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Bills Escape Nightmare Loss 13-10
Three missed Pats field goals helps Bills to lucky win.
by Steve Saslow
Dec. 26, 1999
It was looking like another nightmare in New England early in the fourth quarter when the Patriots advanced a controversial fumble deep into Buffalo territory to set up the go ahead score. In the end the ghosts of Foxboro turned on the Patriots and gave the Bills a lucky 13-10 victory.
Patriots usually reliable kicker Adam Vinatieri missed three field goals into a stiff wind which allowed the Bills to pull out the win and help their playoff chances. Vinatieri was short from 44 yards in the first half and then missed two chances at a game winner. His 33 yarder at the end of regulation went wide right and his 44 yarder in overtime looked good but fell just short. If he hit the winner in overtime Bills fans would be talking about an offsides penalty on fourth down that gave him a chance to hit it.
Doug Flutie struggled tremendously before coming alive midway thru the fourth quarter as he completed his final 12 passes of the day to bring the team back to tie the game and eventually win it despite the Bills fumbling the ball away three times.
The first half was a dull one, as neither team mangaed 100 yards in total offense. The best drives of the half were the first ones for each team. The Pats took the opening kickoff and ran off 11 plays to set up Vinatieri's first miss of the game. It was a 44 yarder that was just short. It was a mirror image of what was to come three hours later. The Bills then drove 44 yards in 9 plays to Steve Christie's 39 yard field goal and a 3-0 Buffalo lead. The drive was highlighted by a nifty 31 yard run for Thurman Thomas who was the team's leading rusher on the day with 84 yards. He also would play a big part in overtime.
The two teams would basically exchange punts for the rest of the half with the exception of exchanging fumbles on consecutive plays in the first quarter. With under two minutes to go in the half Thomas Smith was called for a 6 yard pass interference penalty on a 3rd and 13 pass. The play wasn't going to get the Pats a first down but the bonehead play set them up for Vinatieri's only successful kick of the game as the half was expiring to tie the game at 3.
The third quarter was much of the same as the first half as the teams traded punts. The Bills were in to the wind and did mange to have two 9 play drives. The first one resulted in a punt and the second one resulted in the Bills being stopped on another 4th and 1 play. Early in the fourth quarter it started to look like deja vu as a controversial play went against the Bills. Jonathan Linton had his second fumble of the game and Chad Eaton recovered on the ground and pushed himself up on Jesse Ostroski which should have put him down on contact. The Bills challenged the fumble, replay showed Linton did fumble but the 30 yard return shouldn't have happened. The Bills defense seemed shocked and allowed Terry Allen to go right up the middle on the next play for a 14 yard touchdown and a 10-3 Patriot lead.
It was beginning to look like there was definitely some sort of hex on the Bills in that stadium but Flutie would have none of it. The two teams would exchange punts and then Flutie got hot. He started the Bills on an 8 play drive for the tying score. He hit Sam Gash on a big third down conversion pass, then hit Peerless Price for 24 yards before hitting Eric Moulds for 19 yards to the one yard line. It took four straight plunges from the one with a face mask penalty mixed in before Linton finally scored behind a great block from pro bowler Ruben Brown.
With the score tied it just started to get interesting. After two more three and outs the Patriots had the ball last in regulation and had good field position after a 17 yard punt return set them up at the Bills 42. Drew Bledsoe did his Flutie imitation and rumbled 25 yards to the Bills 17. Three short runs later Vinatieri came on to win it and missed his second kick of the game to give the Bills another life in overtime.
There was no quit in this Patriots team today, as they won the toss in overtime and promptly moved downfield to give Vinatieri another chance at the win. Bledsoe hit Ben Coates for a 20 yard completion, on his only catch of the game and a 12 yard Allen run moved them closer to field goal range. Three more short runs set up a 4th and 9 at the Bills 30. With wind in their face they weren't in field goal range so they decided to go for it. The play was batted down incomplete but there was an offsides call on Shawn Price. Pete Carroll thought that brought them close enough for a winning field goal attempt, he was wrong, the kick was on the money but about one or two yards short.
The Bills took the ball for the first time in overtime determined to win it after dodging two huge bullets to still be alive in the game. Flutie hit Bobby Collins for 11 yards and Thomas had his second long gainer of the day, an 18 yarder, to move the Bills into scoring position. The Bills then shot themselves in the foot as Moulds caught a pass at the 21 but was hit and fumbled. The Patriots recovered thanks in part to Moulds being held back from recovering it. It was plain as day and the refs didn't see it. Usually three strikes and your out but the Bills top ranked defense wouldn't give Vinatieri another chance at winning it. Terry Allen took the first carry after the fumble 20 yards up the middle to move the chains. He had a lot of success running right through the middle of the Bills line for 126 yards, the most given up by the Bills to a back all year. After that run the Bills sacked Bledsoe and they lost 8 yards on the next set of downs and were forced to punt.
The Bills took over and Flutie completed five straight passes to move the ball back into field goal range. Thomas took over from there like he has so many times in the past. He had runs of 3 and 9 yards to move it to the 6 yard line. With time ticking down inside of two minutes, Christie came on and hit the game winning kick right down the middle.
It was about as ugly a win as you can get, but the Bills will certainly take it as it helps their playoff chanced considerably. They can clinch a playoff spot with a Miami loss tomorrow night. So go Jets!
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