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Bills win Blooper Bowl over Rams
An article by Bills Thunder webmaster.
by Rick Anderson
Saturday July 29, 2000

It was a wild fumblefest, but the Buffalo Bills came out of St. Louis with a 31-27 victory Saturday night over the Super Bowl champion Rams. With both teams fumbling 3 times and being flagged for a total of 25 penalties, the game was far from the slick production that fans expect to see when the season opens in two weeks. However, there were wild twists and turns and plenty of fireworks by both teams in the first half.

The Bills first team offense proved that they could explode on a moment's notice as Rob Johnson connected for three touchdown in the first half. In spite of the Bills offensive eruption, the Rams, under the guidance of Kurt Warner, came back from a 21-7 deficit to take a 24-21 halftime lead. In the second half, both defenses clamped down and put out the fires.

The 64,900 fans who packed in the Trans World Dome witnessed what seemed like a Bloopers championship game. For every dynamic big play, there was an equally embarrassing blooper. Fumbles, missed assignments, undisciplined penalties, this game had it all.

"Well, these games are certainly interesting," joked Bills coach head coach Wade Phillips. "Overall, I was pleased with some of the things we did. We showed that we're going to be a big-play team."

Bills starting quarterback Rob Johnson once again had a hard time avoiding charging defensemen, but was able to complete 8 of his 12 attempts for 3 impressive touchdowns and accumulated 237 yards in the air. He did all this in just one half.

"Rob played well," said Phillips. "It's time to start getting our timing down on the passing game. Rob's starting to get the feel for where the receivers are going to be. You can see what he can do when he's moving around some."

"The big plays are nice," said a buoyant Johnson. "There was never a doubt we had the ability to make big plays, and we've shown that the last three games."

Johnson's counterpart, Kurt Warner, last January's Super Bowl MVP, did even better against last year's top ranked defense. Warner who injured his shoulder on Monday against the Titans in a 30-3 loss, did not practice with the team for two days this week. It came as a surprise on Friday when he said that he would play against the Bills. Warner hit 14 of his 21 passes for 196 yards and threw two touchdowns.

Warner played with a sore shoulder in the last half of the 99 season and still guided his team to the Super Bowl victory.

"There was a slight bit of pain, but it was similar to something I went through last year," said Warner. "I knew once I got out and got warmed up properly and got into the game that it wouldn't bother me. I feel really good. I didn't notice it at all. I never thought it was anything serious to begin with."

The Bills secondary thought the Warner was in top form as he shredded them like a butcher with a knife. All told, the Rams ate up 335 yards on Buffalo's vaulted defense and scored 24 points in the first half alone. That was quite a difference than what the Bills defense had shown in its first two preseason games when they were dominant. The Bills offense finally came to life and proved to doubters that they have a big-strike capability.

Johnson seems to be getting more confident as the Bills draw near the season opener. On the opening drive, the Bills top signal caller hit Jeremy McDaniel for 51 yards that paved the way for his 5-yard touchdown pass to Jay Riemersma.

Johnson looked even more impressive when he avoided being sacked and scrambled to his right before flinging a long bomb to McDaniel who beat Todd Lyght for an 85-yard touchdown. Johnson was avoiding an onrushing Ram when he jumped up as if shooting a basketball and the ball sailed to the wide open McDaniel.

Johnson also completed a huge 44-yard strike to Eric Moulds, but Moulds fumbled the ball on the St. Louis 25 and was recovered by the Rams. The Bills defense held the Rams for one of the few times in the first half and forced a punt.

When the Bills took over after that punt, Johnson was able to find tight end Bobby Collins all alone on the left side and it resulted in a 26-yard TD. The Rams first string secondary had been taken out to lunch by the Bills receivers and Johnson took advantage of every busted Rams' coverage.

