<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By David Staba

So what if it wasn't beautiful.

Or especially dominant.

Or even terribly impressive.

Mt. Views
Local History

After a month of near-misses and nearly a year of futility, the Buffalo Bills finally won a game Sunday.

And for whatever flaws might have been displayed in the process, keeping the Miami Dolphins winless while shedding the same tag certainly beats the alternative.

It might be easy to consider the rather sad state of the competition and dismiss the result. But if you ignore the "close, but" nature of games one through four and say a loss is a loss, then the reverse must be true, as well.

Particularly since the path to victory was cleared by the Bills' future.

And he was wearing No. 21.

With Travis Henry sidelined by an ankle injury, Willis McGahee finally got the chance to show what he's got, 18 months after Buffalo selected him in the first round of the 2003 draft.

What he's got is quite a bit, as it turns out. McGahee alternately slashed, spun and stiff-armed his way to 111 yards on 26 carries -- Buffalo's best performance of the season. And most of those yards came after the initial hit or hits from Miami's swarming defense.

McGahee also caught three passes for 31 yards and did a solid job picking up blitzes, one of the concerns -- along with the coaching staff's reticence to hurt Henry's feelings -- that kept him on the sideline for the first four games.

Nearly half those carries and more than half those yards came when the Bills needed them most, in the fourth quarter. Behind McGahee's 61 yards on 12 runs, the Bills kept the ball for an incredible 13 minutes and 22 seconds out of a possible 15 in the final frame.

True, McGahee got stuffed at twice from Miami's 1-yard line, twice, before Rian Lindell kicked a 20-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Bills a 20-13 lead that would hold up the rest of the way.

But, in keeping with the spirit of optimism, we won't dwell on that. Or on Takeo Spikes' dumb celebration penalty after scoring Buffalo's first defensive touchdown of the season.

Instead, let's dwell on a defensive player finally making a game-changing play, even if it came courtesy of the National Football League's most inept starting quarterback.

Buffalo's fourth-quarter ball-hogging may have actually been a blessing for Miami. The odds of a Dolphins defender picking up a loose ball and taking it all the way had to be at least as good as those on Jay Fiedler directing his feeble offense anywhere near a tying touchdown.

After all, he'd already thrown one just before halftime, exceeding the weekly quota established during Miami's 0-5 start.

The drive to Fiedler's 9-yard touchdown pass to Derrius Thompson, sparked by a couple nice runs by former Buffalo special-teams captain Sammy Morris, was one of several lurching, grinding momentum shifts during a first half nearly as ugly as the weather at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.

A series of obligations kept BillStuff's ace coverage team on the move, hitting three different vantage points during the afternoon. At the first, a political fundraiser in the parking lot behind the soon-to-open Danny C's on Niagara Falls Boulevard, winds nearly toppled the tents set up to protect the attendees, as well as the big-screen TV.

More ominously, one gust nearly swept BS's hamburger into the autumn afternoon, but quick reflexes saved the day. Or at least the sandwich.

The wind didn't help the flow of the game, either. Passes from both Fiedler and Drew Bledsoe were blown off target, and "The Hawk" knocked down a 43-yard attempt by Lindell, who shocked some observers by hitting his other two tries.

But the best Bills teams have used the swirling winds of Orchard Park to their advantage, rather than griping about, or ignoring, the obstacle it presents.

On this day, though, they mainly tailored their play-calling to fit the elements.

All in all, the positives far exceeded the negatives.

BILLS MVP: McGahee's afternoon not only led the Bills to their first win of 2004, it provided some reason to hope for the rest of the season. Thinking about getting anywhere near contention remains several consecutive wins away, but such a possibility is no longer pure fantasy. At least until next week.

THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: Seeing his first extended offensive action since Wade Phillips' final year in Buffalo, Morris staked a claim to the Dolphins' starting job, with 18 carries for 91 yards and two catches for 28 more, including a 25-yard run and 24-yard reception.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Bills did not turn the ball over. Repeat, the Bills did not turn the ball over.

WING REPORT: Plenty of food, but no wings, at any of the three stops. So the intrepid BillStuff staff picked some up at Coles on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Solid mediums, but the true highlight emanated from the Sicilians, which were shaken in Italian dressing and parmesan. Grade: B-plus.

BS FAN(S) OF THE WEEK: The entire gathering behind Danny C's. Hardy souls, those Bills fans (not to mention the young man in a Dolphins shirt bitterly, but cleanly, cursing each positive development for Buffalo).


David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 19 2004