Travis Henry did some serious damage to the New York Jets in the Bills 17-6 victory Sunday. Henry was the work horse as he galloped for 169 yards and literally knocked the Jets out of the skies.
"Today I was in the zone," Henry said after the game. "Every time I got the ball in my hands, I was just thinking north and south and trying to take control of the game. It is December, that is when you are supposed to run the ball, and we did a good job today."
The key question being asked around Western New York now is why wasn't this the game plan all season? The Bills were supposed to have a more run-orientated offense this year, but until the last two weeks, that just wasn't the case as the Bills went more with Drew Bledsoe's arm rather than the power running of Henry.
Maybe if the Bills hadn't abandoned the run most of the year, they'd be in the thick of things this season. As it is, they are a long shot in making the playoffs.
The Bills finally used Henry the way they should have at the beginning of the year, running him 32 times and he gave them his finest running performance of his career, including an all important 4 yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Bills defense, which seems to be getting better by the week, had another exceptional game as they ground the Jets offense attack and sacked Jets quarterback Chad Pennington five times. Not only that, but in the face of the constant pressure, Pennington had his lowest total yardage in his career, 155 yards. He completed 15 of 29 yards, but was not effective enough to get the Jets across the goal line.
Sam Adams had his best game as a Bill since the opener and maybe his best game in years. He recorded 2 sacks, knocked down a pass and seven tackles. Another player who had an outstanding game was Marcus Sullivan, who was replacing Jonas Jennings, who had been placed on injury reserve with a broken toe. Sullivan, who started all last season, was pumped up the entire week for finally getting a chance to show his stuff again. He led the blocking for Henry on many of his runs and was one of the offensive stars of the game.
Henry was elated after the game and was the star of the press conference afterwards. A couple days before the game, it was revealed by the Bills coaching staff that Willis McGahee could see some playing time against the Jets. The Bills first round draft choice had completely recovered from his major knee surgery he had last January and was deemed fit for combat by the Bills medical staff. Henry was asked if his performance had anything to do with McGahee being on the sidelines, ready to step in on a moment's notice.
"You all said that last time," Henry said with a chuckle. "No, that has nothing to do with it. We wanted to come out and have a controlled offense today. The Jets beat us the last three games in a row, so we were really pumped up for this game."
Henry had high praise for the offensive line, the same line that has been feeling the heat because of what some consider poor pass protection.
"The offensive line was unbelievable today," lauded Henry. "We ran the ball up the middle and there were a lot of lanes to run through. My hat goes off to the offensive line, they did a great job today."
Bills defense comes up big
The Jets had their hands full with the Bills swarming defense. Pennington couldn't get the time to set up the way he wanted to and even started to roll out on a couple of plays to get away from the onrushers. The Bills D shut down Curtis Martin and the Jets running game to just 88 yards. Martin had 84 for of those on 25 carries, his longest was an 11 yarder early in the game. From then on, the Bills cut down his alleys and put the onus on Pennington to get the job done. He never did. The Jets totaled only 187 yards and Adams was not only good in stuffing the run, but his two sacks and blocked pass helped set the stage for the defense.
"Once you get into the flow of things you are able to make some things happen," said Adams. "I did the best I could for my team, that's the goal. We all have to step up and play for our team, and that's what we're doing."
Bledsoe tones down his game
Bledsoe had the worst passing yardage in probably his career, only 77 yards. However, considering that he only threw 15 passes and tried to maintain the flow of Henry's running attack, he didn't have that bad of a game. His one interception, which Ray Mikens grabbed, could have caused a lot of damage early in the second half. But the defense forced the Jets to go 3 and out while on the Bills side of the 50 and that saved him there. Bledsoe also had the ball forced out of his hand when throwing in the first half that traveled around ten yards backwards before Sam Gash fell on it.
Bledsoe did complete a first half touchdown pass for 6 yards to Josh Reed on the Bills first drive and that helped set the momentum of the game.
