PITONIAK: Clay, Bills redeem themselves

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                After Charles Clay’s hands-of-stone play early in the fourth quarter, he probably wanted to run a down-and-out-of-the-Ralph. The highly touted tight end whom Buffalo had lured away from Miami knew he had let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers. Had he caught the ball near his team’s 40, Clay would have secured a first down and kept alive a crucial drive. The Bills, who were nursing an 8-point lead at the time, would have been able to secure control of the game if they drove down field and tacked on another touchdown.
                Instead, they were forced to punt. And on the ensuing possession, the Houston Texans tied the score with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
                Fortunately, Clay’s teammates wouldn’t allow him to stay down in the dumps. Guard Richie Icognito was among several players who told him, “Hey, you’ll make up for it.”
                With just under two minutes remaining, Clay did just that. He broke free on a fly pattern and quarterback Tyrod Taylor lofted a perfect strike for a 40-yard touchdown that wound up being the decisive score in a 30-21 victory that kept hope alive. At 6-6 the Bills still are on the outside looking in as far as the playoff chase is concerned, but their chances of securing a wildcard berth improved dramatically with the win.
                No one was more thrilled with the chance for redemption than Clay.
                “It was big,’’ he said. “I mean, for those guys to put that kind of trust in me after the drop and to come back and give me a chance to make another play speaks volumes for them.’’
                Before jogging onto the field for the decisive score, Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman pulled Clay aside and told him they were going to score on the play this time. “I don’t think I have ever been that wide open,’’ Clay said of his second opportunity. “And I don’t think I have ever been as nervous when the ball was in the air. It is one of those that seems like it takes forever to come down. But I caught it and the rest is history.”
                Bills coach Rex Ryan said he was as nervous as Clay while the ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity. “I was just like, ‘Please don’t miss the layup, please don’t miss the layup,’ ’’ he recalled.
                Clay didn’t miss the layup. He caught the ball in stride and sprinted untouched into the end zone. “It was very big,’’ said Taylor, who threw for 211 yards and three scores and also scored on an 8-yard run. “I could tell that he was a little down after the first drop, but it’s important for guys to remember that there’s a lot of plays in the game. Of course, you want to make every play, but you have to brush it off . . . and be ready for the next opportunity. He was.”
                There were many Bills heroes on a day when they had their way against a J.J. Watt-led defense that had allowed just 8.8 points per game while winning its previous four games. The Texans yielded just two touchdowns in their 18 quarters before Sunday. The Bills scored three touchdowns against them in the first half alone.
                Neutralizing Watt was a key to their success. The out-of-this-world defensive end mustered just four tackles, only one of which resulted in lost yardage. His only sack was wiped out by off-setting penalties. “This is probably the most game-planning I’ve ever seen (to deal with) one individual,’’ Incognito said. The Bills double- and triple-teamed Watt, and ran to the side opposite of where he lined up the majority of time.
And they did so on a day when Buffalo had to go with backups Jordan Mills and Kraig Urbik at right tackle and right guard, respectively. The result was a 187-yard rushing performance against a defense that was allowing just 70 rushing yards the previous four games. Leading the way was LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 112 yards, giving him six consecutive games in which he has topped the century mark in yards from scrimmage.
                Sammy Watkins was targeted just four times, but he made the most of his opportunities, catching three passes for 109 yards – a 36.3 average – and a score.
                And Taylor continued his progression, posting a 127.2 quarterback rating while extending his franchise-record streak without throwing an interception to 186. “He just keeps getting a little better, and that wasn’t easy (today),” Ryan said. “(The Texans) do so much. They mix coverages. They do a great job, and they keep painting false pictures on you. I think Tyrod did a great job. And, guys, I think he’s legit. I think he’s real and I think people are starting to realize that.”
                The Bills defense did allow so-so quarterback Brian Hoyer to throw three touchdown passes, but Buffalo did a decent job on Houston’s superb wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins finished with five catches on nine targets for 88 yards and one score, but three of those catches for 71 yards came on one drive. He was limited to two catches for 17 yards on the Texans 12 other possessions.
                The Bills came up big on Houston’s second-to-last possession, when the game was still in doubt. After Clay’s score, Dan Carpenter missed his fourth extra point of the season and second in two weeks. Instead of seven points, the Bills led by just six with 1:53 remaining. But Buffalo held the Texans without a first down on their next series.
                Carpenter then redeemed himself with a 36-yard field goal that gave the Bills a two-score advantage with 37 seconds to go. Wide receiver Marcus Easley, part of Buffalo’s Hail Mary defense, intercepted a pass in the end zone as time expired.
                NOTES: The Bills have games in Philadelphia next week and Washington the following week before closing out the regular season with home games against Dallas and the Jets. . . . Lock-down corner Stephon Gilmore left the game with a shoulder injury early in the third quarter and did not return. He is scheduled to have an MRI Monday. . . . Mike Gillislee was activated from the practice squad and made his presence felt with a 30-yard run on the Bills first drive. He finished with 41 yards on seven carries filling in for the injured Karlos Williams. . . .  Jerry Hughes and Bacarri Rambo recorded sacks for the Bills. It was the first sacks by Buffalo players since the Jets game on Nov. 12. . . . Preston Brown (9) and Manny Lawson (8) led the Bills in tackles.

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