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Saints second half romp curtails Bills
Bills second half struggles spoils Williams debut.
by Rick Anderson, webmaster of Bills Thunder
September 10, 2001

It's all about momentum. It was a tale of two halves in the Buffalo Bills opening game against the New Orleans Saints. The Bills had it in the first half, but the Saints snatched it away in the second half as they beat the Bills 24-6. The man who did all the "snatching" was Sammy Knight. Knight picked off three Rob Johnson passes in the third quarter which resulted in two touchdowns and a field goal for New Orleans.

Knight stole the Bills thunder and put a charge into the Saints and they took complete control of the game in the second half. The Bills appeared as if they could continue to contain the Saints with their dominating defense, but the Knight interceptions lit a fire under the Saints' offense and they scored on two of his turnovers.

Johnson came into the game without the Doug Flutie monkey on his back. Now he was his own man and could concentrate completely on the task before him. Unfortunately, Johnson didn't look any better than he did in the preseason, where he struggled with the newly-implanted West Coast offense. There were times when Johnson seemed to show signs of getting out of his funk, but then a sack here, and interception there put him in the state of disarray that has plagued his career since he came to Buffalo.

On the very first time Johnson attempted to pass, he was sacked. The next attempt resulted in his scramble to the right side where he was brought down. With Flutie off to San Diego, Johnson now ran the show and it was his job to prove that he is a top flight NFL quarterback. The jury is still out on that verdict.

Johnson was able to move the Bills downfield pretty effectively in the first half, but as has been the case with the Bills (with both Johnson and Flutie), the Bills suffered the Red Zone Blues. Jake Arians, who was brought in off the practice squad to handle the Bills kicking duties after mainstay Steve Christie was put on injured reserve, kicked two field goals when Johnson couldn't get Buffalo into the endzone after two long drives.

Meanwhile, the Bills defense did an excellent job in containing the Saints offensive machine in the first half. They shut down talented Ricky Williams to only 3 yards in the first half while not allowing a single first down until the very last play of the half when quarterback Aaron Brooks hurled a Hail Mary that was caught in a crowd as the time ran out.

The second half was a completely different game altogether. With the help of Knight's interceptions, the Saints marched into Bills territory and scored 24 unanswered points.

"We know they're going to get it going," Knight talked confidently of the New Orleans offense. "We knew after a while our offense would wear them down. And that's what they did."

Johnson, meanwhile, did little to silence his critics in his opening day performance. He threw 27 times, completing 16 for only 160 yards. He was sacked four times and had those three interceptions to Knight. With the West Coast offensive being built around Johnson, he sure doesn't seem to be too comfortable with it.

"The thing about the first half was that we didn't score any points," cited Johnson. Then he went on to talk about the three Knight picks. "It is just one of those things. I didn't play well on those three plays and I wish I could take them back."

Out in San Diego, his former counterpart was having a much more successful outing. Even though his numbers were comparable to Johnson's as he completed 10 of 18 for 129 yards (and two picks), his Chargers manhandled the Washington Redskins. Could it be that even though Flutie is thousands of miles away, that the quarterback controversy will rage on?

The Bills appeared to be on the verge of a huge upset if they could get into the endzone, especially during those two long drives that ended up in field goals. In the second half, if Johnson had been able to avoid the Knight interceptions, he may have finally been able to engineer a touchdown. Being ahead 13-0 is a lot different than being up 6-0. When Knight was able to step between Johnson and the intended receiver, he squashed all hopes for a Bills victory.

"It could've been a lot worse, and we have to credit our defense," said Brooks. "We were more at ease in the second half to say, 'Hey, we're only down by six. If we score a touchdown and we're up.' "

What had been predicted as a romp, finally resulted in one as the Bills defense that had shut down the Saints for only one last second first down, wilted under the intense heat on the playing field produced by both the sun and the Saints.

"We're going to have to play two complete halves of football," said Bills rookie coach Gregg Williams. "I thought defensively we played very well in the first half, the way we wanted to on defense. The second half, we've got to have a better third quarter. You can't have 17 unanswered points in the third quarter, and we've got to manage turnovers better."

Williams, who predicted he would get the Bills into the playoffs this season, has a long ways to go.

"We can't let them create points," Williams said about the turnovers. "Our defense has to be better about that, and our offense has to protect the ball."

One of the best ways to protect the ball is to eliminate interceptions. Johnson had his most career interceptions against the Saints, and the four sacks didn't help his cause much either. Meanwhile, out in San Diego, Flutie is enjoying the fruits of the Chargers season opening romp over the Redskins. The debate goes on!

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