There were two minutes left in the Buffalo Bills’ fourth preseason game and reporters had all written the majority of their game stories. AJ McCarron figured prominently in them as the starting quarterback who had played poorly for most of the game. Now, it was 4th and 20 and the Bills were backed up against their own end zone. Heck, even head coach Sean McDermott sent out the punt team before realizing a change of possession would end the game.
“It’s one of those feelings you can’t explain,” McCarron told reporters after the game. “I looked at the guys, Wyatt [Teller] is the one I remember the most just because of the look on his face, it was like he’d never heard it before, but I looked at the group and told them, ‘Watch this. We’re going to go down and win. We’re going to remember this for a long time. It’s going to be legendary.’”
If it was the regular season, it definitely would be the tale of legends.
An incomplete pass on the ensuing play was saved by a roughing the passer call - a depth Bears defender had clubbed McCarron in the head and hit him after he threw the ball - and the Bills were still alive. The veteran QB matriculated the ball down the field, gaining chunk yards when he could, using his feet to gain yards and get out of bounds other times. Even after an intentional ground call, he found Kaelin Clay for a 25-yard third down conversion.
The drive was capped with a Keith Towbridge touchdown reception with 13 seconds left on the clock. Buffalo had scored 25 unanswered points and McCarron had either run in or thrown all four of the fourth quarter touchdowns. Remarkable is an understatement.
“I’m just super proud of the guys,” McCarron said. “It was awesome to battle with them. Really, it was the most fun I’ve ever had.”
He was asked to clarify. Certainly winning back-to-back national championships at Alabama was better, at least some moment of it.
“Some of the guys that played today — it’s no secret, me or anybody else — might not be here tomorrow or whenever they make the final cuts,” McCarron said, discussing a Wednesday meeting with the players who were going to be in during the fourth game. “I just wanted them to know they were special to me.”
He had led the team on Wednesday and now led them on Thursday.
“We’ve been through a long process together, and I wanted to take it upon myself to show them my gratitude and what it means to me for them to be out here every day working hard to be part of it.”
McCarron didn’t stop there, gushing praise on his teammates over and over from his locker.
“I just love this group. It’s an awesome group to be a part of,” said McCarron. “I just kept telling everybody to trust the process. I know that we say it all the time, but trust the process during the game and don’t worry about the end result.”
This time, the end result took care of itself.
“The way he fought and battled, it’s the way the team fought and battled,” head coach Sean McDermott said from the postgame podium. “It was good to see, fun to watch, fun to watch the guys and you watched it in the fourth preseason game. He was out there competing at a high level. I thought he brought our football team back, and showed great leadership. Then one heck of a comeback. It was a great job.”
McDermott said McCarron was “absolutely” still in the conversation to start the opening game of the team’s regular season, but that seems unlikely given that coming off a shoulder injury McCarron was asked to play the entire game while starters and most backups were on the sideline. Still, it was a great showing from McCarron and the reserves.