Justin Zimmer saved the day.
The Buffalo Bills defensive tackle has worked for years to emerge in the NFL after playing for Division II Ferris State. He might have found a home in Buffalo this year. In the closing minute of the game, the New England Patriots trailed by three, but it seemed like they had the game in hand. They were driving through the red zone with another storybook victory on the way.
But Zimmer wouldn’t allow it.
As Cam Newton carried the ball on another piledriving dive, Zimmer executed a picture-perfect Peanut Punch and knocked it loose. The ball bounced right into the arms of Dean Marlowe—playing in relief of the injured Micah Hyde.
To review: An NFL equivalent of a walk-on, playing the league’s waning dynasty, killed their march to a win with help from another backup.
It felt like the Bills needed a miracle to win the game, and fate delivered one today.
On a gusting, raining afternoon in Orchard Park, the Bills and the Patriots traded hammer blows at each other. The two teams combined for five rushing touchdowns and zero passing touchdowns. New England had 34 carries for 188 yards, and Buffalo had 38 for 190. Both defenses bent, both defenses broke, and occasionally, the offenses faltered without a reliable pass game.
For Buffalo, two major errors loomed large. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs miscommunicated on a pass play at the end of the first half, leading to an interception. What was looking like three points for Buffalo ended with three points in the other direction. Late in the fourth quarter, Buffalo had a chance to establish a clear seven-point lead, but Allen’s would-be touchdown bounced off of Gabriel Davis’s hands.
New England had their fair share of self-inflicted wounds, especially with first-half penalties. They also tried a risky surprise onside kick, but it bounced into the hands of Bills linebacker Tyler Matakevich. The Bills would use that play to kick off a touchdown drive. But in the second half, the Patriots running engine revved up, and they looked poised to put the Bills away for the ninth consecutive time on Buffalo turf.
That is, until Zimmer’s critical tackle.
Their day saved, the Bills advanced to 6-2, with a sterling 4-0 record in the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins kept pace with them, a game and a half behind, but New England just fell into fire sale territory—a 2-5 record. Next up for the Bills? Two games against the NFC West.
- Mitch Morse suffered a concussion in the first quarter and left the game. It’s his fifth career concussion, something the Bills have to be concerned about. Ryan Bates, and later Jon Feliciano replaced him in the lineup.
- Taiwan Jones was slow getting off the field on Buffalo’s opening kickoff of the third quarter. A hamstring injury ended his day.
- Late in the fourth quarter, Tremaine Edmunds had his left leg cramp up. He did some stretching and came back into the game a few plays later.
- Congrats, Jerry Hughes! With a sack in the third quarter, Hughes hit 49.5 sacks with the Bills, putting him fifth on the all-time franchise list.
- After a slow start to his career, rookie Zack Moss is in his comfort zone. With 14 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns, he was efficient all day long.
- Amazingly, Moss had his first career 2 TD day before Devin Singletary had his. It’s Singletary’s 20th career game, but he hasn’t hit that mark yet.
- The Bills executed a 50-50 split to perfection with their running backs. Singletary: 14 carries, 86 yards, 1 catch on 1 target for 6 yards. Moss: 14 carries, 81 yards and 2 touchdowns, 0 catches on 1 target.
- Buffalo was one of the league’s worst rushing offenses up until now, but 190 rushing yards should bump them up considerably.
- First ever kick return for Tyler Matakevich! The linebacker was in the right place at the right time for a surprise onside kick by the Patriots. He didn’t take the ball anywhere, but it was a clutch play in a tie game.
- A rare poor play by rookie Gabriel Davis, who’s been a reliable option in the passing game. He let Josh Allen’s pass bounce off his hands in the end zone during the fourth quarter, and Buffalo had to settle for a field goal and a three-point lead.
- With zero catches on two targets, this was actually the first game of his career that Davis failed to catch a pass. Halfway through the season, that’s great territory for a fourth-round rookie.
- Stefon Diggs continues to set the standard for Bills receivers, turning in a six catch, 92-yard day. He had an incredible 41-yard catch-and-run that nearly ended up in the end zone.
- Will we see the Bills tinker with their offensive line? With Mitch Morse suffering a concussion, Jon Feliciano played center in his return to action. He played great. But Ryan Bates could also play there. Until Morse and Cody Ford can play, the Bills might need to get creative.