The flashbacks were felt by nearly everyone at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. They delighted the Chiefs, deflated the Buffalo Bills and disheartened the sellout crowd.
For the second straight year, the Bills were about to take what could have been an insurmountable lead against the Chiefs.
But once again, the Chiefs made a series of unexpected plays — including recovering a punt in the fourth quarter — that led to a 17-13 win over the Bills, an improbable victory that could have playoff implications at the end of the season.
“I had flashbacks when it bounced our way …” said Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali. “Things went our way in a way where you’re like, ‘This is happening again …’’’
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Indeed, a year ago, in game nine of the season here, third-team quarterback Jeff Tuel, with the Bills leading 10-3, was intercepted at the goal line by Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith, who returned it 100 yards, triggering a 23-13 victory.
On Sunday, with the Bills again leading a 10-3 in game nine of the season, Chiefs cornerback Ron Parker punched the ball from the grip of running back Bryce Brown near the goal line. The loose ball bounded to the back of the end zone, where it slipped through the hands of Bills tight end Scott Chandler and skipped out of bounds for a touchback, giving the Chiefs possession.
It was the catalyst to victory for the Chiefs, 6-3, and downfall for the Bills, 5-4.
“It’s the same thing …” groaned Bills wide receiver Robert Woods. “We go down to the end zone … last year they had a pick six, and this year we had a fumble go through the back of the end zone. … You can’t turn the ball over against this team.”
Parker, making his second straight start at cornerback, just did what comes naturally.
“I saw the running back break out late, I shed my block and stayed outside to force the running back inside,” Parker said. “When I saw the way he was carrying the ball, I said to myself, real quick, ‘I have a shot at hitting it out’ before he scored the touchdown. I went in there and popped it out. That’s what the defense does in practice all week.
“I kind of thought about (last year’s play by Smith). It’s just the change in momentum. It got the whole team back in the game and lifted everyone up.”
Indeed, the play by Parker was one of a series of unlikely plays that went the way of the Chiefs, who trailed 13-3 at one point and overcame a double-digit deficit for the first time under coach Andy Reid.
“There’s going to be games like this where everything is not pretty and you have to play through it,” said Reid, whose team has won four straight and six of seven. “There’s a certain toughness it takes to be able to come back from a deficit like that.”
The Chiefs, trailing 13-10, completed the comeback when fullback Anthony Sherman stripped and recovered a fumbled punt by Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin at the Bills 26 with 9:44 left to play.
Chiefs rookie wide receiver Albert Wilson, in his first play on the punt team in place of Cyrus Gray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the game, roared downfield and pressured McKelvin before Sherman knocked the ball loose and fell on it.
“I got a good release and used my speed to my advantage,” Wilson said. “It was a lot of effort. It’s all about finishing up, and Sherm did a great job of that.”
Sherman, who signed a three-year contract extension last week, credited Wilson with holding up McKelvin.
“He held him up, and the next guy in tries to get the ball out,” Sherman said. “I happened to hit the ball out, saw it on the ground so I had to scoop it up. It was a turning point in the game.”
Two plays later, quarterback Alex Smith, running a read-option, scored on an 8-yard run, giving the Chiefs a 17-13 1ead.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs scored their first touchdown of the game when Reid gambled and went for a fourth-and-1 from the Buffalo 39.
In another dramatic play, Charles skirted the left end not only for the first down but a 39-yard touchdown, drawing the Chiefs to within 13-10.
“That fourth-and-1 … we needed to win this game, and we felt like we had momentum on our side,” said offensive tackle Ryan Harris. “We felt like we had a good play. We trust coach Reid with everything. If he calls a play, we’re going to do it. And it worked, as they usually do.”