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Bills Rout Raiders 44-21
by Steve Saslow
December 14, 1998
The Bills put together their most complete effort of the season in the 44-21 annihilation of the Oakland Raiders in front of about 62,000 people at sun drenched Bills Stadium. There were many stars in this game but it was highlighted by big plays from the Defense and Special Teams which made fans nostalgic for the Super Bowl years. Phil Hansen was a big factor recovering two fumbles returning one for a touchdown and setting up a field goal with the other three minutes apart in the third quarter. Kevin Williams finally broke one, as he scampered 73 yards to the Oakland 2 in the second quarter setting up a Lonnie Johnson touchdown reception breaking the game open 17-0.
The Offense put up a workman like effort piling up 316 yards in total offense including 77 yards rushing and a touchdown by Antowain Smith to put him exactly at 1,000 yards for the season. Doug Flutie completed 65% of his passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns to his tight ends. The first touchdown was a pretty 13 yarder to touchdown maker Jay Riemersma on a 3rd and goal in the second quarter.
The Bills seem to be coming into their own at the right time. It looks like a division title is a long shot thanks to the dreaded fish drowning against the Jets, but that's not a reason to be discouraged. The Bills control their own destiny for a home playoff game in the first round and who would've thought that was possible in late September!
The Bills played their best game of the year. Offensively, they did what they had to do, using the short passing game again more efficiently then the running game. Eric Moulds and Andre Reed combined for 11 catches against a banged up Raider secondary that had former Bills Wide Receiver Bucky Brooks starting at cornerback. Reed continues to be the money receiver getting the big third down receptions and converting them into first downs. Antowain Smith did enough to get him to the 1,000 yard mark but I'm concerned about his ability in a big playoff game to get the big first downs. Expect to see more of Thurman Thomas in the playoffs. the Offensive line hardly missed Ruben Brown as Jamie Nails filled in admirably.
On defense, they took the ball away 4 times leading to 24 points. The run defense was helped by the return of John Holecek. They used a more aggressive defense against 39 year old Wade Wilson. The Bills used safety blitzes on a few occasions for the first time this year, leading to two sacks by Eric Smedley. The defense had 5 sacks in all and now have 15 in the past three games. Bruce Smith played and played well as he was constantly in Wilson's face and had a sack and a forced fumble that became Hansen's touchdown. The injury to Thomas Smith is a killer. The Bills will probably be without him for the rest of the year including the playoffs. Donovan Greer played well in his place and will be the starter now. He was signed as a street free agent so it will be interesting to see if he can keep up his high level of play. He has done it so far all year as well as other low-level backups, we will need to keep our fingers crossed.
Finally, Special teams had their big game marred by a breakdown on Howard's punt return with the Bills up by 30. The holes were finally there for Kevin Williams who had the big punt return and a good kickoff return as well. Steve Christie kicked three field goals in three attempts including a 49 yarder as the first half expired that put the dagger in the Raider's hearts.
The Jets are next up in a big and very interesting game. The Jets are a victim of the schedule playing Sunday Night in Miami and turning around and playing early Saturday in Buffalo. The Bills will definitely miss Thomas Smith for this one as Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet are as good as a 1-2 combo as there is in the league. A win for the Jets clinches the division for them and a Bills win wraps up a playoff spot for the Bills.
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