Five starters out for decimated defense.
by Steve Saslow
Nov. 26, 2000
The Bills gave a valiant effort against a tough Tampa Bay defensive football team but eventually were overcome by miscues and injuries in the 31-17 loss to the Buccaneers. The offense moved the football as they gained 433 yards in total offense but six sacks and many other pressures and knockdowns kept the Bills from scoring more than 17 points. The defense broke down in the fourth quarter after losing three more starters to potentially serious injuries. Sam Cowart, Sam Rogers, and Keion Carpenter all were gone by halftime and may miss significant action with various injuries. Cowart and Carpenter have high ankle sprains and Rogers has a groin tear. All three will miss playing time with Cowart expected to miss about a month. With Phil Hansen and Antoine Winfield still out the mounting injuries contributed to 21 fourth quarter points by the Buccaneers.
The special teams helped in giving up those late points, as the punt return unit gave up a Karl Williams 73 yard punt return for a touchdown that was sandwiched between two Warrick Dunn scores in the fourth quarter. Dunn became the first back in 13 games to get over 100 yards against the Bills as he finished with 106 yards on 20 carries including touchdown runs of 6 and 39 yards in the final period to clinch the game. The special teams not only gave up the touchdown, they also gave up many other long returns as the Buccaneers constantly started in very good field position. They average over 31 yards on three punt returns and 35 yards on kickoff returns. Conversely, the Bills struggled as Chris Watson finished with negative yards returning punts and the team averaged less than 20 yards on returns. Add to that a few special teams penalties and the missed 42 yard field goal by Steve Christie and you can see how this was the worst special teams game of the year for a unit that has had many bad games.
It started early for the special teams as they gave up a solid kickoff return to start the game and that gave the Bucs a short field to drive for a quick three points. Dunn's 20 yard run accounted for most of the yardage on the drives. The teams would trade punts for most of the first half after that, as the defenses took turns sacking the quarterbacks. On one Bucs possession Shaun King was sacked three plays in a row as the Bills rolled off seven sacks in the game and the Bucs had six of their own. Cowart had 2 1/2 of the sacks before leaving the game.
The Bills would gain their only lead of the game midway through the second quarter when Rob Johnson drove the Bills 57 yards to a 4 yard scrambling touchdown pass on third and goal to little used Jonathan Linton. On the drive, Sheldon Jackson caught a big third down pass but also dropped a possible touchdown pass later in the drive. Eric Moulds made one of his many big catches on the drive that ended when Johnson made a pass that only Linton could get, and he made a beautiful reaching grab to give the Bills the 7-3 lead.
The turning point of the game came later in the second quarter when the Buccaneers started a drive at their 46 yard line. A long pass from King fell incomplete but a very poor call of a late hit against Carpenter put the ball in scoring position. On the same play, Rogers suffered his injury. Two plays later King attacked his replacement as he hit Dunn on a pass that beat Corey Moore. The pass was bobbled but the replay review upheld the catch at the three. King walked in for the touchdown on the next play giving the Bucs a lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
Johnson didn't have a problem moving the offense today, and he did it on the final drive of the half. Methodically going downfield without any timeouts he hit Moulds on two passes, and Peerless Price and Jay Riemersma on others. Poor clock management hurt them here, as Johnson didn't have two plays called in the huddle and after Price's catch precious time ticked away. Johnson was then sacked and the field goal unit had to rush on the field and Steve Christie's hurried 42 yard attempt was wide left giving the Bucs a lift going into the locker room.
They had a bigger lift after halftime when it was learned that Rogers, Carpenter and Cowart would not return giving the Bills a very makeshift defense. The Bucs couldn't do anything with it in the third quarter and the Bills offense continued to move the football without scoring. They moved into Bucs territory on their first two possessions of the second half. The first drive stalled at the Bucs 40 and resulted in a punt. The next drive drove them inside the 20. On third and 9 Price caught a pass and then fumbled the ball away as he stretched for a first down. It is the third time this year Price has fumbled the ball in really big situations. That play deflated the offense a bit.
Two series later, the Bucs got the offense moving against the banged up defense. They marched 70 yards to a 3rd down, 6 yard touchdown run by Dunn giving the Bucs the 17-7 lead. King completed passes of 14, 15 and 13 yards on the drive. The Bills responded on a lightning quick 69 yard drive of their own. Shawn Bryson kick started the drive with a 15 yard run. It was the only big run by a running back for the Bills all game. Fortunately the wide receivers were running well off of the reverses. Price had a 27 yard run on a 3rd down reverse that setup a perfect 19 yard touchdown pass to Moulds to pull the Bills back within three at 17-14.
This is when the special teams that has struggled all day completed their breakdown. On the Bills next possession Chris Mohr had his best punt of the game but it outkicked the poor coverage and was returned for the score giving the Bucs the 10 point lead back at 24-14. Undaunted by the defection of his special teams, Johnson drove the Bills back downfield. He had the presence of mind to hit Bryson with a shuffle pass as he got drilled. Bryson rumbled for 17 yards to put the Bills in position to score. Johnson had to leave the game and Flutie came in for two plays. After a Flutie pass was almost picked off, Johnson returned but threw incomplete on third down setting up a Christie field goal of 28 yards putting the Bills back within 7 at 24-17.
The Bills tried an on-side kick here even though there was over two minutes left and the team had all three timeouts left. The kick failed and Dunn rumbled for a 39 yard touchdown run to clinch the game. Flutie would return to the game for the Bills final drive but it ended when Riemersma tried a lateral that was recovered by the Bucs.
The Bills outplayed the Bucs on the line of scrimmage so they can take a little solace in that. This is the one game the Bills could afford to lose since it was a non conference game. The bottom line is, the vaunted defense by the Bills will be without as many as four starters the rest of the way even though they may get Phil Hansen back next week. The amount of injuries that have occurred over the last three weeks and the toughness of the next two games may be too much for this young Bills team to overcome. One thing is for sure though, they do have heart and they will prepare hard for the Dolphins next week and come to play with whoever is healthy enough to play.
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