ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Patriots spent all week gushing over Bills running back Fred Jackson and his ability to drive the offense. Then, on the most important play of Sunday's game, Jackson broke free to set up Buffalo's 34-31 victory.
Even more surprising, Jackson said the Bills knew exactly how to attack the Patriots' defense in that situation.
Buffalo had a first-and-10 at the New England 39-yard line with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bills emptied the backfield and set up five targets out wide, with three to the left and two to the right, including Jackson out wide.
"The way they play, the way they blitz to empty [formations], it was something [Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick] and I saw. Anytime we line up out there and we point away from a linebacker, this one over here blitzes and leaves that gap open."
That's exactly what happened, too. The Patriots rushed five defenders on the play — three linemen, outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who rushed on almost every play from a two-point stance against the Bills, and linebacker Jerod Mayo. By Jackson's description, Mayo was the blitzer who the Bills saw coming, and Jackson ran a slant toward Mayo's vacant zone.
From there, linebacker Gary Guyton took a poor angle to the ball and safety Josh Barrett slipped, giving Jackson the room to knife across the field. He outraced cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Devin McCourty to the 1-yard line. The Bills then ran out the clock before Rian Lindell kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
"I've got to make that tackle," Barrett said despondently in the locker room. "[Fitzpatrick] was able to get it out quick to [Jackson]. I've just got to be able to make that play. I didn't, and it cost us."
The execution was poor, but the planning on the Bills' part jumped out more than anything. They knew exactly what to do in that situation, predicted the Patriots' defensive scheme in that set and executed the play.