wine?’’
But soon the Tryptophan Bowl being waged between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars turned into another holiday: The Fourth of July.
For this, 67,849 fans at New Era Field and millions more who tune in to NFL highlight shows have Bills running back LeSean McCoy, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Sammy Watkins to thank.
Buffalo’s Triplets, together for the first time in nine weeks after Watkins came off injured reserve, put on the kind of show in Sunday’s 28-21 comeback win over Jacksonville that was reminiscent of a bygone era.
When another trio called Thomas-Kelly-Reed rescued victory from the jaws of defeat. Or in this case, with their feet.
Buffalo scored three more rushing touchdowns, two by McCoy and one by Taylor, giving it 20 rushing scores in a season for the first time since 1990. It finished with 153 yards on the ground.
But just when the NFL’s best running team was giving the impression it might abandon the pass all together, Watkins re-introduced himself, the spotlight shifting upward for a balcony scene, right onto his surgically repaired foot that maybe — just maybe — is finally healed.
Let’s digest this statistical nugget: Buffalo ran 26 plays in the first half for 63 yards and one touchdown and trailed 7-6. It also ran 26 plays in the second half, but for 241 yards and three touchdowns, plus a critical seven-play possession that produced two first downs and chewed off the final 3:25 to seal the deal.
That’s the beauty of the big play.
And on Sunday, that included a career-long, 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the third quarter by McCoy; a 62-yard pass completion from Taylor to Watkins that set up Taylor’s 7-yard score; and another long pass to Watkins that resulted in an interference call and 18-yard gain, wiping out an interception and leading to another touchdown pass from Taylor to Justin “Mr. TD’’ Hunter that proved to be the winning score.
What was a clutch-and-grab boxing match between two plodding heavyweights in the first half turned into a brawl with both teams throwing haymakers and combining for five touchdowns and 422 yards over the final two quarters.
“I’ll take it any way you can get it,’’ said coach Rex Ryan, who sounded like a happy Black Friday shopper knowing his 6-5 team is still in the playoff conversation for another week. “We needed some breaks. At halftime we weren’t doing a whole lot so we needed a spark.’’
Brandon Tate’s 43-yard punt return before half that led to McCoy’s first TD and his SportsCenter beauty to open the second half got the Bills pointed in the right direction. But it was nice to see that Taylor and Watkins also got into the fun.
With more than 1,000 yards rushing in just 1½ seasons, Taylor is Buffalo’s greatest running quarterback. But at this point, not a lot of people care, including a front office that needs to see him develop more as a passer to warrant picking up a $27-million contract option.
With a healthy Watkins back, maybe we can all judge Taylor a little more fairly. Not only has Taylor been without his No. 1 receiver in Watkins, he has been without No. 2 (Robert Woods) and on Sunday, another key backup (Walter Powell) went down with an ankle injury.
“Missing Sammy early on definitely hurt our offense,’’ said Taylor, who is all for a re-evaluation of his circumstances. “I mean, we have other playmakers but Sammy’s presence, what he’s been able to do since he stepped into this league, has been incredible. It was great to have him back and we just got to continue to keep building this chemistry moving forward.’’
Getting on the same page during a December playoff run is like learning to waltz in rush-hour traffic. But that’s the deal.
After a cautious first half, Watkins certainly looked fresh, fast and focused and more importantly, an overly cautious Taylor finally began letting some deep passes fly. Good things happen when you trust your receivers and Watkins is more trustworthy than a Boy Scout.
“The foot is no issue,’’ said Watkins, who after two weeks of fits-and-starts had to shut things down to finally heal. “Right now, I’m feeling great. My first game back … I played pretty well, some things I need to fix and clean up. But other than that, I think as a team and coming back with the chemistry, I think I played OK.’’
OK as in catching three passes for 80 yards, giving Taylor some confidence back and scaring the heck out of a 2-9 Jaguars team that had a recipe for an upset working for a while but ultimately fell victim to Buffalo's Fourth of July fireworks.
“We’ve got to realize that we have to play at a high level every snap,’’ said linebacker Paul Posluszny, the former Bill. “The guys who made those plays: elite wide receiver, one of the best running backs in the NFL. So that’s the thing.’’
A thing of beauty if you’re the Bills. And the sight of No. 14 back on the field is certainly all of that.