Old problem resurfaces as special teams cost Bills game.
by Steve Saslow
Sept. 9, 2002
It was almost a perfect opening day for the Bills as the suspect offensive and defensive lines proved they were up to the task. Travis Henry had a huge day on the ground and Drew Bledsoe made some big plays in his Bills' debut. The team dominated both sides of the ball against a possible super bowl contender unfortunately an old problem resurfaced as the ghost of Ronnie Jones must have been among the soldout, sun drenched crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Stop me if you heard this before, special teams did the Bills in once again on a day when the offense and defense played well enough to win.
How bad were the special teams? Chad Morton became the first player in NFL history to return a kickoff for a touchdown in regulation and in overtime. His :14 race to the end zone minutes after Bledsoe hit Eric Moulds on a 4th down 29 yard touchdown pass with seconds remaining made it the quickest overtime in league history leaving fans heartbroken. Morton became the fifth player in league history to ever return two kicks for a score in one game. His 278 return yards was third most in a game in league history. Not bad for a player who never sniffed the end zone before returning kicks.
Besides allowed two kickoffs for scores the Bills had a punt blocked that setup a John Hall field goal and almost had two more blocked but the Jets were too aggressive and were called for late hits on the punter on both occasions. The first late hit came after the Bills went three and out in the opening possession. The new life helped Bledsoe lead the Bills to a 49 yard drive and Mike Hollis showed he still has a leg as he hit a 52 yard field goal to give the Bills the early lead 3-0.
The Bills established control of the game on both sides of the ball, the defensive line was able to get pressure on Vinny Testerverde sacking him three times. They also shutdown the Jets vaunted running attack, holding Curtis Martin to 6 rushing yards in the first half before he left with a sprained ankle. Chidi Ahanotu showed why the Bills signed him as he led the defensive front as he seemed to be always disrupting things in the Jets backfield. He played on third downs for the first time in two years and recorded a sack. Rookie Grant Irons and Grant Irons also recorded sacks.
While the defense was keeping the Jets offense under control the Bills were moving the ball on the ground as the offensive line that was thought to need time to gell, did so quickly. They were very aggressive pushing a solid Jets front four off the ball as Henry rushed for a career high 149 yards on a whopping 31 carries as he was the only Bills back to touch the ball. He also had a nose for the end zone scoring three times from short yardage. He was also a weapon in the passing game catching six balls. His five yard scoring run in the second quarter gave the Bills a 10-0 lead and all the momentum.
It looked like the Bills had a chance to blow the Jets out after Henry's first score but that lasted the :14 it took Morton to rumble 98 yards with his first kick return for a score. One of Bledsoe's two interceptions setup the Jets first offensive touchdown minutes later as Anthony Becht caught a one yard score. Suddenly the Jets had the lead and the momentum. The Bills responded driving 74 yards on their next possession to another Henry score to recapture the lead with 2:37 to go in the first half. A John Hall field goal just before halftime tied the score at 17.
The second half was much of the same see-saw battle as there was in the first half. The Jets drew first blood driving 42 yards after the second half kickoff to a Hall field goal and a 20-17 New York lead. While the Jets were getting field goals the Bills led by Bledsoe and Henry were finding the end zone. A LaMont Jordan fumble on the Jets next possession setup Henry's third touchdown and the Bills led the back and forth battle once again. Early in the fourth quarter Brian Moorman had a punt blocked that setup yet another Hall field goal pulled the Jets to within one point at 24-23. The Jets siezed the momentum thanks to finally getting to the punter and quickly drove 60 yards on their next possession as Wayne Chrebet badly burned Nate Clements for an 18 yard score. Becht caught what proved to be a very important two point conversion pass and the Jets had their biggest lead of the game 31-24.
The Bills took over with less than five minutes to go and down by a touchdown, this was the reason they got Bledsoe. He had a very good first game but his two interceptions haunted him. He would make ammends on the final drive with a little help from the over eager Jets punt block team. After getting to Moorman earlier in the fourth, they roughed him for the second time in the game as the Bills were punting with over 3 minutes left. The new life for the second time in the game was all Bledsoe needed. He stood firmly in the pocket on a 4th and 3 play and found Peerless Price over the middle for 14 yards. Price broke off his route when he saw Bledsoe in trouble and caught the pass as Bledsoe was being brought down. With less than 30 ticks remaining on the clock and the Bills facing a 4th and 9 play, Bledsoe showed why the Bills got him, by waiting for Moulds to lull the safety to sleep with the help from a great pump fake and then found the star receiver alone in the end zone for a 29 yard scoring play to tie the game.
It would have been a perfect opening day if the Bills had won the overtime toss and drove down for the winning points. Or if the defense held the Jets on their opening possession of the extra session and then the Bills scored to win. Unfortunately for both units that played extremely well neither got that chance thanks to another special teams debacle. Bills fans have seen enough of these debacles over the last three years to last a lifetime, but one thing to hold their hats on, is this is a much improved team and if you take away three awful special teams plays the Bills win in a walk. If the offense and defense plays like they did yesterday the rest of the way this team will win their share of games. Now if they can figure out how to play special teams they will be in much better shape.
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