For the Broncos to convert their fourth-and-2 opportunity and find the end zone against the Buffalo Bills on Monday, their offense needed more than just by-the-book execution. Quarterback Russell Wilson evaded a free blitzer in Buffalo's Shaq Lawson, wide receiver Courtland Sutton identified open space in the Bills' coverage and the offensive line kept the Bills pass rush at bay.
Even with the offense's efforts midway through the fourth-down attempt, Head Coach Sean Payton admitted that the likelihood of the play becoming a success was so slim that he would have kicked the field goal instead if given the theoretical chance.
"If you had told me, 'All right, fourth-and-2, give me a play you like,' and we felt like we had one, and then you had told me, 'Freeze the film midway through that play,' I would have kicked a field goal," Payton said after the game. "[Buffalo] played coverage. They played more of a two-deep shell to it. We were expecting a man-look. We wanted to be aggressive and we felt like we had a play we liked. That all being said, certainly they defended it well, then Russell and Courtland made a fabulous play."
Instead of allowing the play to end in disaster, Wilson and Sutton combined for one of the most incredible plays of the Broncos' season.
Wilson saw Sutton streaking across the back of the end zone and lofted a pass toward the left corner, far enough toward the sideline that it was beyond the Bills' reach but in a spot where Sutton would have a chance at a toe-tap catch. Sutton did exactly that, dragging his feet while controlling possession. The play happened so fast that officials initially ruled the pass incomplete, before reversing the call to a touchdown upon replay review.
"Russ did Russ things — Russ magic," Sutton said. "Him buying time, making a play. Everybody had a hand in that. … Ultimately Russ gave me a chance, and through a lot of practice and a lot of confidence that he has in myself and I have in him, we were able to go have a chance to go make a play."
Sutton said the acrobatic catch was the result of years of dedicated practice.
"[We emphasize] practicing all types of catches," Sutton said. "You never know what type of situation you'll be in [during] the game. That play in the game, you can't replicate it, but you can put your body in that situation so your body will know what to do when you get in that situation."
NFL's Next Gen Stats gave the play a 3.2 percent chance of completion, making it the play with the lowest probability of completion since Next Gen Stats has tracked the metric. Sutton's touchdown — his seventh of the season — made a major impact in the Broncos' 24-22 win on "Monday Night Football," allowing the visitors to capitalize on a red-zone trip and convert a key fourth-down opportunity.
"Coach gave us enough confidence to go for it on fourth-and-2," Wilson said. "We drove all the way down there, kind of get outside the pocket, kind of do a little double spin, and Courtland's sitting right in the corner. I mean, unbelievable toe-tap catch. Guys are making plays and we're doing it together. That's what matters most."
The touchdown catch reminded Sutton of his one-armed snag in the end zone in the Broncos' first prime-time game this season, a "Thursday Night Football" clash with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6.
After making both catches, Sutton joked that officials should give him the benefit of the doubt and start calling the plays as touchdowns first and then consult the replay booth.
"Oh, I knew I was in," Sutton said. "I knew it, but they kind of tried to play me like they did in Kansas City. It is what it is. At some point, they're going to start calling them touchdowns and then review them after that."