The Buffalo Bills (4-7) earned a hard-fought 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday afternoon at New Era Field. When I say it was a hard-fought victory, I mean it in the literal sense, since the outcome of this game swung dramatically after a fist-fight broke out between Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson and Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette.
After the Jaguars appeared to take the lead for the first time all game when Blake Bortles found Donte Moncrief for what was initially ruled a 30-yard touchdown pass, a crazy sequence of events unfolded. On the play, Moncrief and Bills cornerback Levi Wallace both went for the ball, and neither would relinquish control as they rolled around in the front corner of the end zone. Originally ruled a touchdown, the call was changed, and Jacksonville was awarded a first-and-goal from the Buffalo one-yard line.
“I was just holding onto the ball as tight as I could. I was waiting for somebody to pull the receiver (Moncrief) off me because I couldn’t really throw him off me without losing control of the ball. I wanted to get up as fast as I could to show I had the ball, but I just heard a bunch of yelling. The crowd was going crazy. I was just staring at the ball,” Wallace told The Athletic.
“I really didn’t hear (the commotion). I was just focused on hanging on to the ball and making sure I made that play,” Moncrief told The Athletic.
After that, a melee broke out at New Era Field, beginning when Buffalo safety Micah Hyde, who was standing over Moncrief and Wallace, was shoved by Jacksonville wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
Eventually, many players on both sides—including Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and safety Jordan Poyer—were joined in the scuffle by Jacksonville wide receiver Keelan Cole, running back Carlos Hyde, and left tackle Ereck Flowers.
That’s when the punches started flying, with Lawson and Fournette at the center of the brawl. The two exchanged blows before being ejected from the game by Walt Coleman and an officiating crew that was busy from the get-go (23 penalties were accepted for a total of 170 yards).
“I ran in. From there, I kind of just blacked out. I ran in, hit the first person I could see and kind of blacked out after that,” Poyer said.
Added Lotulelei: “We are not going to let anyone come in here and try and bully anybody. If they want to fight, we can do that, too. After, before, it doesn’t matter.”
“They were just in my face. They just kept walking up on me like I’m supposed to be intimidated or something. So, you know, it is what it is,” quipped Hyde.
As Lawson and Fournette were approaching the south end zone tunnel (the only way for players to exit the playing field), the two continued to jaw at each other, and the situation was made worse when a fan appeared to make contact with Fournette, and another fan threw a beer can at the talented Jaguars running back.
“My biggest thing was when the fan hit me. I had a problem with that,” Fournette told The Athletic.
“I’m always going to fight! I’m a dog!” Lawson barked at Fournette.
The dual ejections were a key turning point in lifting Buffalo to its second straight victory. Without Fournette, Jacksonville struggled running the ball and failed to convert on a first-and-goal from the one-yard-line.
Jacksonville proceeded to lose one yard on a rushing attempt by Hyde; lose five yards on a false-start penalty; have a holding penalty negate a touchdown pass; Bortles rush for one yard; and Kyle Williams sack Bortles for a loss of eight yards. Jacksonville’s Josh Lambo, one of the top kickers in the league, then shanked a 42-yard field goal wide left, keeping the score tied at 14 and turning momentum back Buffalo’s way.
“It’s a big advantage to us because Fournette is an elite back in this league, a game changer. When you go to their second and third options, it definitely benefits us. We took that momentum. ... They ran a lead weak. The D-line did a great job of knocking the line back, and it gave me a chance to run through and make a play on the running back. To start with a negative play, we got some momentum from that,” Lorenzo Alexander said.
Jerry Hughes added: “We defend our dirt, every inch, every blade of grass, wherever we’re playing. On the goal line, that’s blowing up. The fight happened just because that’s football. You got people hitting each other for three hours, then tempers are going to flare. That goal line was simply us answering the call. Our coach always talks to us about, whenever we get out on the field, no matter what happens, defend your dirt. We’ve been preaching that for the last two years. I felt like we did that.”
Following the missed scoring opportunity for Jacksonville, Josh Allen directed a three-play, 68-yard scoring drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by Allen as the Bills seized control, 21-14—and ultimately held off the Jaguars for their first two-game winning streak of 2018.
Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott
“I was glad the players supported each other. I never want to see a fight break out like that. I don’t think it’s good for our game. … At the end of the day, a guy is defending a teammate. I already talked to Shaq; we do things the right way. But when people step up and challenge us, I don’t expect people to back down.’’
“I loved it, I loved the crowd getting into it. That’s Buffalo, man. That’s what we’re all about here.”
S Micah Hyde
“He (Dede Westbrook) pushed me and I pushed back which started the whole riot. It is what it is. Both teams were 3-7 coming into this game. I just think Bills-Jaguars, when we get together, we want to duke it out. It’s a heavyweight title fight, that’s what you saw today.’’
