Luke McCown, having retreated a few steps after taking the snap from center, looked upfield to take in a most unwelcome sight.
Sam Adams, Buffalo's allegedly 335-pound defensive tackle, had already burst through Cleveland's rather indifferent offensive line and was heading straight for the Browns' rookie quarterback.
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Adams, better known for clogging the middle of the Bills' defensive front against ambitious runners, didn't need any fancy pass-rushing techniques to get at McCown. Nor did he bother with any niceties when it came to the sack itself, like, say, lowering a shoulder, or even wrapping his arms.
Instead, Adams just ran McCown over, as if the 6-foot-3, 223-pound quarterback wasn't even there.
On a day when the Bills would run for three touchdowns, throw for a fourth, pull off a 48-yard reverse, register seven sacks of Cleveland quarterbacks, force five turnovers and flirt with the all-time record for fewest yards allowed, Adams playing the runaway semi to McCown's wayward possum summarized Buffalo's 37-7 win quite nicely.
The Bills weren't stylish or sleek on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Thanks to their overwhelming physical dominance of team that looked like it would rather be anywhere else for nearly three quarters, they didn't need to be.
Cleveland led 7-3 when Adams steamrolled McCown, thanks to three first-quarter turnovers by the Bills. That advantage, though, proved a rapidly fading mirage.
Browns running back William Green fumbled the ball away on the next play. Four snaps later, Drew Bledsoe connected with rookie wideout Lee Evans on a crossing pattern, triggering an avalanche of 34 unanswered Buffalo points.
Up until the moment McCown, and what remained of Cleveland's offensive confidence, went under Adams' wheels, the Browns had gained but 26 total yards. As feeble as that figure was less than four minutes into the second quarter, it would prove the visitors' high-water mark.
With the offensive line incapable of creating any running room for Green or offering McCown any protection, the Browns went a total of 9 yards in reverse over the rest of the afternoon. Their 17 net yards were the feeblest total in Browns history, 23 fewer than the 40 managed in the first game after the franchise's reincarnation in 1999.
No question, the Browns entered Ralph Wilson Stadium weak and wounded, riding a six-game losing streak and operating under an interim coach.
For a while, it looked like the Bills would play down to their level, turning the ball over three times in the opening quarter, including a Nate Clements fumble on a punt return that set up Cleveland's only points. Worse yet, offensive coordinator Tom Clements, perhaps distracted by all the talk of him taking the top job at Notre Dame, seemingly channeled his deposed predecessor, Kevin Gilbride during the first quarter. Again and again, he eschewed the running game that had sparked Buffalo's resurgence over the previous two months and called on Bledsoe to get the ball to Eric Moulds. Again and again, either Moulds was covered, Bledsoe missed his target, or both.
After Adams' sack, though, the bludgeoning truly began.
Cleveland managed only two first downs the rest of the day, one coming on the final play of the game. Even fill-in coach Terry Robiskie's attempt to inject some life into his offense by turning to veteran Jeff Garcia failed miserably.
With his team trailing by 13 late in the third quarter, Garcia made an immediate impact, driving his Browns ahead for 8 big yards. On third-and-2, though, Buffalo defensive end Aaron Schobel stormed through what passed for Garcia's protection and drilled him just as he was about to throw. The collision sent the ball bouncing into the arms of Chris Kelsay and Garcia back to the sideline with a sprained knee.
On the next play, McGahee went up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown, his second of the day and ninth since taking over for Travis Henry. That gave the Bills a 27-7 lead, eliminating any lingering question of whether they'd win their fourth straight and seventh in the last nine weeks, a run that moved them above .500 for the first time under Mike Mularkey.
"I think ultimately -- to be honest about it and I'm going to be honest about it -- I think there were points in time when it was men against boys," Robiskie conceded after the game.
The game's stunning lack of drama allowed for -- forced, really -- diligent remote-control work for those watching the game at home. For the first time since the middle of the Clinton Administration, that demographic included the BillStuff coverage team. Which, on this Sunday, consisted of yours truly and the aforementioned remote.
Between serving as the Bills' beat writer for a daily newspaper and then covering the team for this one, first in the traditional manner and for the last three seasons in the format BS readers have come to love, or at least tolerate, the better part of a decade had passed since I'd couched it for a Buffalo game.
Other duties precluded the intensive planning that usually goes into a BS Sunday, though, and early-afternoon flurries sealed the deal.
The arrangement had its advantages over the more typical setting of a stadium, tavern or house party -- no waiting for a beverage or the men's room, to name two. You do get stuck listening to the announcers, though. And if there's anything more cringe-inducing than watching Cleveland's offensive linemen look like they're trying to block someone, it's hearing Don Criqui drop a Notorious B.I.G. reference.
Criqui and Steve Tasker did a decent job, with the former Bills kick-coverage demon showing an increasing willingness to objectively critique his former team.
Not that there was much to rip on Sunday. While the offensive steadily punished Cleveland's defense, piling up 215 rushing yards at better than 5 per try, defensive coordinator Jerry Gray sent every conceivable blitz package at the beleaguered McCown.
Cornerback-turned-safety Troy Vincent recorded a sack in his first game back after missing eight games following knee surgery. Safety Lawyer Milloy also dumped McCown once, as did linebackers Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey.
So furious was Buffalo's pressure, McCown didn't even have time to properly throw screen passes, as he misfired on several point-blank attempts.
The Bills, though, kept their aim focused throughout. Faced with a wounded, frightened foe, they didn't hesitate. They just ran the Browns over.
BILLS MVP(s): This goes collectively to Buffalo's defensive line. The starting front four of Schobel, Kelsay, Adams and Pat Williams combined for four sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, kept Green from ever getting started upfield and gave the linebackers plenty of room to operate.
Vincent also deserves mention for hitting the playmaking trifecta of a sack, interception and fumble recovery.
CLEVELAND MVP: Adimchinobe Echemandu picked up that final Cleveland first down on the game's last play, and led the Browns with 13 rushing yards. And his name's fun to say, if not spell.
WILLIS WATCH: The South Florida native seemed a bit put off by the light snow and wind early on, but quickly worked his way into pound-it-out mode. McGahee trampled and stiff-armed his way to 105 yards on 27 carries, with the Bills improving to 6-0 when he goes over the century mark.
STAT OF THE DAY: Cleveland's passing game wound up 12 yards in the red. BS realizes times are tough in Brownsland, but this is the NFL, gentlemen. That's beyond pathetic.
WING REPORT: With a wide array of options only a phone call away, we went with La Nova for the first time since a late-night fire halted operations at the wing powerhouse's headquarters on Buffalo's west side in August.
Their Italian wings, coated in breading and seasonings, were crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. Their honey-mustard derivation proved a tasty change-of-pace, as well. As Mrs. BillStuff and her sister pointed out, though, the decision to eschew at least some traditional Buffalo-style morsels proved a strategic blunder. Grade: B+.
Fai, the aforementioned sister-in-law, followed up with a batch of slow-cooked ribs served in a cherry-cola glaze that scored a well-deserved A.
BS FAN OF THE WEEK: Not many options here, since the women of the house were wrapping Christmas presents and my 18-month-old son slept blissfully through the game.
So we'll go with the very drunk-looking guy clad in stereotypical Dawg Pound gear, including an oversized dog-biscuit necklace, who got his hat pulled down over his eyes by Bledsoe after the Bills quarterback scrambled out of bounds.
Anybody who made it through such a horrid performance by his or her team deserves some sort of recognition.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Dec. 14 2004|