After giving up a touchdown with 34 seconds left, the Cardinals' defense got bailed out Sunday afternoon when Kyler Murray found DeAndre Hopkins on a last-second Hail Mary to beat the Bills.
But for much of the 32-30 victory, the group did not need to rely on prayers to hang with the vaunted Buffalo offense.
Despite in-game injuries to three starters – defensive tackle Corey Peters (knee), inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (calf) and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (unknown) – the Cardinals' defense kept Bills quarterback Josh Allen under control.
Allen led an impressive opening touchdown drive and threw a laser to Stefon Diggs for the go-ahead touchdown late, but only finished 32-of-49 for 284 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
As has been customary in recent games, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph had his group playing well in the second half, as a short-field Cole Beasley third quarter touchdown off a Kenyan Drake fumble was the only other scoring drive allowed beyond Diggs' score.
"V.J. made some incredible defensive adjustments," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "That's a really good offense. (Bills offensive coordinator) Brian Daboll does a tremendous job of using their personnel and getting guys open, and the quarterback is a ridiculous physical specimen that made plays all night. So to come back the second half and slow them down, it was tremendous."
Cornerback Patrick Peterson had a pair of would-be interceptions bounce off his hands in the first half, and Buffalo capitalized with field goals on both drives. Bills kicker Tyler Bass ended up making 54, 55- and 58-yard field goals before intermission.
Peterson finally got a pick in the second half, nabbing an Allen overthrow in the third quarter to set up a touchdown drive which gave the Cardinals the lead. Kirkpatrick had a fourth quarter pick which kept Buffalo at bay before leaving the game on the final series.
"We knew we were going to have to make plays in order to be right there at the end of this game," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We were able to do that in certain instances. It changed the momentum. It felt like that whole third quarter leading into that last drive, we had a ton of confidence and momentum going into every single drive. We feed off of that, and I think our offense does too. We need those plays."
The Cardinals' offense went dormant on two straight possessions as time ticked down, and Buffalo broke through on its final drive. Beasley made an acrobatic catch on third down to extend the drive and then Allen made enough throws to get Buffalo into the end zone.
"The second half we were playing very good defense," safety Budda Baker said. "Josh Allen was kind of getting confused with what we were doing. V.J. was calling great calls. That last drive, they get paid too. Great play, great catch, great throw."
The loss of Campbell forced rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmonsinto the game, and he seemed to do a nice job. Simmons finished with four tackles and a tackle for loss, including one play where he had a near-sack of Allen, got up after the ball was completed and brought down running back Devin Singletary to force a punt.
"Usually when new guys come in, offenses try to go after them," Baker said. "I didn't really see them go after Isaiah. He did his job."
Peters was carted off with a knee injury in the second quarter, leaving the Cardinals' defensive front without four of its five starters – Peters, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, defensive end Zach Allen and outside linebacker Chandler Jones – from the beginning of the year.
Kingsbury said the prognosis for Peters is unknown, but it could be bad news.
"Obviously it didn't look good, so we'll have to get a final check on that," Kingsbury said.
With so many disruptive pieces out on the defensive line, a standard rush wasn't getting enough pressure, so Joseph went exotic, regularly blitzing Baker and cornerback Byron Murphy into the backfield.
The Cardinals were on the precipice of several sacks but could never quite take Allen down. That was a microcosm of the defensive performance, as the group couldn't quite land the knockout punch.
"When we have an opportunity on defense to win the game, we've got to be able to do it," Hicks said.
But Hopkins did, after the defense kept the Bills in striking distance in the second half.
"We all bailed each other out," Hicks said.
DARRELL DANIELS CARTED OFF
Tight end Darrell Daniels was carted to the locker room after an ankle injury in the first half. The severity is not yet known.