"We are going to need a total team effort to win football games," said linebacker London Fletcher, who came up with a huge defensive play. "Sometimes the offense is going to struggle a little bit. Sometimes the defense is going to struggle a little bit. We need everyone doing their job to win."
Drew Bledsoe, Travis Henry, Eric Moulds and Peerless Price all had their usual big games as the Bills (5-3) remained the only NFL team to score at least 23 points in all of their games. But after Henry's untimely fumble was recovered by linebacker Chris Claiborne at the Bills' 29, Buffalo's defense came through.
On third and three from the 22, rookie Joey Harrington threw a receiver screen to Germane Crowell, but cornerback Jason Bostic tripped him up short of the first down, setting up fourth and one.
After the two-minute warning, James Stewart stacked up for no gain by Fletcher, who made his team-leading 10th tackle of the game. The Bills took over and Bledsoe found Moulds for a first down that killed the clock.
"London Fletcher made a heckuva play," Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg said. "We thought we had something there. We didn't get it done."
"It was a huge play," Fletcher said. "Who knows what happens if they are able to convert that down?"
Buffalo (5-3), which was just 3-13 last season, has won three straight games for the first time since November 2000. In all three games, it has shown flashes of an improving defense.
Two weeks ago at Houston, the Bills allowed just seven points in the second half. Last week at Miami, they forced six turnovers and surrendered just 10 points. In this one, Detroit's two touchdowns came in a 2:03 span of the second quarter.
"Defensively, we had our bumps and bruises, we had our growing pains," said Fletcher, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason. "We didn't expect to give up as many points as we were giving up early in the season. It is huge the way the defense has played this week, last week and the last half against Houston."
The defense needed to be solid because the offense, although effective, was not flawless. Henry's fumble was the fifth he has lost this season. And fullback Larry Centers saw his streak of 143 games with a reception come to an end.
"It was a play called to the right," said Henry, sporting a big cut on his lip after the game. "I already knew to have two hands on the ball. I got hit in the mouth and it came out. I got hit pretty hard, but there's no excuses. I've got to do a better job."
Bledsoe completed 21 of 36 passes for 302 yards, his fourth 300-yard game this season and 30th of his career. Moulds caught nine passes for 123 yards and Price had four for 101 and a touchdown.
"Both Eric and Peerless, I have tremendous confidence in both those guys," Bledsoe said. "I know at times we will take some chances that I would not take if I did not trust them that much, put the ball out there and trust them to make a play."
"They did a good job of spreading the ball out and Bledsoe brings a new dimension to the ballclub," said Lions cornerback Todd Lyght, who was picked on all game. "His experience and savvy and ability to put the ball where only receivers can get it makes it difficult."
Henry carried 19 times for 64 yards and two scores. He has nine touchdowns this season, the most by a Bills running back since Thurman Thomas also had nine in 1992.
Harrington was 20 of 42 for 199 yards and a touchdown as the rookie fell to 2-3 since taking over as the starter.
"He's been a real good leader for a guy who's so young," Crowell said. "He's stepped up. He's taken charge of the huddle and done a good job."
"It is not fun but you learn," Harrington said. "That is the biggest thing we can take from this. We have to learn to be more consistent."
Ironically, when the Lions selected Harrington third overall in the NFL draft, they forced the hand of the Bills, who used the fourth pick on left tackle Mike Williams and traded for Bledsoe the following day.
Bledsoe's 42-yard strike to Moulds set up Henry's five-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
Harrington put together an 80-yard drive, throwing passes of 17 yards to Mikhael Ricks, 14 to Crowell and 22 to Bill Schroeder before finding Az Hakim for a 23-yard touchdown that tied it with 5:03 left before halftime.
Charlie Rogers failed to field the ensuing short kickoff. It took a funny bounce before Chris Cash recovered for Detroit on the Buffalo 22. Five plays later, Stewart went in from the two.
Stewart had 83 yards on 24 carries and 53 yards on eight catches.
Buffalo responded before the end of the half. Bledsoe scrambled out of trouble and right up to the line of scrimmage before zipping a pass over the middle to Price, who caught it in stride and took it up the left sideline for a 59-yard touchdown.
"I had a corner route but I broke it off when I saw Drew scrambling," Price said. "I just sat in the seam where it was open. Drew threw a great ball, I made a guy miss and got in the end zone."
The Bills dominated the third quarter. They stopped Detroit, then got a 33-yard field goal from Mike Hollis to take the lead for good. Later in the period, Bledsoe kept alive a drive with a four-yard run on fourth and one, setting up Henry's second five-yard touchdown run that made it 24-14 with 2:02 to go.
"Take your hat off to Drew Bledsoe," Mornhinweg said. "He does all the little things a veteran quarterback does."
The Lions did not score in the second half until Jason Hanson kicked a 35-yard field goal with 3:07 to play.
"It was good to see that they rose up and turned them away at the end," Bills Coach Gregg Williams said. "It was nice to see the defense come up with a real important stop at the end. It was good confidence for the team. We got to win as a team."