By taking a 21-7 lead with 8 minutes left in the half, it was looking like the Bills were going to blow out the Super Bowl champs just like the Titans did 5 days previous. However, that is when Warner showed why he was the league's most valuable player last year. He helped the Rams mount a 90-yard drive which was capped off when he hit Torry Holt on a 27-yard touchdown pass. Holt, who battled Donovan Greer for the ball in the endzone, came down with the ball after juggling it.

Avion Black, who has had an impressive preseason, had his troubles this night. He had one fumble eradicated when he blotched a low punt from ex-Bills punter Rick Tuten A penalty wiped that mistake out. After the Rams scored their second touchdown, Black took the kickoff and was stripped of the ball when Jamel Smith jarred the ball loose from Black with his helmet and Leonard Little came up with the ball for the Rams on the Bills 24.

Trent Green, who replaced Warner at quarterback, found Holt for a 22-yard touchdown with 1:47 remaining in the half, making the Black fumble costly. The Rams got the ball back after the Bills shutting down the Bills and were able to get into field goal position. Jeff Wilkins kicked a field goal from 33 yards out to end the half almost 2 hours after the opening kickoff.

The Rams added to their lead when Wilkins was good on a 35 yard field goal in the third quarter. The Bills defense, now full of second stringers and rookies trying to make the final cut, decided to take matters into their own hands. On two straight Ram series, the Bills intercepted Green passes.

Rookie linebacker Kenyatta Wright plucked off one pass and safety Travares Tillman picked off the other Green attempt. After Tillman's grab, Buffalo launched a 40 yard drive under the helm of reserve quarterback Alex Van Pelt, who was 9 of 15 for 93 yards. The drive was was capped off by a Shawn Bryson 3-yard touchdown run. Bryson had another impressive outing and Phillips will have to get him into the opening day starting lineup somehow.

Tillman not only had the interception that helped give the Bills the 28-27 lead, but on the ensuing kickoff, he recovered a fumble that paved the way for Jon Hilbert's 36-yard field goal that ended the scoring on a wild and woolly night.

Although there were tons of miscues by the Bills, there were also a lot of bright spots. Besides the great night that Johnson had, Bryson, Tillman, Erik Flowers (who had another sack), Jay Hill and Fred Jones had impressive showings. Then there was McDaniel, who with his two long touchdown receptions Saturday, may have won himself the spot as the third receiver when the Bills go to a 3-wideout set.

"It felt good being out there, catching the ball," elated McDaniel, who caught two touchdown passes for 136 yards. "Eric (Moulds) was bringing a whole lot of attention to him, being the great receiver he is. They broke down in coverage and I was just sitting there wide open."

"It happened at a great time," McDaniel continued. "Just to be able to get the feeling of it was important, so when the season rolls around I'll be ready."

There were a couple touchdowns taken away from both teams. Sam Cowart recovered what appeared at the time to be a fumble by Isaac Bruce and took it 43 yards into the endzone. However, after the officials reviewed the challenge the Rams made to the play, it was deemed an incomplete pass.

That was evened out when the Rams had a touchdown taken away when Roland Williams caught a Warner pass and leaped towards the left pylon. Williams fumbled the ball as he was going over the goal line and the Bills recovered for the touchback. After another review, the play was allowed to stand and the Bills had escaped further damage at the hands of Warner.

Johnson, if he can stay healthy in light of the constant pressure he's getting from defensive blitzes, looks ready for the season opener.

"We played the world champs pretty well," asserted Johnson. "Hopefully we can get more consistent and sustain some drives, but big plays are nice. There was never a doubt we had the ability to make big plays, and we've shown that the last three games. We still have a lot to work on. We've got to be able to sustain drives a little better. But we played the world champs pretty well."

Phillips agreed that Johnson is having trouble with avoiding sacks.

"Unfortunately, he's going to get sacked some, and everybody's going to holler when he gets sacked," Phillips said. "But he also threw it about 70 yards for a touchdown, too."

Copyright 2000 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.

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