FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It takes a special type of brain lapse to cough up an 11-point lead with just a few minutes remaining on the clock. So, if the Buffalo Bills deserve credit for anything during their Monday night performance against the New England Patriots, it would be their amazing ability to choke under pressure.
Granted, the Patriots capitalized on every opportunity they were given, and their comeback should be equally lauded. However, the Bills — to be more specific, cornerback and kick returner Leodis McKelvin — don’t exactly deserve a free pass.
After Tom Brady’s touchdown pass to Ben Watson cut Buffalo’s lead to 24-19 with 2:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, McKelvin committed an unfathomable sin. To start, the Bills’ hands team took the field during the ensuing kickoff, meaning they were prepared for an onside or squib kick. When Stephen Gostkowski kicked the ball into the end zone, McKelvin should have taken a knee and given Buffalo’s offense a chance to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Instead, McKelvin found his hero gene and brought the ball out of the end zone, and he fumbled the ball away just seconds later. Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather made the initial hit, and linebacker Pierre Woods ripped the ball out of McKelvin’s hands. Gostkowski hit the bottom of the pile and scooped up the fumble to give the Patriots possession at Buffalo’s 31-yard line with 1:56 to play. Brady threw another touchdown pass to Watson, and the Patriots won 25-24.
After the game, McKelvin didn't have many regrets.
“If I ever had another chance, I would probably do the same thing,” said McKelvin, who is actually an extremely talented kick returner. “Next time I get the opportunity, I am going to hold on and make a better decision. If it happens next week, I am going to do it again and you never know what will happen. I may break two and have the best game of my career. I am very disappointed. You don’t need to have turnovers at the end of the game.”
McKelvin also said he was unaware of where his feet were when he caught the ball, and he was afraid he’d get called for a safety if he took a knee in the end zone. Still, in that situation of a football game, McKelvin should absolutely be conscious of every last detail.
“The guy brought it out,” Woods said, “and it was just like, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t think he was going to bring it out. He brought it out. Brandon made a big hit. I came in and poked the ball out.
“To me, personally, I don’t think our guy would have brought it out [in a similar situation]. He brought it out, and the rest is history.”
While the Bills failed spectacularly with their handling of the situation, the Patriots were well-prepared. They run a drill in almost every practice that deals with stripping the ball when the defense or special teams needs to force a turnover in dire late-game situations.
Woods said the special teams unit executed everything to perfection, and they obviously got a big boost from an ill-advised return from McKelvin. After Woods stripped the ball and it squirted around the field, Gostkowski sacrificed his body at the bottom of the pile to grab the ball. As a result, the Patriots kicker earned a ton of praise in the locker room after the game.
“I thought somebody else had it, but Steve, the kicker, man, Steve’s awesome,” Woods said. “What can you say more about that guy, man? He came down there. He was all awkwardly bent up like a pretzel, had the ball, wouldn’t let the guy from Buffalo get it. I tried to pull that guy off of him. The ref was going crazy. I mean, it was just chaos, but that’s what we practice for, all those two-a-days, all that hard work, all of that sweat, blood and tears. It was a big win.”