Sooner or later players break out of their slumps like gangbusters. Two of the most beleaguered Bills finally got out of their doldrums Sunday and helped spark the Bills to a 24-7 triumph over the Washington Redskins. Travis Henry and Josh Reed finally got the monkeys off their backs and had their best games as Bills in a dazzling display of offensive prowess. Henry, who hadn't gained more than 86 yards a game and had a 2.9 yards per carry average, burst out with a career NFL game, rushing for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Being hampered with bruised ribs, Henry was back to his old self of last season when he ran for over 1,400 yards.
Reed has been the focus of media and fans this season when he has had a hard time catching the ball. With Eric Moulds out for his second straight game recovering from a groin injury, Reed and Bobby Shaw have been the focus of Drew Bledsoe's aerial game. Shaw has stepped up consistently, but Reed has been a huge disappointment this year. With Peerless Price gone to Atlanta, Reed was looked upon to step up and be even better than he was in his rookie year. But the sophomore jinx seemed to hit Reed hard and the constant criticism by the press and fans made things even worse.
Reed had a tutor last week in Moulds, who threw passes to him and gave him some trade secrets. It paid off in a big way as Reed caught 8 Bledsoe passes for 109 yards and one touchdown. His touchdown will probably be the easiest he will ever score. Bledsoe had faked a handoff to Henry going to the left and Bledsoe trotted to his right to find a wide open Reed for a 10-yard touchdown.
Running game a cure-all
The old Marv Levy adage about teams that run the ball the most being the most successful came true Sunday. The Bills ran for 196 yards and threw for 236 yards. Henry, with his 167 yards was a demon the Skins couldn't contain. By sticking with the run, the Bills finally established what they had been preaching leading up to the season, that they were going to become a more balanced, power running team.
Bledsoe is much better when the Bills don't have to rely strictly on his arm. When the opposition can't concentrate on just the pass, it allows Bledsoe to keep them guessing, especially when he goes play-action. That's what fooled the Skins right out of their shorts on Reed's touchdown. It also helps the running game itself as the Skins didn't know whether to use pass or running defensive schemes.
Bledsoe had a good game once the running game got established. He passed for 244 yard while completing 19 of 26.
Bills fullback Sam Gash had been adamant all week about the lack of a smash mouth approach on offense. Finally he got what he had been harping on for weeks.
"We were determined to impose our will today," implied Gash. "Everybody came out and played with emotion, and that's definitely what we need to win."
Henry was glad to shed the monstrous gorilla riding his back most of the season.
"I come out every week to play hard," insisted Henry.
Willis McGahee began practicing with the Bills earlier last week, prompting some to say that the added pressure on Henry was a key factor to his breakout game. Henry denied that.
"This has nothing to do with no Willis McGahee," declared Henry. "It's all about the Buffalo Bills. It's just good to get back on track, to see us in a groove. It was great play-calling by Kevin Gilbride today. He stuck to the run. The linemen were staying on blocks. It's good to get back in the rhythm."
In the fourth quarter and the Bills driving at the Washington 14, Henry plowed up the middle and cut through a couple tackles on way to a touchdown. When he got into the endzone, he did a little jive dance to showing that he finally was enjoying playing football again.
Sense of urgency
The theme for the week at One Bills Drive was "sense of urgency." Whether it meant to save Bills head coach Gregg Williams' job or stay in the playoff race, the message hit home in a big way.
"We finally got it going in all three phases of the game today," acknowledged Williams. "I think they felt a sense of urgency. They couldn't wait to play today."
The Bills defense played with a passion and aggression not seen since the opening game. They were hitting with ferocity and gang tackling. The two defensive newcomers, Lawyer Milloy and Takeo Spikes lived up to their early season billing by taking the play to the Redskins and forcing several mistakes by the Skins.
"It's a young team," admitted Milloy. "That's what I'm realizing now. If we play with a sense of urgency, we can be whatever we want to be."
"Everybody played up to their role," added Spikes. "Everybody played their part. Everybody stepped up when they needed to step up. We put a lot of emphasis on it."
Early in the game after the Bills, the Skins drove down to the Bills 2 yard line thanks to a 47-yard reception by Laveranues Coles. Then a huge blunder cost the Skins the ball and possibly the game. when left guard Derrick Dockery bumped the ball out of Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey's grasp. After a wild scramble, Milloy came up with it and the Bills were out of danger.
"It was a tremendous effort," lauded Spikes. "We went out with a lot of energy for the most part. I haven't seen the film, but I can tell you once we look at the film you will be able to tell that we were fundamentally sound, doing the little things right. And once you bring a lot of energy to the party, the offense is clicking and everything just held together.
When the Bills have been stuttering on offense, Bills offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has taken much of the blame from his critics. However, Gilbride put in schemes that seemed perfect against the Redskins. Establishing the running game early was one of his main priorities.
"I thought the last couple weeks we were on the verge of running the ball and we should have been better," Gilbride said. "It was there for the taking and we didn't take it. This week, we did it. Now what we have to do is stop shooting ourselves in the foot. If we had gotten away from those penalties it would have been a terrific day."
The play-action feature the Bills used successfully hinged on the improved running game.
"It will happen when you can run it," acknowledged Gilbride. "That's what was so frustrating. The last couple weeks we felt like if we ran the ball, there were play-action pass opportunities that were there for the taking. But if you can't run it, then they don't even respond. There's no respect, no reaction to your play action."
Another key to the Bills offense, Bledsoe, has also taken a lot of heat during the Bills 1-3 stint the last 4 games.
"We're probably a little hard to figure," admitted Bledsoe. "When we play to the level we expect to, we're going to be competitive against anybody."
"You gotta be kind of hardheaded at times in this game,"Bledsoe emphasized. "You have to keep doing the same things. Kevin put us in some great schemes tonight, and we had some advantages in the running game. We were able to get some angles on blocks and our guys did a great job."
Bledsoe was sold on the play-action scheme that Gilbride injected into the offense.
"We had seen on film their team as a whole (their safeties and linebackers) were very aggressive against the run and bit very hard on some run fakes, particularly against Tampa Bay. We felt if we really sold our play-action we could get some big plays, particularly in the red zone."
Spikes talked about when the Skins got down to the two yard line and the Bills came up with a huge turnover.
"Even when they got down there we said, "So what? Let's just keep playing,' " injected Spikes. "We felt like, at worse, they were going to come out with three points. It was a great effort by a defensive team."
"This is the NFL, they are going to make plays. They get paid also. But the real test of a true man is how he reacts to adversity. Adversity is what happened and we responded. We're nowhere near as good as we can be as a defense. But this was a good start in the right direction."
Copyright © 2003 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.
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