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Bills comeback shocks Panthers
Bills win highly entertaining game.
by Rick Anderson, webmaster of Bills Thunder
December 10, 2001

It was being dubbed such titles as the Draft Pick Bowl, the Futility Bowl and the Toilet Bowl. The second and the third worst teams in the NFL were colliding in Ralph Wilson Stadium for what could decide the #2 or #3 picks in the college draft next year. The 1-10 Buffalo Bills were hosting the 1-11 Carolina Panthers and according to all the pregame hype, it was going to be ugly.

The game actually turned out to be highly entertaining as the Buffalo Bills came back from being down by 18 to stage a dramatic 25-24 victory over the Panthers. The Bills were down 24-6 late in the first half and scored 19 consecutive points to hand Carolina its 12th straight defeat.

While no one is comparing Alex Van Pelt to former Bills comeback King Frank Reich, Van Pelt was able to engineer several drives to help the Bills win their second game of the year. Van Pelt completed 20 out of 29 passes for 277 yards and one TD strike.

One of the biggest plays in the Bills comeback was an interception that Brandon Spoon returned for a 44-yard touchdown in the third quarter that brought the Bills back to within 5.

Then Van Pelt did his best Reich imitation and drove the Bills down on a 9-play, 51 yard drive. Key plays in that drive were 3 big passes to Jay Riemersma; a 19-yard pass to when the Bills had a 3rd-and-8, a 9-yard pass to the Bills big tight end which got Buffalo to the Carolina 21 and finally an 18-yard pass down to the 3. From there, Travis Henry plowed over from the 1 to put the Bills ahead for the first time in the game. The two point conversion was no good, so the Bills had to keep Carolina off the scoreboard for over 7 minutes remaining and they did just that, doubling their win total to two.

Van Pelt led the Bills to a last second touchdown in the first half. With Buffalo 70 yards from the endzone, Van Pelt connected with Eric Moulds for 25 and 12 yards, and Peerless Price for 26 yards to the Carolina 7. Then he hit Price again with 1 tick left on the clock for the touchdown, to bring the Bills within striking distance for the second half.

"I was going to either throw it in the end zone for a touchdown or throw it out of the end zone to stop the clock," explained Van Pelt. "It was a play designed to go to Eric, but they had soft coverage on him and then they doubled him, so I bought time and found Peerless."

Clawless Panthers

The Panthers started the game as if they were going to eat the Bills alive. After Carolina's John Kasay opened the scoring with a 37-yard field goal, quarterback Chris Weinke engineered a 10-play, 54-yard drive in which he capped the scoring on a 1-yard run.

The Panthers got a huge turnover when a Van Pelt pass to Larry Centers was picked off by Reggie Howard. Howard galloped 16 yards down to the Bills 36. The Panthers got another big break when Chris Watson was flagged for interference and the Panthers had a first and goal at the Bills 2, where Richard Huntley took it in to make it 17-3 Carolina.

Shayne Graham, who had kicked a 20-yard field goal earlier for the Bills, kicked one from 27 yards out to make it 17-6 before the Panthers scored again.

Weinke, who completed half of his 30 passes for 153 yards, was instrumental in this 6-play, 41-yard drive. After the Bills were called for yet another interference all which put the ball on the Buffalo 18, Weinke completed an 11-yard pass to Huntley. Then he hit Kris Mangum for a two yard touchdown pass. After that, it was all Buffalo.

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Travis Henry broke the century mark by gaining 101 yards on 27 attempts. Henry also caught two passes for 56 yards. Known more for his running ability rather than as a back coming out of the backfield, Henry is getting hungry to become the second coming of Thurman Thomas.

"I feel sort of challenged by that," admitted Henry about becoming an all-round back. "My entire career in college I was labeled as a power back and not known for being a receiver. I can do it all. Hopefully, this game is a step towards having a chance to get the ball in my hands more so I can make something happen."

One of the passes to Henry turned into a 40-yard pickup. "It was fun out there today," Henry continued. "I got a chance to run the ball and catch it out of the backfield. Those are the things I want to get more of a chance to do."

One of the few remaining Bills left over from the Super Bowl run, Phil Hansen, cherished the victory. "I didn't realize winning was so hard," Hansen said. "In my 11 years with the Bills I didn't think the wins would ever be as few and far between as they have this year. I am going to let this one soak in a little bit. This is a building block for the future. We were down, 24-6. We could have laid down right then and said, "We can't come back from this.' It's a Bills tradition, though, to circle the wagons and come back and keep fighting."

"We just came in with the attitude that we wanted to run the ball, and we stuck with it no matter what," Henry said. "We've been down so much we've had a tendency to go away from running the ball. But the key to our offense is running the ball. The offensive line did a great job up front, and we executed really well. Hopefully, we'll stay with it the rest of the season."

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