Bledsoe was asked why the Bills didn't use this ball control offense much earlier in the season.
"The games where we lost four in a row there we just didn't make the plays," answered Bledsoe. "Whether it was the running game or whether it was the passing game, whatever it was we didn't make the plays we had to to win those ball games. So we put ourselves behind the eight ball."
The two Bills games with the Jets were complete contrasts in how the Bills attacked the Jets. In the first game, Bledsoe went pass-happy, throwing 40 times, whereas he threw only 15 passes Sunday with Henry running wild.
Like most good running backs, the more carries one gets the better they become as the game goes on. In the first meeting with the Jets, Henry was called upon only 18 times. The Bills fell behind quickly and went to the air in order to catch up. Maybe a patient, ball-control approach would have been better in that first game. The Bills lost anyway, 30-3.
Bledsoe acknowledged that the Bills abandoned their much-talked about ball control game plan this year.
"That was the formula that we talked about from training camp with the makeup of this team," admitted Bledsoe. "That is the way we would like to play. We like to have that power running game, we like to play great defense, play good field position with the football and let Travis Henry do the work."
Did anyone say "playoffs?"
Yes, the Bills are still mathematically in the playoff hunt. It would take a major miracle, but stranger things have happened in the past. The Bills players have certainly not given up hope.
"You've got to be hungry," insisted Adams. "If you want to get there, you've got to be hungry. For us the playoffs started earlier. We have to win the rest of our games to get to the playoffs. If you don't want to be home, then you have to come out and play like it. As a team, we all stepped up. We know we're men, we know what we've done in the past and we're going to build off of that. We have three ball games left and our goal is to win all three and get into the playoffs."
Bledsoe took a more philosophical approach.
"That is really not our concern, it is kind of out of our hands," Bledsoe said. "The only thing we can control is what we do. The last few weeks we have been in that situation and have come out and played well and have come away with victories."
The one thing that is certain is that the Bills have finally found an offensive formula that seems to be working. And it starts with Henry. Maybe if the Bills had firmly stuck with their battle plan they devised during the offseason, they would be in the thick of the playoff race instead of hoping the divine football forces will perform a miracle.
"You can sit down and try to think about why we weren't doing it earlier in the season," suggested Henry. "But the fact of the matter is we're doing it now. We are playing great football, we are just trying to win out and everybody is staying together to just try and finish the season off good."
Marcus Sullivan was elated to get a chance to prove himself again.
"It felt great getting out there," admitted Sullivan. "Travis had a heck of a game. He motivates the whole team. Somebody that works as hard as he does, and is as humble as he is puts a fire in the whole team because of the adversity he goes through. Travis is definitely one of our biggest team leaders - by example."
Henry had high marks for Sullivan's performance as well.
"He came in and played great," Henry said of Sullivan. "All week he was excited and pumped up to get the start. He did a good job today. I am glad he was able to get his opportunity, he was ready, he was hungry and he stepped up to the plate."
Bills GM Tom Donahoe, who will have the last word on whether the Bills eventually trade either Henry or McGahee when one of them wins the starting job, was impressed with Henry's performance.
"He's got the right mental toughness that you look for in players,"Donahoe lauded. "We need more guys like him. We get more guys like him and we'll get to where we want to go."
Bledsoe also had high praise for the man who helped get him off the hot seat a second week in a row.
" Travis has really become a leader on our team without ever saying a word," Bledsoe said. "He is a quite guy, and doesn't say much, but he has become a leader just by continuing to play through injuries and continuing to play at such tremendous level in spite of being banged up. It is something that other guys on the team see and I think it does inspire the guys on the team."
Sullivan had the best thoughts about why the Bills turned it completely around with the Jets.
"Whenever somebody kicks your butt like that you want to come back and redeem yourself," Sullivan said. "The Jets are a heck of a team, and have a heck of a quarterback, but we can't control that. All we control is what we do, and what their defensive line does. We took that as a motivating factor."
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