Yeah, it was a fantastic win.
An overtime victory on the road against a quality opponent after two of the worst performances in franchise history is reason for the Bills and their fans to celebrate.
After all, Sunday’s 19-16 triumph over the Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium boosted Buffalo into a four-way tie for first — at 3-3 — in the NFL’s tribute to parity, the AFC East.
But after you take off the party hats, stop throwing the confetti and put away the kazoos, consider this: your team was a missed 38-yard field goal from collapsing even before midseason.
THIS WAS a game the Bills seemed set to win in regulation.
Up 16-13 with just over three minutes to play, Buffalo faced a 2nd-and-9 at the Arizona 35, already within Rian Lindell field goal range to take a 6-point lead and force the Cardinals to score a touchdown to win.
But that’s when coach Chan Gailey chose to get cute.
Yeah, Curtis Modkins is the Bills’ nominal offensive coordinator, but it’s Gailey who calls the plays.
And this time he selected a head-scratcher.
Gailey sent in wide receiver/disaster quarterback Brad Smith to run the “wildcat.”
Fair enough, it’s a somewhat effective alternate run formation and Smith does a decent job operating in that shotgun alignment.
But, alas, he didn’t come in to keep the ball on the ground, instead his charge was to throw long.
A guy who hasn’t attempted a pass all season is called upon to accurately heave one to the end zone late in a close game with his team ahead.
Predictably, Smith’s underthrown bomb was picked off by cornerback Patrick Peterson, setting up the Cardinals for a bid to win or tie.
And even though Arizona’s quarterback, Kevin Kolb, lasted only the first three plays, to be relieved by former starter John Skelton, who missed five of his initial six passes, the Cardinals still gained enough yardage for Jay Feely to drill a game-tying 61-yard field goal.
And when Buffalo had a quick three-and-out, the Cards got the ball back near midfield with almost a minute left in regulation and Skelton quickly drove them to the Bills’ 20-yard line — when Buffalo’s secondary forgot to cover Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, of all people — to set up Feely’s 38-yard field goal try.
Curiously, the guy who had just hit a 61-yarder that would have been good from almost 70, doinked his attempt off the upright, sending the game to overtime.
In OT, though some Bills’ fans undoubtedly bristled, Gailey opted to punt on the extra session’s opening possession, rather than trying a 52-yard field goal.
It made perfect sense.
Even if Lindell made it, the game wouldn’t have been over due to the new overtime rules. If he missed, Arizona would get the ball at its own 42 and be a mere 14 yards from where Feely had already connected just minutes earlier.
The strategy worked.
Three snaps after the punt, Skelton was intercepted by safety Jairus Byrd, and Lindell’s field goal, barely longer than an extra point, won it.
AFTERWARD, Gailey was giddy ... or maybe just plain relieved.
When asked about the “wildcat” pass play, he offered, somewhat condescendingly, “If we hit that, we’re all talking about what a great call it is ... when we don’t, it was a dumb call ... so it was a dumb call.”
But even Gailey conceded, “If I had to do it again, I’d run it.”
To be sure, bad playcalls happen.
In the home opener against Kansas City, Gailey decreed a reverse to Dorin Dickerson from the Chiefs’ 2. The backup fullback lost eight yards on the play, though the Bills still finished the drive with a touchdown.
However, the following week, the third-year Buffalo coach chided himself for making such a dumb call.
And yet, coaches have been fired for making better decisions than the “wildcat” pass.
You have to wonder, though, whether Gailey’s thinking was affected by Smith, a nearly $4 million-a-year player the Bills haven’t seemed to know how to use since they signed him away from the Jets last season.
The “wildcat,” four years removed from its reintroduction by the Dolphins, has seemingly become passé. NFL teams like to show it, but it’s being used to virtually no effect.
What’s certain is that Gailey’s call was totally illogical, especially compared to the well-considered decision not to have Lindell try that long field goal in OT.
The Bills were a team on the brink, coming off two disastrous losses that had turned their fans on them, and were a tough loss away from having the entire season collapse.
Gailey’s gaffe almost produced that very result ... but for a missed 38-yarder.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)