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Bills gift-wrap game and give it to Dolphins
An article by Bills Thunder webmaster.
by Rick Anderson
October 8, 2000

The Miami Dolphins received a huge present Sunday in the form of a victory from the Buffalo Bills in Miami's Pro Player Stadium. The Bills lost 22-13 in a one-sided mistake-filled contest and any hopes of making the playoffs are now in serious jeopardy as is Wade Phillips' job. For a lot of Bills fans, the season as good as over and they may start concentrating more on the undefeated Sabres.

The most serious error the Bills made came late in the fourth quarter when the game was still on contest. With the score 15-13 Dolphins, Rob Johnson, who was under pressure as he was all day, rolled to his left and found running back Sammy Morris with a short screen. Morris, trying to make extra yardage, had the ball pop out from his grasp and right into the hands of Sam Madison, who went all the way for the clinching touchdown.

"We gave this game away," muttered Bills head coach Wade Phillips. "We were in a position to win against a team that hasn't given up many points."

The Bills, who opened the season with two straight wins against non-division opponents, have now lost three straight in their division and are sinking like the Titanic.

"They were three complete team losses," said Bills linebacker John Holecek. "No question, we're in a big hole."

Thurman Thomas, who had been trash talking the Bills all week, had the ultimate payback for being unmercifully released by the Bills after last season. Thomas had targeted Phil Hansen, John Holecek and Henry Jones as players on the Bills he a grudge against.

"Every time I get the ball, I'm going to try to stick it (to them) and let them know I didn't forget what happened in the offseason and the past couple of years," Thomas said earlier in the week.

During the game, the Bills' career rushing leader let his legs do the talking. The Thurmanator got to carry the ball 7 times against his former club, picking up 24 yards. He was even more productive as a receiver, gaining 26 yards on 3 catches. After a 15-yard pass reception, Thomas talked with gestures. He leaped in front of Holecek and signaled a first down, in an obvious taunting display.

"I guess all his talk worked for him," admitted Holecek. "I don't know why he felt like he had to create an enemy, but I guess I'm going to have to play the role."

"I'm 1-0 against the Bills. I'm happy," said an elated Thomas. "Once I strapped it on today, everything I did for 12 years in Buffalo went out the window."

Dolphins' head coach Dave Wannstedt. presented Thomas the game ball for his efforts of inspiring the Dolphins to play at their best against his former team.

"This was a difficult week for Thurman and for us was finding ways to get him involved in the game plan, knowing that they were going to be looking for him, and that was not easy," Wannstedt said about Thomas. "It was a heck of a win, and we gave Thurman a game ball along with Sam Madison and Trace, and this was a special win for him."

"It's one I'll treasure," said Thomas about receiving the ball. "Coach Wannstedt wanted to make the point that I'm part of this team now."

"Thurman had a look in his eye all week," said Miami cornerback Sammy Madison. "He was jacked up, and it's easy to feed off a guy like that. It gets us and the crowd fired up."

With all the trash talking and taunting by Thomas, one has to wonder why the Bills played so flat in this all-important game? After having lost two straight games to divisional opponents, this game against the Dolphins was crucial for the Bills to stay in the thick of the playoff race. With only a week gone in October, the Bills have dug themselves a hole so deep that even if they win their 8 out of their remaining 11 games, they may still not make the playoffs at 10-6.

Wade Phillips, who has a lot of talent on his team, has not been able to get the players on the same page for the past three games. His inability to communicate with his players and coaches and to get them prepared for as big a game as this one against the Dolphins is a bad omen for both him and his team. After winning their first two games, the Bills play has deteriorated rapidly. In order to keep his job as Bills head coach next season, he must get his team back on course in a hurry. The Bills started in the hole right from the get-go. Steve Christie shanked the opening kickoff out of bounds, so the Dolphins had a great drive start at their own 40. The Fish were able to drive 48 yards in 11 plays, but the Bills defense finally stiffened and Olindo Mare kicked a 30-yard field goal to open the scoring.

The Bills got a huge break in the second quarter when Dolphins' punter Matt Turk shanked a punt only 25 yards to the Miami 29. The Bills staged a typical drive of 2 yards on 4 plays, but it was enough to get Steve Christie within range and he kicked a 45-yard field goal to tie the game.

That was all the Bills offense was able to muster in the first half as they only netted 3 first downs and totaled 39 yards. Rob Johnson had a horrendous day, overthrowing many of his passes, often with the receiver wide open. Other times, when Johnson's passes were on target, his receivers would muff the pass. Johnson had his worst statistical game of the year, passing for only 178 yards and completing 11 of 26 passes. He was also sacked 5 times.

In the second quarter, the Dolphins got the help of a 25-yard pass interference penalty on Bills' cornerback Ken Irvin which put the ball on the bills 35. Thurman Thomas got a screen pass and turned it into a 15-yard gain. That's when he jumped up and did his flaunting, taunting first down signal in front of Holecek. However, the Bills defense once again bent but did not break and Mare came on to kick a 33-yard field goal to up the Dolphins lead to 6-3.

