The big plays return to save the season.
by Steve Saslow
Dec. 1, 2002
The Bills talked all week about finding the big plays after missing it for the past three games. They found it in a big way in the snow and the wind of Ralph Wilson Stadium as the Bills kept their playoff hopes alive with a 38-21 win over Miami.
Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdown passes and ran for one as the Bills overcame a 14-3 first quarter hole and a whopping 228 yards rushing by Ricky Williams to snap the three game losing streak. The Bills fell behind with the wind in their face as Williams rumbled 45 yards for a score on the Dolphins first play from scrimmage. His yardage total for the game was the most ever against the Bills and the second most ever by a player on a losing team. After a Mike Hollis 39 yard field goal into the wind, Miami upped scored again on their second series as Ray Lucas hit Jed Weaver from one yard out. The Bills pulled within four after Bledsoe scored only his third rushing touchdown of his career when he dove in from the two.
The Bills were still struggling on both sides of the ball as the first half was winding down. One play helped the Bills take over the momentum when Miami went for it on a 4th and 4 from the Buffalo 36 with :49 to go in the half. Justin Bannan hit Lucas and forced a fumble that Chidi Ahanotu recovered and returned it 17 yards to the Miami 31. It was their first takeaway in 16 quarters and the Bills would add two more to that total in this game as they ended up with nine takeaways in two games against Miami. They have five in their other 10 games combined.
The big plays were just beginning as the offense was ignited by the turnover and four plays later Bledsoe hit Peerless Price wide open in the end zone for a 20 yard touchdown pass that gave the Bills the lead at the half 17-14 despite being outplayed for most of the first half.
The Bills had the wind at their back in the third quarter but fell behind when Ricky Williams scored from 55 yards out as their seemed to be big holes in the middle of the Bills defense on many occasions for the big back. The weather was suppose to turn the game into a battle of the backs and Travis Henry held up his end by running for 151 yards and adding 27 yards receiving. He became the eight Bills back to go over 1,000 yards rushing. Price and Eric Moulds both went over 1,000 yards receiving today as they became the first trio to hit 1,000 yards in the same game for the same team.
While Henry was doing his job on the ground it was opening up the big passing plays that the Bills have been craving in recent weeks. Two plays after Williams gave the Dolphins the lead, Bledsoe found Price open over the middle. He outran the Miami defense into the end zone for the longest touchdown reception of his career, a 73 yarder that gave the Bills the lead back. One play after Antoine Winfield recovered a fumble, Bledsoe went up top again hitting Moulds for a 57 yard touchdown reception that was tipped by Sam Madison before Moulds made the one handed grab that gave the Bills a sudden 10 point lead.
The Bills would need that lead since the game was heading to the fourth quarter and Miami would regain the wind advantage but as the teams changed sides, the weather suddenly changed. The light snow and sleet turned into a downright heavy snowstorm in the fourth quarter. Miami was not able to get anything going in the comeback mode in heavy snow. Henry became the workhorse for Buffalo and scored the game's final score from one yard out, four plays after Bledsoe hit another long ball, a 47 yarder to Moulds.
It was a gut check game for the Bills. The playoff hopes remain dim although they are a bit brighter with the win. They could have called it a day when they quickly fell behind by 11. They could have called it a day when Williams was running wild. They didn't, the defense stiffened up where they could, in the passing game. Miami netted just 20 yards in the air as Lucas through for 40 yards and Jay Fiedler only gained 15 yards on 9 completions. Meanwhile, Bledsoe gained 306 yards on just 15 completions. That's more than 20 yards per completion. That's a huge turnaround for a team that couldn't execute any big plays over the last month. It looked like shades of the first half of the season. A few more games like that and you never know, the Bills might get themselves back in the thick of the race.
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