On the growing tension between Lawson and Fournette: “I don’t know what the history is. I’m not going to pretend like I know, but here was something there. I feel like Fournette was going after Shaq the whole game, just talking junk to Shaq. I know Shaq, he’s not quiet. I’m surprised we can’t hear him right now. He’s not a quiet guy. But that’s my teammate, and I understand the circumstances he was in. … As a man, you have to defend yourself.”
S Jordan Poyer
“I ran in. From there, I kind of just blacked out. I ran in, hit the first person that I could see, and kind of blacked out after that.”
LB Lorenzo Alexander
“Tensions were high from stuff getting talked about. That stuff stems back to last year, when we played them. They’re very chirpy. We’re not going to back down. It’s a physical game mindset. Those types of things happen when you’re playing football.”
RB LeSean McCoy
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t promote that. I mean, when stuff like that happens, somebody gets hurt. Punching somebody, getting fined, flags. I’m not for that.”
DT Star Lotulelei
“It just set a tone. We are not going to let anyone come in here and bully anybody. If they want to fight, we can do that, too. After, before, it doesn’t matter. … I think it got everyone riled up. It got everybody going. It did, so good for us.”
WR Zay Jones
“I didn’t even know what was going on at first, and then I kind of asked questions and got hyped when I saw a mosh pit over there and then our defense did a good job of rallying behind that and not letting that distract from their focus. They held their offense and then they missed their kick, and then momentum swung in our direction.”
Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone
“At the end of the third quarter, we get the ball at the 1-yard line, two players get ejected, one on each team. (Fournette) was ejected for throwing a punch. He came over to the sideline, he’s a captain. I told him obviously, ‘You can’t do that.’ That hurts our team to lose our best offensive player playing at a very high level.”
RB Leonard Fournette
“There’s nothing you can do about it. This is what it is. You are going to have to rise up and also protect your own, at the same time, you can’t have that. I apologize to all the kids who look up to me and their parents. The biggest thing is, this loss totally on me. I take full part.”
Fournette addressed the escalating war-of-words between Lawson and himself as the two approached the tunnel:
“It was the same, we were talking though. My biggest thing is what I’m saying, I had a problem with that. Other than that you just have to move on from it. This loss it 100% on me, kind of tough to see what I mean.”
QB Blake Bortles
“That’s obviously big for us. To not have him in there, that was a big [loss] for us. Obviously, with what we were able to do in the run game in first half and then there in the second, we weren’t able to do that [same]. stuff. We have other capable [guys] that are able to pick up the slack.”
WR Dede Westbrook
“That’s my brother and I feel like he was standing over him, and ain’t nobody going to stand over him regardless of who they is. That’s why I nudged him like that, like, ‘Get your ass on.”
WR Donte Moncrief
“I just went up and made a play and he [Levi Wallace] was trying to fight for the ball. I just tried to hang on to it and make sure there wasn’t any difficulty about the catch. ... No, I wasn’t going to let go. I couldn’t let him get the ball.”
During his press conference with the media Monday, McDermott offered up more of his thoughts on the incident, which garnered national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“It’s unfortunate when something like that happens. It shouldn’t be a part of the game. As I mentioned last night, sometimes things happen when guys are going against each other, and it got competitive out there. I never want to see one of our guys or their guys thrown out. That’s not the way the game is designed to be played,” McDermott said when asked if he was comfortable with how his players reacted and responded to the situation. “That said, as I mentioned, things were going fast, and at the end of the day, I thought Shaq was defending himself. Punches were being thrown, and so number one, we have to display discipline. But number two, I expect our team to stand up for one another.”
McDermott took offense with the actions of Fournette, who left the Jaguars’ bench and entered the field of play before throwing punch(es) at Lawson.
“That was my biggest point of contention was that he came from the other sideline. But at the end of the day, that’s over and done with. We’re moving on, and we’ve got a lot to learn from the tape, and I expect us to do that,” said McDermott, who added that, as of Monday, he has not shared his thoughts on the situation with the league.
McDermott, who helped guide the Bills to a 9-7 record in 2017 while snapping the team’s 17-year playoff drought, was asked by the media if the fracas on the field was in part due to hard feelings between the two teams that dated back to the Wild Card loss in Jacksonville last January.
Specifically, McDermott was asked if he felt part of Jacksonville’s game plan for Week 12 was to try and get under the Bills’ skin.
“I don’t know. That’s probably a better question for (Jacksonville) coach (Doug) Marrone,” McDermott said.
The Bills kept alive their slim playoff chances with the win, while Jacksonville suffered its seventh straight loss Sunday at New Era Field.