The Dolphins took complete control of the game when they scored the game's first touchdown. On 3rd and 5, Dolphins' quarterback Jay Fiedler completed a 35-yard pass to Bert Emanuel down to the Bills 17. From there, Fiedler was able to lob a 20-yard pass to Leslie Shepherd, who leaped over Antoine Winfield to haul in the pass. Turk was able to pin the Bills deep in their own zone with a punt that was downed at their own 1-yard line. The Dolphins were able to stuff Jonathan Linton in the endzone for a safety to make give the Dolphins a 15-3 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Johnson finally was able to get the Bills offense moving. He drove Buffalo 55 yards on 7 plays that included a 32-yard pass to Shawn Bryson and a 23-yarder to Bobby Collins at the Miami 5. But once again the Bills had their Red Zone Blues and had to rely on Christie to kick a 23-yard field goal.

Things really started to look better for the Bills when they drove down 82 yards on only 3 plays. Johnson connected with Peerless Price for a 41-yard reception to the Miami 27. Then they got one of the biggest breaks of the game when Pat Surtain was flagged for interference. With the ball at the Dolphins' 3, Sammy Morris ran around left end to score the first rushing touchdown against the Miami defense this season. With the score 15-13, the Bills felt that they had momentum going their way. What they didn't figure was that Lady Luck once again was going to put a quick halt on that impetus.

Johnson tried to roll out to his left to avoid being sacked for the 6th time and saw Morris a few yards in front of him. He threw a short screen to the rookie running back from Texas Tech and Morris twisted and turned in an attempt to pick up more yards. Suddenly Pat Surtain's helmet hit Morris right where the ball was, sending it flying right into the hands of Sam Madison. Madison had clear sailing all the way into the endzone and the game was all but over.

Johnson didn't know what happened, as he was taken out of bounds and did not see the fumble.

"We threw a screen pass, Zach [Thomas] read it perfectly," Johnson said. "I scrambled out, we can't ground the ball anymore, so we tried to make a play, Sammy [Morris] threw the guy down, and that's the last I saw. I was out of bounds and I saw Madison running by me. I thought the play was over."

The man who created the blooper turnover, also lost sight of the play.

"I didn't know he fumbled," admitted Surtain. "I just saw Sam doing his dance in the end zone and figured something good had happened."

On Buffalo's next possession, Johnson was sacked and reinjured his elbow on his throwing arm. Doug Flutie came in and completed 3 out of 6 passes for 44 yards. He was also sacked once and threw one pick.

The Bills, who have lost 3 straight games, now have to win most of their remaining games to have any chance of grabbing the last playoff spot. They host the San Diego Chargers next week in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Bills Talk

After losing last week to the Indianapolis Colts, the Bills backs were against the wall. Now after losing this must-win game, the Bills are cemented into the wall.

"I thought we started out poorly the first half up through the safety, I thought we didn't play well on offense, didn't play well on defense." Wade Phillips said in his post game conference. He sounded confused, one time saying how bad the team played, then the next second, reciting how well his team performed. "I thought we wore them down, kept fighting and we wore them down at the end, and I thought we had a chance to win. It didn't come true, we certainly had a big mistake. Anytime you have a turnover for a touchdown, with five minutes left and 2 points behind, it's certainly a key play. We had some other opportunities earlier, we didn't take advantage, it was a hard-fought win, had a chance to win, and didn't."

Philips mind must be going through a roller coast ride the way his team is playing.

"We've lost all close games, we have to go on a run and get a win, and I think we'll be on right," said Johnson. "We have to correct ourselves, we have some problems we have to work out. Our season's not over, I think we can go on a run, and lost a tough one down here, that's three in a row, we have to keep plugging away."

Wade Phillips also feels that the Bills will rebound.

"We had two tough games on the road, certainly, we gave the Jet game away, and we gave this one away at the end," Phillips said. "We've had three tough games in a row against good football teams, and we're going to bounce back."

Johnson had to run for his life again against the Dolphins, something that's starting to catch up with him.

"[Johnson] made some plays from the pocket. You can roll him out, but that takes him from other things," Phillips said. "When you're spread out like we are, it's kind of hard to roll out. It's hard to contain."

Johnson is starting to scramble as well as Flutie, as he ran for 44 yards on 4 carries to lead the team again in rushing.

"I think I'm pretty good back there," Johnson said. "I don't think I run around scared. Sometime when you feel a lot of pressure, you don't feel like you have time, so if your second guys not open, you feel like you have to make a play."

Johnson does realize the offense took a day off at the worst possible time.

"We are [struggling]," Johnson admitted." Last game we put up decent yardage, this game we didn't do anything. I think, obviously, we didn't have those things, and we've got to get better."

"It's a concern when they're not blitzing and they're getting pressure, and that's the major concern," Johnson said. "You don't have time to throw it away because guys are getting pushed around the line of scrimmage…It's tough, we have to look ourselves and figure out what we can do better. It's not just one person."

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

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