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Plays that defined 2017: Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons

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A review of the 2017 season and the plays that defined each game.

With 2017 in the books following a fairly surprising playoff berth, we look back at the season and our beloved Buffalo Bills. Every week is a story and we bring this to you through the lens of key plays that defined the game. Your Week 4 match-up:

Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons

The Buffalo Bills were riding high after an upset victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 3. The Bills had found enough on offense to get by the vaunted Denver defense, with two turnovers in the second half allowing Buffalo to pull ahead inch by inch. Sean McDermott’s squad managed to turn enough heads to muster some hype heading south to take on the reigning NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.

Despite the victory over the Broncos, many fans were hoping for nothing more than a close game. A contest in Atlanta’s new house looked like a tall order. An up and down offense and the volatile nature of the turnover battle only fueled the skepticism fire. But at halftime, the Bills were going toe-to-toe with the Falcons and trailed by a mere 3 points. Coming out after the half, a controversial play in the third gave the Bills a major boost of momentum and most importantly, the lead. Atlanta battled back to tie the game, but Stephen Hauschka sealed (and then extended) the win.

Shady is close enough to a first down (Q1, 8:41)

Well behind the sticks on 3rd down, the safe money was on Colton Schmidt taking the next snap. The Bills called up what many teams do in this situation. Tyrod Taylor delivered the “short pass and cross your fingers” play as directed. LeSean McCoy went to work doing LeSean McCoy things and got ooooh so close to the first down. The outcome of this down foreshadowed the kind of day it would turn out to be.

Clearly down about a yard shy of the line to gain, the officiating crew generously donated the Bills two free yards at first glance. After some deliberation, it was only one free yard, but enough for the first down. Fans convinced that the Bills never catch a break were elated. Though the drive stalled soon after, the play was just enough to get it done, with a dash of luck for good measure.

Jordan Matthews TD and celebration (Q2, 6:57)

Continuing the theme of the day, the Bills offense did enough to get it done. While Stephen Hauschka earned his paycheck, this was the lone offensive TD. Buffalo’s offense managed only 281 yards. Despite the low total, they edged out the Falcons in 3rd down conversions and kept time of possession nearly even.

A good play call and a definitively open Jordan Matthews led to a nice pitch and catch on what seemed like Buffalo’s day. Matthews booted up his oddly ovoid console and invited Zay Jones over to play. Nick O’Leary gets the winner and the Bills get the go-ahead score.

Matt Ryan fumble (Q3, 11:04)

Early in the third, the Bills manufactured a little more luck. Jerry Hughes comes off the edge on the blind side of Matt Ryan and catches Ryan’s arm, dislodging the ball. Tre’Davious White scooped it off the turf and ran it in for another go-ahead score.

This play seemed destined to be overturned. Replays suggested Ryan’s arm was moving forward with some semblance of control and this would become an incomplete pass. But to the surprise of many, the call stood.

Looking at it frame by frame, it is hard to find clear evidence to overturn the ruling on the field. Hughes impacts Ryan’s arm before it comes forward, and the GIFs notes above show that Ryan’s hand no longer completely controls the ball before he starts to push forward. Did he have control? Probably. But the video couldn’t prove it.

Stephen Hauschka from 56 (Q4, 4:48)

The Atlanta Falcons had come back to tie it up at 17. With time in short supply the Bills stalled just after midfield and called upon Hauschka to take back the lead. The football gods (aka “The Broadcast graphics”) taunted us with Hauschka’s streak of 50+ yards field goals. This 56-yard try was a near certainty to miss. But leg and luck held up. The Bills were ahead again.

Micah Hyde’s second interception of the game (Q4, 3:42)

The Falcons reached midfield with nearly four minutes to go thanks to a 61-yard kickoff return by Andre Roberts. Surely, the Bills’ luck had run out. The defense however, had other plans and looked to make a stop. In an odd bit of symmetry to our first play, the Falcons found themselves 3rd and 17, outside of scoring range. A tipped pass from Leonard Johnson allowed Micah Hyde to end the drive and impact the field position game with a 37-yard return. Hyde’s pick was yet another play that looked like it would be overturned after review. And again, the play held up in Buffalo’s favor. With the play standing, Hausch-Money went back to work to extend the lead.

Up by six with under a minute left, the Falcons were still in position to win the game. After battling to the Buffalo 10-yard line, the Falcon were faced with 4th and 1. As the throw from Matt Ryan sailed harmlessly over his intended target, the beaming faces of the football gods were staring right at the Buffalo bench as Sean McDermott enthusiastically clapped his appreciation.