If Jim Kelly weren't pacing the sideline, the snow and wind highlighting just how little hair the Hall-of-Fame quarterback has left, you would have thought the calendar had flipped back a decade or so.
For most of Sunday afternoon, Buffalo did a fair impression of the Kelly-era K-gun Bills, running the Miami Dolphins out of Ralph Wilson Stadium and shattering a month-long slump in the process.
After falling behind 14-3, looking very much like the dispirited, blundering team that lost to New England, Kansas City and the New York Jets in the process, the Bills did just about everything they couldn't throughout November.
Drew Bledsoe recaptured his early-season form, throwing for 306 yards and three scores through driving wind and outbursts of swirling snow, and diving in from 2 yards out for the touchdown that put Buffalo back in the game.
Travis Henry finally got the ball enough, slicing through, around and past the sliding Miami defense 35 times for 151 yards, as well as the Bills' other touchdown.
And the defense finally made a few plays, coming up with two fumble recoveries, an interception and two sacks.
Oh, there was the little matter of Ricky Williams romping to the most productive day by any running back in Dolphins history, but why dwell on the negative?
Despite allowing Williams 228 yards and a pair of long touchdown runs on which Buffalo's defense looked like it had somehow missed the snap of the ball, the Bills served notice that even if they don't wind up in the playoff race to the bitter end, they just might make things interesting along the way.
"Now these (expletives) are playing," George bellowed after Peerless Price reached the end zone for the second time, completing a 73-yard hookup with Bledsoe late in the third quarter.
Bledsoe's second scoring strike to Price triggered a roar from the assemblage at Cocktail Bob's, which had spent much of the first two quarters figuring out who had what square and awaiting the service of Mary Christian's sumptuous goulash at halftime.
Things got so bad that the faithful started bemoaning every referee's call, incurring the wrath of our serveuse, Nicole.
"If you guys don't shut up, I'm turning the sound down," she scolded shortly before the comeback began.
BillStuff had originally intended on watching the renewal of Buffalo's most intense rivalry from an outdoor tailgate party downtown, but the gathering never took place, for some reason. The investigation continues.
But our coverage team adapted quickly, getting to Bob's by the second series of the game and officially anointing the Cudaback Avenue establishment as the official home field of BillStuff.
The Bills themselves adjusted nearly as well after falling behind 14-3 in the final second of the first quarter, tearing off a 35-7 run from that point on.
Bledsoe and company grabbed control of the game, after three Sundays worth of taking what opposing defenses were willing to give them, seizing what they wanted.
And once the lake-effect bands started wandering over Orchard Park, obliterating the yard markers and putting the Dolphins into a deep freeze, Buffalo's defense kept Miami from doing much of anything at all.
Things certainly didn't start out that way. Buffalo surrendered two sacks and got nailed for two penalties in the first three minutes. Worse yet, Williams thundered 45 yards for a touchdown on Miami's first offensive play without a Bills defender getting close enough to yell at him.
"If they were playing flag football, he still would have scored," Bruce moaned while shaking his head at the replay.
Miami quarterback Ray Lucas, who spent much of the teams' October meeting in Miami looking very much like Barney Fife, delivered a much more efficient performance this time around. At least until Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt decided to go for it on fourth-and-4 from Buffalo's 38-yard line with 49 seconds left before intermission.
While this space, along with just about everyone else in Western New York, and anyone who has ever heard of football, ripped Buffalo coach Gregg Williams for surrendering in a somewhat similar situation against New England a month ago, these circumstances differed in a few key ways.
Miami was less than a minute from taking a four-point lead into the locker room.
Even if Mark Royals had punted the ball into the end zone, Bledsoe would have had less than 50 seconds to move the Bills through the elements to the end zone, a place they had visited just three times in the previous three games, and only once Sunday.
And though Lucas has shown himself to be a capable fill-in for Jay Fiedler since his disastrous performance the first time around against Buffalo, he's no Drew Bledsoe.
Not that Norv Turner seemed to notice. Miami's offensive coordinator eschewed giving the ball to Williams, who was averaging almost 9 yards per carry at that point, or letting Lucas do what he does best -- roll out and pass or run as the defense dictates.
Instead, Turner sent Lucas back into the pocket to look for a receiver who never broke free. It couldn't really have gone much worse for Miami.
While Lucas waited, rookie defensive tackle Justin Bannan blindsided him, sending the ball bouncing to Chidi Ahanotu. The backup defensive end rumbled 17 yards before wisely wrapping up the ball when the Dolphins inevitably caught up to him, setting the offense up at Miami's 45-yard line.
Two plays later, Bledsoe hit Price in the right rear corner of the end zone, officially commencing the butt-kicking.
Buffalo's second-half onslaught, which drove Lucas to the sidelines after another blind-side hit, this one by Keith Newman, applied CPR to the Bills' moribund playoff hopes as they head to Foxboro for Bledsoe Bowl II. And, for at least one afternoon, made it seem like 1992 all over again.
BILLS MVP: Guess defenses haven't got Bledsoe figured out after all. Like Kelly, the muscle and spiral on his throws pierced the winds slamming off Lake Erie. He got plenty of help -- Price shook off a miserable November, Henry ran like he was born to tromp through the snow and Eric Moulds' one-handed grab of a deflection late in the third quarter turned a near-interception into a 57-yard touchdown that all but clinched it. Bledsoe also got away with one on his touchdown dive, as the referees somehow ignored the play clock, which clearly hit zero before the snap.
BILLS NON-BLEDSOE MVP: Moulds (five catches, 130 yards) and Price (who scored both times he touched the ball) came up big, but Henry's assault on Miami's defense set it all up. See what can happen if you don't give up on the run the moment you fall behind, Kevin?
THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: On the way to breaking Delvin Williams' single-season Miami rushing record, Ricky Williams looked like Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris rolled into one. He even made like Jim Kiick at times, catching four passes.
WING REPORT: Ugh. In a gesture of generosity, Patrick bought pizza and wings for the house. We'll omit the name of the place to protect the guilty, but offer this reminder to all establishments who serve such fare -- MAKE SURE THE OVEN AND FRYER ARE HOT ENOUGH BEFORE STARTING TO COOK. The wings were woefully underdone, sending geysers of grease spraying with each bite. We won't even get into the problems with the pizza. On the bright side, no signs of salmonella have manifested themselves as of press time, and, hey, it was free. GRADE: D-.
BS FAN OF THE WEEK: In the first tie of the season, Patrick and Mary Christian share top honors. The quality of the fare in no way reflect on his beneficence, and her goulash ensured that everyone ate well.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||December 3 2002|