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Bills Gain Big Win 31-21
Fast start and dominating second half leads Bills to victory.
by Steve Saslow
Dec. 20, 1999
The Bills started off hot as Doug Flutie threw the ball very well using the spread offense in opening up a 14-0 first quarter lead. In the end it was the running of Jonathan Linton and Thurman Thomas, with the help of a fluke touchdown, that led the Bills to a huge 31-21 victory in Arizona.
Flutie said before the game that this was a must win and he came out determined to get the W. Everyone expected the Bills to run, and they would later on, but they came out in the spread offense and Flutie's early throws were on target as he drove the Bills 67 yards in 6 plays to an opening drive touchdown pass to Eric Moulds. He used a 24 yard completion to returning TE Jay Riemersma and a 19 yard pass to Andre Reed to set up the score.
The teams alternated three and outs the next three series before Flutie went to work again. He led the team on a 12 play, 80 yard drive to an amazing 5 yard touchdown run by Linton to give the Bills a 14-0 first quarter lead. Flutie was impressive on this drive hitting Peerless Price on a nice 21 yard reception. He also hit Reed twice on the drive. It appeared that Reed was headed for a big day. He was open a lot early and was gaining on milestones only to leave the game late in the first quarter with a rib contusion.
The defense went to sleep in the second quarter and Flutie threw the first of two interceptions as the Cardinals pulled even before halftime. They started running the ball effectively up the middle and took advantage of two costly pass interference penalties to tie the game at 14. After Linton's score, the Cardinals went on their own 80 yard drive helped out by a huge pass interference penalty against Ken Irvin that put the ball on the one and ended Irvin's game with a foot injury. Mario Bates would score on a one yard plunge. The Bills moved the ball well after Bates' first score but Flutie threw an interception to keep the momentum in the Cardinals corner. The teams traded punts as the Bills failed to convert a 3rd and 1 at their 33 with 5 minutes to go in the half. Instead of pounding it with Linton, who was running with authority, they threw long to Moulds and incomplete. The resulting punt was returned for 26 yards setting up the tying score, with help from rookie CB Antoine Winfield's pass interference at the four yard line.
It came down to thirty minutes of football to decide the Bills season. They came out determined to leave with the win. The Cardinals went three and out after the kickoff. The Bills took over and decided to leave the spread offense for the power running game and did it effectively. They ran the ball 12 straight plays for 64 yards on their first drive of the half. Flutie was sacked for a 17 yard loss but a completion to Kevin Williams set up Steve Christie's 33 yard field goal to recapture the lead at 17-14
The Cardinals were forced to punt on their next possession that led to another Bills drive led by the running Linton and Thomas. Linton finished the day with 81 yards as he replaced Antowain Smith as the feature back in this game. Smith was out resting his turf toe as the return of Thomas made resting Smith possible. Thomas finished the game with 53 yards on the ground and played a lot.
It seemed that as the running game was heating up Flutie was cooling down. He threw his second interception deep in Arizona territory early in the fourth quarter as the Bills were trying to expand their lead. The defense held them to another 3 plays and out which set up a 78 yard drive to another Buffalo touchdown. On this drive, Moulds caught two third down passes including a 26 yarder that setup a third and goal touchdown pass to Jay Riemersma.
"Comeback" Plummer finally came alive and marched his team down field to a Rob Moore touchdown to pull the Cardinals within three. The Cardinals tried to cross the Bills up by having both their punter and kicker on the field for the on side kick. They seemed to only confuse themselves as Chris Jacke kicked it right in to the hands of Henry Jones, who raced untouched 37 yards for the touchdown to put an exclamation point on the win.
The Bills made some mistakes but dominated the game when they needed to, and the result is an important win keeping the Bills in the thick of the wildcard race. They travel to New England the day after Christmas to play a Patriot team that is now out of the playoff hunt.
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