The game was over but two minutes remained. The scoreboard read 41-17. The outcome of a second-and-7 did not matter.
EJ Manuel had stepped on as the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback in relief of starter Tyrod Taylor by then, while core special-teamers in Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner and Barkevious Mingo had subbed in for the New England Patriots.
The play that followed did little more than set Buffalo up for an empty touchdown and two-point conversion – one which few Bills fans stuck around New Era Field to watch transpire. But it would be well-executed, well-defended, and, well, as impressive a 35-yard catch as there is to see down 24 points.
It was Walt Powell’s to make.
The Murray State product, now on his fifth team since entering the league as a sixth-round pick in 2014, gathered himself as the flanker opposite Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe from the Buffalo 35. And when the ball was snapped, he’d find himself running a fly route down the sideline.
Powell wouldn’t find an abundance of room to work with when he did so, however. Rowe did his part, mirroring the 6-foot, 189-pound receiver’s release to the outside and down the field.
The corner stayed with him stride-for-stride until the New England 35.
An adjustment had to be made then.
Manuel’s pass would soon be arriving, but not out in front of its intended target where Rowe loomed.
No. 19 chopped his steps, turning back to the football just as Rowe attempted to box him out instead. The problem for Rowe, though, was that his feet were still pointed toward the end zone. Powell’s, meanwhile, had already gone perpendicular as he left the turf with his back to the sideline.
Powell located, twisted and timed it all in one fell swoop of body control. And he high-pointed the ball as Rowe’s momentum carried him further downfield.
But in order to handle the catch, Powell would have to handle the collision that came along with it.
Deep safety Duron Harmon was closing in on the sideline just as the football grazed Powell’s hands and facemask. And when Powell’s right hand slipped off the ball, it would be a matter of hanging on not with proper thumb-to-thumb technique, yet by however he could vice-grip a completion together.
At the same time, Harmon arrived on the scene with 20 yards of steam. His hips sunk low and his elbows hugged the sides of his torso, as if he was set to uncoil.
Harmon ran through Powell, doing everything in his power to send the wideout’s back to the ground and cleats to the air.
Yet while Powell’s body had been jarred, at no point would the football be jarred out of his possession.
Surrounded by a trio of Patriots defensive backs, there it remained, pinned between his left hand and shoulder pad at the 28-yard line.
Little else could have been done by his AFC East opponents to change that end result.
The Bills could do little to change the end result as well.
Powell would drop a pass from Manuel on the next snap, and by the time Buffalo had gotten into the end zone and tacked on two to make it 41-25, his Sunday had included three receptions on eight targets for 59 yards.
But the last one Powell made was worth remembering in a final few minutes that were not.
Sometimes all you can do is tip your cap.