Victory over the Bengals gives the Bills a .500 season.
by Steve Saslow
Dec. 29, 2002
The Bills needed to finish the season on a high note and did with a very convincing 27-9 victory over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals. Drew Bledsoe got the offense moving for the first time in a month and the defense had another strong effort as the Bills played to the end and finish the season at 8-8.
The Bills came out strong as they opened up a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter and never looked back as they were determined to go into the off season with the momentum of a victory. The offense moved the ball early taking their opening possession from their own 6 and moving deep into Bengals territory thanks partly to a 22 yard reception by Larry Centers and a 17 yard catch by Josh Reed. The drive stalled when Reed couldn't hold on to a pass when he was hit early by the defender. Mike Hollis hit a 32 yard field goal to give the Bills the early lead.
Two possessions later the Bills went up 6-0 when Hollis hit a 25 yard field goal. That drive started at the Bengals 11 thanks to a short punt from their own end zone, a nice return by Nate Clements and a late hit penalty on Cincinnati. The fact that the Bills dominated the opening quarter but struggled in the red zone was the same thing that has haunted the offense down the stretch.
The offense finally hit high gear on their first two possessions of the second quarter as they scored touchdowns on both possessions to open up the insurmountable lead. A 28 yard pass to Peerless Price, playing in perhaps his last game with the Bills, setup a surprising touchdown for the Bills. On third and goal at the 7 it appeared the Bills would have to settle for another field goal but the Bills called a QB sneak and Bledsoe lumbered up the middle for the score. The next touchdown it took them until fourth and goal before they would score. Bledsoe hit Eric Moulds for the score on 4th and goal from the 2 after three Travis Henry runs gained just two yards. The key plays on this drive included a 21 yard pass to Reed, who played much more in this game than he has in the past. He will be the number two guy next year if Price is not re-signed. Moulds also caught a 14 yard pass on his scoring drive that gave the bills the 20-0 lead late in the second quarter.
The game was effectively over at that point the Bengals used the no huddle offense to methodically move down the field but the drive stalled at the Buffalo 2 and they had to settle for a 19 yard field goal just before halftime. Why the Bengals, with nothing to lose, didn't go for it on fourth and goal at the 2 like the Bills did earlier is just another reason why Dick LeBeau will not be back as their head coach.
The second half of a game that is a rout with no playoff implications was played like you would expect. There were many errors as both teams would combine for five turnovers. The Bills started the comedy of errors after they moved right down the field on the opening possession of the third quarter. Bledsoe had the Ball slip out of his hand at the Bengals 10 when he was going for a pump fake.
The Bills would make up for that miscue by scoring on their next possession, again it was a third and goal and again it was a run. Centers took the draw play and ran it in from the four yard line. This could possibly be his last game as a Bill, with the emergence of Philip Crosby. Centers played the majority of the game for the first time since early in the season.
The score stayed 27-3 until early in the fourth quarter when Jon Kitna led the Bengals on a 7 play, 71 yard drive in the no huddle offense and then took it in himself from the 6 when no receivers were open. That was the case most of the day, as the Bills secondary put together another solid effort. The two point conversion was no good when Corey Dillon was stopped on the draw play and that gave the game the final score of 27-9.
The final five possessions of the game, had the teams trading turnovers four times and the Bills running out the clock on the fifth possession. Reed would fumble the ball away when fighting for extra yards. The Bills countered with a Clements interception two plays later, he would return it 42 yards deep into Cincinnati territory. Henry fumbled the ball back over to the Bengals, it was his ninth lost fumble of the year. Ahmad Brooks would get the final turnover picking off Kitna. The two late interceptions allowed the Bills to not break team records for least amount of interceptions or takeaways in a season.
There were many ups and downs to the 2002 season but the Bills finished five games better than they did last year. In fact, the 8-8 record sits them just one game out of first place in the division. The Bills could have come into the last game without being focused and play poorly but that hasn't been the case over two seasons under Gregg Williams. The Bills were out of it on Halloween last year and played hard to the end. Why wouldn't they play hard for just one meaningless game this year? They showed resolve and the win against the worst team in the league may only give them a little momentum going into the offseason but it beats the alternative. A loss would have been devastating against the Bengals and could have cost some coaches their jobs.
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