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Bills D one improbable play away from perfection on third down

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills' defense nearly was flawless on third down.

And the one they gave up was the least likely to convert.

The Jacksonville Jaguars gained 18 yards on a third-and-17 play in the first quarter. It was their only conversion out of 10 tries on a wet and windy Sunday. Dave Wannstedt's defense also stopped the Jaguars on three fourth-down plays.

The Bills hadn't allowed fewer than three third-down conversions or lower than 27 percent this year.

"The weather played a good part in it," Bills safety Jairus Byrd said after beating the Jaguars 34-18 in Ralph Wilson Stadium. "A couple of those were dropped passes, and the ball kind of went through their hands.

"Then we did a good job with the play calling. Coach Wannstedt called some plays for the elements. We didn't allow some of the short routes that they wanted and ran coverages to take those away."

The Bills also were helped by strong defense on first and second down. The Jaguars needed an average of 9.5 yards to move the chains on third down.

Only once did the Jaguars have a conversion attempt shorter than 5 yards. On that third-and-1 play, Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy and defensive tackle Kyle Williams tackled Jaguars running back Montell Owens for a 1-yard loss.

Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne completed three of his nine third-down attempts for 38 yards.

But that one conversion ...

For the second straight week the Bills gave up a third-and-17 play. Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck connected with Reggie Wayne for 25 yards to keep a touchdown drive alive in Week 11.

When Henne spotted Cecil Shorts on the right sideline for 18 yards in the first quarter Sunday, the play seemed much more troubling at the time.

The Bills rushed three defenders and had eight in coverage.

"I don't know what to say," Williams said. "It's one of those deals you don't expect to happen. Your hope is the coverage is behind the receivers with the three-man rush up front, and they throw the ball short. Everybody rallies to the ball, and you get off the field.

"That was a big play. It was a fluke deal, but no matter what the reason is, you have to really focus up on those third-and-long plays. You can't just get lax and say, 'OK, they're going to dump it off, and we'll make the tackle.' You can't ever relax, no matter the down or distance.

"Plays that you don't expect to happen always will happen if you're not mentally into it."

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |