ORCHARD PARK — This is a game the Bills could only have won at home.
But Sunday afternoon at “The Ralph” hardly seemed a candidate for such heroics.
The turnstile count, sellout crowd of 68,191 was already restive when Rian Lindell was sent in to kick a 25-yard field goal on 4th-and-a-foot late in the second quarter with Buffalo trailing 14-0.
And the faithful (?) booed their team off the field at halftime when Lindell’s 39-yard attempt was blocked, sending the Raiders to the lockerroom up 21-3.
But a different Buffalo team came out after intermission.
On the first possession of the third quarter, the Bills went 80 yards on three plays, the last 43 on a serpentine run by Fred Jackson that got the crowd back into the game ... for good.
When it was over, the Bills, who scored touchdowns on all five second-half possessions, owned a 38-35 victory in one of the great games in Rich/Ralph Wilson Stadium history.
“To be honest, I understand where the crowd was at halftime,” inside linebacker Nick Barnett admitted. “That’s how we were ... we were upset. (But) we got them right back on our side when we went out there and made plays when our offense drove.”
Afterward, Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 17-of-26 passing for 162 yards and three touchdowns in the second half — including the game-winner with 14 seconds to play — saw particular significance in the way the Bills won.
“We lost so many tough games last year,” he said, recalling Buffalo’s four defeats by a field goal, three in overtime. “”It’s good to be on the other side of these close games.
“It’s pretty satisfying for me to be able to come back, offensively especially ... what we did there in the second half. Every time we got the ball, the guys had 100 percent confidence that we were going to put it in the end zone. I was pretty fired up about that.”
AND THE performance wasn’t lost on Bills’ coach Chan Gailey.
“That was an amazing gut check by our football team,” he contended. “What they did coming out (after) halftime was amazing. I was really proud of it. We talked about doing it, but then you’ve still got to go do it.”
Gailey’s intermission message was simple.
“When you talk about those things you say, ‘If they scored that many, we can.’ Just go stop them and go score three times and you win it 24-21. All you have to do is go out there and get caught up ... once you (do) then you go play the game. That’s what they did.”
Of course, when the Bills went ahead early in the final quarter, it was the first of five times that the lead changed in a span of 14 minutes.
But the result, which wasn’t assured until the game’s final play in the end zone, was what mattered to the Bills.
“I think every win helps you ... I don’t care how you win it, I don’t care what the situation is,” Gailey said. “When you win it helps you as a football team, they start to believe a little bit more ... they start to expect a little bit more.
“They can demand more of themselves and we can demand more of them when you win. Those things start to pay dividends down the road.”
And that’s a lesson the Bills began to assimilate even last season
“In last year’s Cincinnati (game) there was so much confidence in that huddle and it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re going to get the job done and that’s what we had out there (against the Raiders),” Fitzpatrick recalled of the 49-31 victory over the Bengals on the road, after trailing 31-14 at intermission.
“This is big for our football team,” Fitzpatrick said of the victory. “We talked about this last week, being a young team, wins are so important at this point, just for the confidence of our guys.
“Chan said after the game ‘2-0 feels good but 2-0 (also) feels right after all the work we put in.’ And with what we think we have in that locker room, 2-0 feels right.’”
(Chuck Pollock, sports editor of the Olean Times Herald, can be reached at email@example.com)