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It's curtains for Bills as Steelers blast Bills 20-3
It gets bleaker by the game as Bills lose again.
by Rick Anderson, webmaster of Bills Thunder
September 30, 2001

It gets bleaker by the game. The Buffalo Bills, once the proud and the mighty in the AFC, have fallen off badly since they cleaned house early this year. The Pittsburgh Steelers embarrassed the Bills 20-3 in their own stadium to give Buffalo an 0-3 record and sole possession of last place in the AFC East.

When Tom Donahoe and Gregg Williams were brought in as the new GM and head coach respectively, Bills fans thought the team was headed in the right direction. After an 0-3 start, they are now wondering if Bills owner Ralph Wilson made the right choice in selecting Donahoe and Williams to replace former GM John Butler and coach Wade Phillips. Wilson himself may also be scratching his head about his selections after this humiliating defeat.

It was a perfect day for football, and with a patriotic sellout crowd waiving their American flags, the atmosphere was festive. Too bad the Bills didn't show up and give the kind of performance the fans have come to expect from their team.

The Bills figured that coming back home and facing a team like the Steelers offered them a good shot to win their first game of the season. As it turned out, is was almost a carbon copy of the preseason game in which the Steelers blanked Buffalo 20-0.

Once again the Bills could not generate any offense. They did come close once when Bills quarterback Rob Johnson engineered a drive that got the Bills down to the Steelers' 1-yard line. Starting from their own 30, Johnson connected with passes to Jeremy McDaniel for 15 and 22-yards, and a dump off pass to Larry Centers who made it to the Steelers 8. Feeling lots of pressure, Johnson scrambled down to the Steelers one. But that's when a penalty on the next play took it back to the 6 yard line and Johnson couldn't hit his receivers on the next two passes. Kicker Jake Arians was forced to kick a 22-yard field goal for the only Buffalo points of the game.

For the rest of the game, the Bills played like they did in the preseason meeting with the Steelers. One of the biggest handicaps the Bills had was their weak offensive line. They entered the game minus two starters on the O'line, veteran John Fina and Jonas Jennings. Kris Farris took over for Fina and he too suffered a broken right leg and was replaced by Jon Carman, whom Williams had brought in off the practice squad for some depth. Carman never played an NFL game before and it certainly showed.

Johnson, who threw 22 passes and completed 13 for 104 yards, played a gritty game when considering the fact that he didn't have an offensive line in front of him. He was often forced to scramble and get rid of the ball to avoid a sack. However, the Steelers were able to sack him 4 times, bringing his total to 14 sacks in just 3 games. At this rate he'll be sacked 75 times by season's end, if he lasts that long.

Johnson had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter when he reinjured his hip. Alex Van Pelt came in and was 3 of 5 for 44 yards. He threw an interception to Chad Scott, who galloped all 62 yards to the Bills 15. The Steelers could have easily added 7 more and really made it a blowout, but decided to run the clock out and not really embarrass the Bills.

The first touchdown of the game came when the Bills were actually driving into Steeler country. Travis Henry had the ball stripped from him and it was recovered by Pittsburgh cornerback Dewayne Washington, who scooped it up, avoided a tackle by Johnson and sailed down the field for a 63-yard touchdown. That turned out to be the winning score of the game.

The Bills defense did put some pressure on Steeler QB Kordell Stewart, was as ineffective as Johnson, throwing 22 times and completing 15 for only 197 yards. The Bills D had a tough time stopping "The Bus" Jerome Bettis, who plowed for 144 yards on 21 carries.

In a nutshell, the game could be summed up on two plays. The one where Johnson scrambled to the Steeler one and could not get in and the Travis Henry fumble that produced the 63-yard Dewayne Washington fumble return.

The Bills not only were minus John Fina, Jonas Jennings and Kris Farris, but also lost the services of veteran Phil Hansen on defense, Jeremy McDaniels, Tony Driver and Leif Larsen. Hansen and Larsen were listed with shoulder injuries, McDaniels had an ankle sprain and Driver dislocated his shoulder.

Johnson, who has not yet found a comfort zone in the newly implanted West Coast offense, feels everyone has to step up and get better if the Bills are to start scoring points.

"It's terrible," Johnson said about how the offense is going so far this year. "We're not very good right now offensively. It's not a lot of fun. We have to fix it. I think we're all frustrated."

"We have offensive personnel that should be able to put up more than three points a game. That's embarrassing. We have to figure out what we did wrong and start on Monday."

Johnson did his best to avoid what could have been a double-digit sack attack for Pittsburgh by running away from would-be sackers on numerous occasions. But when he did have time to throw, a lot of his passes failed to hit their mark. He had trouble hitting his two top receivers, Eric Moulds and Peerless Price.

"That's not my area," Johnson responded about his not hitting his two prime targets. "I get the plays and run them…I'm frustrated right there with them. They're two of our better offensive weapons and we're struggling to get them open or find them."

Coach Williams could use all the injuries as an excuse, but refused to.

"Injuries will never be an excuse," Williams said. "For the guy who steps in there, there is no excuse for not knowing what to do. It wasn't a case of not knowing what to do. It was just not doing it."

To say that he was agitated with his team's performance is an understatement. In describing his feelings, Williams said "It is not disappointment, but pissed. Not discouraging, but pissed."

He even hinted at making a big change at middle linebacker.

"Watch #37 (Larry Centers)," said Williams. "He may be the starting middle linebacker next week. There is a reason why #37 has been in the league for 12 years. It is the way he plays. That guy competes at every single snap."

"We did not play well enough in all areas," Williams said. "We have to get back from top to bottom - from players and coaches. We did not make plays to give us an opportunity to win this ball game."

The longer the Bills go without a victory, the tougher it is going to be for Williams during his press conferences. Upon being asked a question that suit will with him, Williams replied, "I'm not going to answer that."

Williams has dug his own grave this year. He has cut most of the veterans that made the core of the team and has frustrated the few remaining ones with his style of coaching. Predicting the Bills would make the playoffs this year, Williams now has his work cut out for him to win just one game all season.

People were joking earlier in the season about who would win the first game, the Bills or the Sabres. With the Sabres season starting this week, it definitely looks like the Sabres will win that contest. The Bills face the New York Jets at home next Sunday, but with a battered staff both physically and mentally, it will be a difficult task to get their first win against the Jets.

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