The question on Bills fans minds as the gathered around their televisions or into Ralph Wilson Stadium was how would Buffalo respond after a gut wrenching loss to the New England Patriots last week? The atmosphere was electric in the stadium as the Bills were ready to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the season home opener with 50th anniversary team on hand to be honored at halftime. The Bills won the toss and deferred the opening kickoff, as Tampa Bay took the ball and went three and out. Alex Van Pelt called his big play wideout Terrell Owens number on a reverse play that went for thirteen yards. After a couple of Fred Jackson runs that took the ball to the Bucs 32 yard line. Van Pelt called the deep ball play, as Trent Edwards threw the ball beautifully down the right sideline to a streaking Lee Evans who tiptoed into the endzone to put Buffalo up 7-0. The Ralph exploded after this touchdown as the Bills had struck seven going downfield.
After Bryon Leftwich got sacked by Marcus Stroud on the first play after the Evans touchdown. He took the Bucs offense to the Bills 25 yard line utilizing his tight ends, and Cadillac Williams. Last week after the Bills meltdown in New England, Donte Whitner was in tears at the post game press conference, and what would happen next got every Bills fan jumping out of their seat as Whitner read Leftwich’s overthrown pass and took it 76 yards down the right sideline to give Buffalo a 14-0 lead.
Tampa Bay responded right away moving the ball into Bills territory but on a third down and ten play, Leftwich threw a pass over the middle for wide receiver Sammy Stroughter that was picked off by Bryan Scott and returned 27 yards which set up a 31 yard Rian Lindell field goal to put Buffalo up 17-0.
This was a great start for Dick Jauron’s team, but they soon found out that Tampa Bay was not going to go quietly as Leftwich burned the Buffalo defense on a 42 yard touchdown pass cut the Bills lead to 10. On the next Bills drive, Owens got on the board with his first catch of the game for five yards in the flat, aided by a fifteen yard facemask penalty that took the ball to the Tampa Bay 27, setting up a 43 yard field goal by Lindell. Then after holding the Bucs on the next drive, the Bills called a deep pass again, as Edwards threw to an open Owens as the ball went through his hands and hit the ground much to the disappointment of T.O., and Bills fans as well.
The Bills had a 20-7 lead and were driving. They were at the Tampa Bay 14 yard line looking to run away with this game. Disaster struck as Jackson fumbled right into the hands of Tampa Bay safety Sabby Piscitelli who took it 76 yards down to the Bills 8 yard line. The Bucs took advantage of the turnover as Leftwich threw a 8 yard touchdown pass to Cadillac Williams to cut the Bills lead to 20-14.
During the third quarter, the Buffalo defense did a good job of preserving the lead as Jackson was very hard to contain for Tampa Bay. The Bills were utilizing Fred and medium range passing game to move the ball. On the first drive of the Fourth quarter, the Bills added another field goal to move their lead to 23-14. After the defense forced a three and out, the Bills took over on offense. It was only going to be a matter of time before Owens got in position to score a TD, and on this drive Edwards threw a 43 yard touchdown pass right on the money to a streaking Owens who this time did not let the ball go through his hands as he ran it into the endzone for his first touchdown as a Bill. The Bills were up 30-14 at this point, and very well in control. Tampa Bay added a touchdown with 5:32 left on fourth and goal to make it 30-20. On the next drive, Fred Jackson continued his great running with a great 43 yard run through the secondary to the Tampa Bay 11 yard line. Lindell added another field goal to make it 33-20.
Tampa Bay got the ball once more and drove to the Bills fourty three yard line, but with five seconds left, Byron Leftwich threw a incomplete pass to end the game.
Jauron’s Bills had a nice bounce back victory with a balanced offensive attack. The Bills will have short time to enjoy this, because the offensive machine known as the New Orleans Saints comes marching into Ralph Wilson Stadium next week.