PITONIAK: An unlikely hero sparks an unlikely win

Sports
                ORCHARD PARK – How do you cool off the most torrid quarterback in football? Easy. You call on Rambo. That’s Bacarri Rambo, not the cinematic, machine-gun-toting Green Beret character made famous by Sylvester Stallone.

                This Rambo, a fourth-string safety, was pressed into action after injuries sidelined two of the men ahead of him on the Bills depth chart, and like some Hollywood super hero he led Buffalo to one of its most stunning victories in quite some time. Rescued from the football scrapheap by the Bills on November 17, Rambo rewarded their faith in him by intercepting Green Bay Packers All-World quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice as Buffalo kept its super slim playoff hopes alive with a 21-13 victory Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

                The interceptions were the first thrown by Rodgers since October 16. He had entered the game on an incredible roll, having tossed 16 touchdowns and zero picks in his previous five games and 35 touchdown passes and just three interceptions before Sunday. The picks also were the first of Rambo’s non-descript one-and-half year NFL career, which began with Washington in 2013 and was revived by the Bills after he was cut earlier this season.

                 Chew on that for a minute. A fourth-string safety who had been out of football for several weeks and didn’t start Sunday’s contest made two interceptions against a quarterback who had thrown an NFL-least three through his first 13 games. “It’s just a huge, huge confidence boost,’’ Rambo said after replacing Duke Williams, who left the game with a concussion after having started in place of injured starter Da’Norris Searcy. “That’s going to allow me to play even faster and build confidence in myself, that, hey I can do this. I belong in this league.”

                Rambo’s performance headlined yet another stellar day by the Bills defense. For the second consecutive week, they shut down a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Rodgers had entered the game with a league-best 119 quarterback rating. Sunday, his rating was a career-worst 34.3. Besides the two picks, he completed just 17 of 42 passes (40 percent, also a career worst) for 185 yards and no touchdowns. The Bills only sacked him once, but it couldn’t have come at a better time.

                With just under two minutes to go and down by six, the Packers were pinned back on their 10-yard line. They also had used up all their timeouts. But, despite their dire situation, they had the best quarterback in the game at the helm, so no one in a Bills uniform was thinking the game was over. “Rodgers is definitely as capable as anyone at taking a team down the field in that situation for the winning score,’’ Buffalo running back Fred Jackson said. “But I had confidence that our defense could stop him. They had pretty much bottled him up the whole game, so I believed they could do it again.”

                Rodgers dropped back to pass, but before he could even cock his arm, Bills defensive end Mario Williams bore in and knocked the ball from his hands. Running back Eddie Lacy scooped it up in the end zone and attempted to advance it, but was brought down by Nigel Bradham and Nickell Robey. The Bills were credited with a safety.

                Rodgers’ sub-par performance came a week after the Bills held Peyton Manning to his lowest quarterback rating in six years. Mr. Discount Double-Check did a double-take throughout Sunday afternoon. Even Hans and Franz wouldn’t have been able to pump Rodgers up facing this defense.

                Let’s also give credit to the special teams, which produced a touchdown on Marcus Thigpen’s 75-yard punt return and denied the Packers three points with a blocked field goal.

                Buffalo needed extraordinary play from its defense and special teams because its offense still is stuck in neurtal. Kyle Orton threw for a paltry 158 yards and was picked off once, and failed to lead the unit into the end zone. Fred Jackson was solid, with 71 yards rushing and 27 receiving.  Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was targeted six times, catching just one pass for 28 yards.

                Still, despite the offensive shutout, the Bills managed to pull off the upset. They would have to win their two remaining games at Oakland next Sunday and New England the following week in the season finale to keep hope alive. And even if they were to do that, they’d still need several teams ahead of them to lose in order for them to earn a wildcard.

                The victory against a team that came to town having won five straight and against a quarterback who was playing as well as any quarterback ever has almost certainly ensures that Doug Marrone will be back as Bills head coach next season.

                But the win also was a reminder of just how special this season could have been if they only had a competent quarterback and the offense had carried its share of the load.  

GRADES

OFFENSE:
 Orton finished with a 54.2 quarterback rating and couldn’t lead his unit into the end zone. The receiving corps didn’t distinguish itself. The running game did produce 113 yards. Left tackle Cordy Glenn had an awful game, allowing a sack and committing three penalties. D
DEFENSE: They held Aaron Rodgers to the worst quarterback rating and completion percentage of his Hall of Fame career. Yes, the Bills caught a break when Jordy Nelson dropped a pass that could have resulted in a 95-yard touchdown connection. But the Bills also dropped at least three interceptions. And they did hold an offense that had averaged 40 points per game during its previous five games to just 13 points. A
SPECIAL TEAMS: Thigpen’s return for a touchdown was huge. Mario Williams blocked a field goal. Marcus Easley made a great tackle on a punt, pinning the Packers back at their 10 and setting up the decisive safety. And, following the safety, Chris Hogan made a nice catch on an onsides kick. A
COACHING: Give Marrone credit. He relied on his defense and special teams to win this game, and they did. Fred Jackson said the players love playing for the guy. It appears this victory earned Marrone another season at the helm.B
OUTLOOK: Oh, if only they could have pulled out a win in that Kansas City game. They would be in position to secure a playoff spot. Sunday’s win kept them alive, but they have too many tie-breakers working against them. On the bright side, a win in Oakland would give them nine wins and their first winning record since 2004.

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