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Manning directs Colts to last second-second victory
An article by Bills Thunder webmaster.
by Rick Anderson
October 1, 2000

All the defense had to do was to keep the Indianapolis Colts from getting into field goal range. The Bills defense had done that all day, stuffing the league's No. 1 defense, allowing only 15 points. Instead, Peyton Manning staged some late game heroics to get the Indianapolis Colts in position for the game winning field goal as the Colts beat the Bills 18-16.

It shouldn't have come down to this. The Bills had the ball in the red zone 3 times in the early going and had to settle for field goals on each occasion. Even if Rob Johnson had been able to get the Bills one touchdown out of the three deep drives, the Bills would have had a 13-0 lead and control of the game. As it was, the Colts were able to come back from a 9-0 deficit and make the game a nail-biter right until the end.

The Bills actually seemed to have the game won when Rob Johnson it Eric Moulds for 40-yards and a last minute touchdown. But like the Tennessee playoff game last year, the Bills should never count their opponent out until the final gun. Such was the case Sunday with Manning in control of the Colts' scoring machine.

"Its disheartening and it's a tough loss, its over with," Wade Phillips said in his post game conference. "Certainly I can't do anything about it now except I think we can learn from the ball game. We were able to move the football, we stopped them and we stopped their running game, those things were key for us, but they didn't turn out to be the difference in the ball game."

The Bills are now 2-2 after winning their first two games of the season. The road ahead is all uphill for the Bills as the Jets are 4-0, the Dolphins are 4-1 while the Colts are 3-1. This game was very winnable and to allow victory to slip away at home will cost the Bills dearly as the season wears on.

"It hurts," reflected Bills guard Ruben Brown. "This is definitely something that I think will haunt us. That is a team that we should have beaten that we know will definitely go on and beat other good teams."

The game pitted the NFL's most lethal offense against the AFC's best defense. The Bills' defense had Manning contained most of the day until the fourth quarter when he got untracked. The son of Archie completed 16 of 27 for 187 yards and two scores. He also had one picked by Antoine Winfield. But Manning was the better of the two quarterbacks on the field Sunday. He was had complete composure in directing the Colts down the field in the last minute to set up the winning field goal of 45 yards by Mike Vanderjagt with 6 ticks left on the clock.

"We were very calm. There was no panic at all," Manning described the mood. "The fact that we had three timeouts was big because it didn't feel like we had to force the ball long."

Rob Johnson had his poorest outing of the season to date, statistics aside. His throwing elbow definitely seemed to be bothering him as he winced with pain often after heaving the ball. Johnson also was sacked and fell on the elbow one time and he came up holding it. The Bills offensive line seemed to allow Johnson more time to throw in the first half, but the protection deteriorated in the second half as the Bills quarterback was sacked a total of 4 times for 31 yards lost. Statistically, Johnson had decent numbers, completing 21 out o f 32 attempts for 246 yards and 1 TD. But his inability to lead the Bills into the endzone after staging three impressive first half drives is disconcerting.

"He certainly took us down and made the big plays at the end, hit Eric Moulds, and we'd like to see that in the first half of the game," Phillips analyzed Johnson's play. "I certainly still worry about getting sacked, certainly, but we did make some plays…but we're not scoring. We moved the ball well against the Jets and didn't score, and we did pretty much the same thing against this team. I'm not second-guessing my quarterback on every play, I didn't mean that, I just think we had opportunities that we didn't make."

Going into the game, the main concern were the special teams play and the running attack. Both improved immensely. The special teams covered the kickoff and punt returns much better than weeks past. The Bills running game was even more impressive as they gained 170 yards on the ground. Jonathan Linton led the way with 58 yards on 13 carries. Johnson took off with the ball 5 times for 41 yards and is still the leading rusher on this team. Shawn Bryson looked impressive on a couple of his runs, gaining 43 yards on 11 carries, while Sammy Morris chewed up 28 yards on 4 attempts.

Sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story. That was the case Sunday. Buffalo had 120 more yards offensively than the Colts, 385 to 265 and controlled the clock 10 minutes longer. The Colts premier running back, Edgerrin James, was held to only 60 yards on 19 carries. Johnson threw for 59 more yards than Manning. But for the second week in a row, the Bills came up on the short side on the scoreboard.

Eric Moulds was the top Bills receiver, hauling down 9 for 112 yards and scored the lone Buffalo touchdown. He also had a couple costly drops and made a spectacular one-handed catch near the endzone, but fell out of bounds.

The Bills drove down the field in the first quarter with an impressive 67-yard drive that kept Manning off the field for 7 minutes and 19 seconds. The biggest play of the drive what when Johnson hit Jeremy McDaniel for a 32-yard reception. Most of that yardage was made by McDaniel churning up the milage. However, Johnson could not get the Bills in the endzone and Buffalo had to settle for a 19-yard Steve Christie field goal.

