You can put away your champagne bottles for awhile. The Buffalo Bills just don't appear to be the going to the Super Bowl just yet.
It took a Miami Dolphins manhandling to bring the Bills and their fans back down to earth. The Bills defense was wore down by the constant running of Dolphins super running back Ricky Williams. The Dolphins beat the Bills 17-7 to tie Buffalo and New England for first place in the AFC East. To make it even worse, the Bills put on their worst performance during a nationally televised prime time game on ESPN.
Williams constant slamming into the Bills line finally wore out the defense that was on the field most of the night. Williams carried the ball 42 times (a Dolphin record) for 153 yards. The Bills were able to contain him for most of the first half, but on the last Dolphin drive that ensured the Miami victory, Williams was able to pick up more real estate and scored the clinching touchdown.
Bills fans, who have been dazzled by the first two blowouts, thought that the Dolphins would also be fodder for the taking. It was a wakeup call for both the fans and the Bills players themselves. The offense seemed to be out of synch all night and once again the Bills could not get a running game established. The Dolphins were a brick wall the Bills just could not penetrate.
The two defenses were locked in a 0-0 deadlock for most of the first half until the Dolphins were finally able to crack the endzone with Jay Fiedler hitting Chris Chambers for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:10 remaining in the half. From there, the Bills were unable to generate anything amounting to a offensive spark.
Fish turn up the heat on Bledsoe
This was a game where the Dolphins were prepared to stop anything the Bills threw at them. The high-powered Bills offense was completely shutdown by the Fish, who stopped both the run and the pass. It was probably the worst performance for Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe since he came to Buffalo last year.
The first two games this season were a walk in the park for Bledsoe, who had all the time in the world to pick his receivers. The Dolphins knew that the key to stopping Bledsoe was to put a lot of pressure on him and that they did. Bledsoe was sacked 4 times and threw 2 picks in an embarrassing performance. Even when he had time, he his throws were not arriving on target. The Bills offense went 3 and out for most of the first half and Bledsoe finished the game with only 98 yards, completing only 10 of 25 passes.
Just like Bill Belichick had discovered last year, put an intense rush on Bledsoe and his game goes astray. The Dolphins were able to get the most pressure on Bledsoe that he's seen all season.
"We got pressure on Bledsoe, and that's what we needed to do," said Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison. "We kept him out of rhythm."
Bledsoe, who led the NFL in passing in the first half of last season, took a nose dive the second half when teams started to turn up the heat on him. This year, it only took 3 games to crimp Bledsoe's style. Now the big question is whether he came come back and be the solid quarterback he was in the first two games this year and half of last season.
"They changed up a couple of their fronts on some of their third downs, which is something they normally don't do,"explained Bledsoe. "So they had a good plan for us but we've got to respond in those situations. We have to make our plays."
Henry shutdown again
Not only did the Fish stop the Bills air game, but Travis Henry continued his rushing slump. Henry, who had to leave the game at the start of the second quarter because of bruised ribs, gained only 7 yards on 5 carries.
"They are not broken," said Bills head coach Gregg Williams after the game. "But he couldn't come back."
Henry was also the center of yet another controversial call by Williams. The Bills had just gotten into the red zone thanks to a fumble recovery by Takeo Spikes. Williams had been hit by Antoine Winfield and fumbled. Spikes scooped up the ball and tore down the field 29 yards to the Dolphins 16. On second down from the 13, the Bills sent in yet another questionable play that may have swung the game to the Dolphins.
Henry attempted a halfback option pass that was intercepted at the goal line by Patrick Surtain. The Bills blotched a great opportunity to get points on the board and the Dolphins gained the momentum and took control of the game from there.
"We really believed we had it set up for several weeks," defended Williams. "Travis got all kinds of penetration in his face. We got whipped on the line of scrimmage again, got people shoved back in his face. He probably should have just tucked it and tried to get something out of it. - He just got hit and underthrew it."
Said Bledsoe about the lack of a running game, "We've got to get it going. There's no question, we got to run the ball better. They came in with the goal of making us one dimensional, making us throw the ball and when they do that we have to throw it more effectively then we did. But we've also got to get our running game going."
The Dolphins said they were going to go with Ricky Williams, using their most potent offensive weapon and they did. Even though the Bills were stuffing Williams for the most part in the first half, the Dolphins stuck with their plan, unlike the Bills. The Bills wanted to have a more run-orientated game this season, but with Henry's slump, have gone right back to their pass-happy ways again.
Williams kept on getting the ball and eventually the Bills defense wore out and Ricky was the key to the final touchdown drive that ate up the clock in the process.
"I just kept hitting it up in there," described the Dolphins' Williams. "You want an opportunity to control the game. The running game is like a heavyweight fight. You just keep giving body blows and hopefully you get the knockout punch."
Battle of the turnovers
The Bills and Dolphins defenses were battling it out to stop the offensive guns. It appeared as if the Bills were finally gaining momentum of the war when Spikes took over Williams' fumble. But the offense squandered that golden opportunity and it wasn't until Nate Clements picked off a Fiedler pass that the Bills were finally able to score a touchdown. The offense certainly wasn't going to do it on this night.
The Bills picked off 2 of Fiedler's passes, both by Clements. Nate had one early in the first quarter, but once again the Bills offense didn't take advantage of it.
Both teams turned the ball over 3 times, however the Bills gave it up twice while in the Dolphins red zone.
Copyright © 2003 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.
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