In the second quarter, the Bills added 3 more to that lead when Johnson once again took them deep into Indy territory. The big plays on that 61-yard drive were the 14-yard Johnson-to-Peerless Price pass, a Johnson scramble on a 3rd-and-5 that extended the downs and a 20-yard pass to Sammy Morris that got the ball down to the Colts' 19. Once again Christie had to bail the Bills offense out by kicking a 30-yard field goal.

The Bills got a huge break when Winfield made an astonishing interception of a Manning pass and returned it 8 yards to the Indy 45. If the Bills could have taken this opportunity and hit pay dirt, the game may have had a different outcome. As it was, Christie once again was true with a 27 yard field goal.

Manning knew that it could have been much worse than 9-0 and showed the Bills why the Colts have the most explosive offense in the league as he led them quickly down the field on a 8-play, 77-yard drive. Capping off the drive was his 14-yard pass to a wide open Marvin Harrison.

The third quarter was scoreless, but Manning turned the game around by engineering a 10-play, 80 yard drive that was consummated with his 10-yard scoring strike to Terrence Wilkins. The Colts decided to go for two points and Edgerrin James was given the ball and he stumbled but was able to crawl on top of several bodies into the endzone for the conversion making it 15-9 Colts. Phillips challenged the call and once again came up on the short end and lost a timeout as a result.

"It's my decision," Phillips said about requesting a review. "If your elbow is down, if you're knee is down, you're down. The word I received was that he was down, that he didn't make it, so I challenged that. Evidently they couldn't find conclusive evidence. We didn't need that timeout at the end; that wasn't a factor. It was worth the challenge, certainly. Those two points would have been a pretty big key in the ball game."

With time running out, Johnson finally got the Bills offense untracked and hit two key passes that finally got Buffalo into the endzone. The first one was a 27-yard strike to McDaniel that got the ball down to the Colts 40. Then came the Johnson-to-Moulds play that shook Ralph Wilson Stadium to its foundations and made the 72,617 on hand go ballistic.

"On that play I just took off and Rob was supposed to throw it out there and let me go and get it and that's what we did," Moulds said. "We need to go out as an offense and make more plays like that. We have some big-play guys and we need to start doing our jobs better and making some big plays."

With 1:08 left on the clock, there was more than enough time for Manning and his Colts to win the game. The suddenly awakened crowd knew that (especially after January's Home run nightmare) and they were bound and determined to give Manning all the disturbance they could. But his silent count neutralized any noise the Bills fanatics made and he drove his team down the field. James gained 20 of the 42 yards needed in the drive, one running, one receiving. A facemask penalty on Keion Carpenter didn't help the Bills cause either. In the end, the Bills biggest strength (their defense) was not strong enough against the Colts mighty offense.

Things will not get any easier for the Bills as they travel down to the steam bath known as Miami and face the Dolphins tough defense.

"We have to fight it all the way out," Ruben Brown said about the Bills uphill road. "Miami's coming up and everybody knows what it's like around here when we play Miami. We have to get it together."

Bills Talk

Rob Johnson was not a happy quarterback after the game.

"It's beyond words how frustrated you are," an exasperated Johnson said. "You make some mistakes during the game, you think you have a win, and that kind of erases everything. Now you've got a loss, you kind of think about all the mistakes you made. We definitely blew some opportunities in the first half. I missed Eric wide open, and that one-handed catch, it looked like the guy was holding him. We should have definitely had fourteen points there. Against a good team, you can't do that."

There's talk about the Bills coaches not allowing Johnson to audible. It has been flatly denied, but Johnson has told some reporters that it is so. On Sunday, the Bills abandoned the play-action pass.

"If you saw what they were doing-they'd drop 7 or 8 guys, drop 7 into coverage and supply me with one. They did that on first down, they did it a bunch."

Johnson's biggest target was sorely missed in this contest, especially when the Bills got down deep into Indy territory.

"His loss is big," Johnson admitted. "He's good on offense and he's one of our best players, so any time he's out, we miss him.

Johnson's counterpart was in a much more festive mood.

"I can't think of one bigger so far," Manning described the big win. "I think of Miami last year, a very similar situation. Of course we were tied. When you are tied you are a little more relaxed on the two-minute drill. When you are down it doesn't get any tighter. But we were very calm in there, there was no panic at all."

The Bills blew the Colts out the last time they were in Buffalo early last January and payback was definitely in their minds.

"I think just the fact of the Colts history here in Buffalo, we haven't won many times here at all," Manning said. "The fact that Buffalo is probably the best defense in the league. We hung in there. It was tough early. Three and out, three and out, interception. Not very good field position. We just hung in there and made enough plays to win the game."

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

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