The game was practically meaningless. Both teams were out of the playoffs, and there was nothing to play for except for pride and survival of the elements. In a blinding blizzard, the New England Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills 13-10 when Adam Vinatieri was able to kick a 24-yarder into the full force of the wind to beat the Bills with only 19 seconds left in overtime.
There have been numerous Bills games played in Orchard Park that have been memorable. There was that "hurricane game" back in the early 70s when Joe Ferguson and Joe Namath battled it out in hurricane force winds and the rain, there have been several games with the wind-chill well below zero and tons of snow games. But this game between the Bills and Pats has to go right up there with the most miserable games, weatherwise, in Buffalo Bills history.
With wind gusts over 40 mph, it was a battle between the players and the elements. The snow started to mix with the wind at halftime and by game's end, the yard markers were impossible to see. As the game progressed, the snow became harder and it became the survival of the fittest. The Patriots proved to be the most fit in this game.
Sunday afternoon's game in Ralph Wilson Stadium was not a kicker's delight. Vinatieri could have prevented the game from going into overtime had he made his 27-yard attempt at the very end of the regulation time. The kick went around ten yards after a muffed snap from center.
The weather definitely had an adverse effect on both Vinatieri and Bills kicker Steve Christie. Christie had a 30-yard field goal blocked with 6 minutes remaining in the sudden death overtime. He also had shanked one earlier in the game. The punters also had a bad day, especially Chris Mohr, who shanked a couple under 20 yards.
With the game about to end in a tie, Vinatieri finally was able to convert with the winds howling and the driving snow stinging his face.
"I've played in snow and I've played in wind, but to have snow, wind and everything going at the same time, it was pretty tough," remarked Vinatieri.
In his previous 11 attempts at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Vinatieri had missed 7. Sooner or later, he was going to get this thing right, wind or no wind.
"Whenever you come to Buffalo, you've got to come to expect some crummy weather, especially at the end of the season," said Vinatieri. "I'm just happy that I have to play here once a year."
Then he laughed, adding, "I think they just need to dome it."
Doug Flutie was definitely in his element as he took the field to relieve an injured Rob Johnson again. The wind and the snow seemed to bring the best out in Flutie, who completed 15 out of 25 for 193 yards and 1 touchdown. He went for a couple long scampers, one for 32 yards that set up the Bills lone touchdown. Flutie, after behind hauled down at the 1-yard line on the longest run of the day, hit Sheldon Jackson when he lobbed a pass to the Bills tight end. Two previous times Flutie had gotten the Bills to the 1-yard line, only to fumble it away. One time Flutie fumbled it on his own when he attempted a quarterback sneak. The other, he tried to hand off to Antowain Smith, but the ball hit off Smith's chest and the Pats recovered it.
Rob Johnson had another subpar game before finally leaving for good with a concussion. He had only managed 3 passes, completing 1 for 4 yards before yet another injury befell the oft-injured quarterback. Johnson had plenty of time to prove that he was ready for prime time in the NFL, but has come up short time and again. The Bills will have a difficult task in the offseason in determining which quarterback to keep. Both make around $5 million per year, but the salary cap is killing the Bills and one of them may have to go. Johnson has not helped his case with his inept play the past few games.
The best defense is the wind
With the wind making life difficult for both offenses, it was obvious that this was going to be a low scoring game. The Patriots were the first to get on the scoreboard when Vinatieri kicked a 22-yarder after the Pats had driven 49 yards in 11 plays.
In the second quarter, the Bills tied it up when Christie kicked a 25-yard field goal following a 7-play, 23-yard drive that stated on the New England 30 after a bobbled snap on a punt attempt. The key plays in the drive were 13-yard runs by both Flutie and Sammy Morris.
After the Bills took the lead when Jackson caught Flutie's one yard toss, the Pats came back to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Mohr had another terrible punt and it was returned 7 yards by Troy Brown to the Bills 37. From there, it took only 5 plays to get into the endzone, with Kevin Faulk doing that feat by scampering 13 yards for the Pats only touchdown of the game.
After Vinatieri missed the 27-yard field goal attempt with only a few ticks on the clock, the Bills chose to kick off and take the wind when they won the coin toss to start the overtime.
The snow plows had to come on the field and clear the yard stripes several times during the latter stages of the game. The field was slick, the wind and the snow made it difficult for both the players and the fans who braved the elements.
Drew Bledsoe was finally able to establish a drive in the overtime to prevent the game from ending in a tie. He engineered a 14-play, 83-yard drive in the gusty winter conditions to get the Pats in good position for Vinatieri's winning field goal. Bledsoe hit Jermaine Wiggins for 17 yards to the Bills 45 and then Brown galloped 20 yards to the Bills 35. The Bills had stopped the Pats on 4th down, but an interference call on Chris Watson gave the Pats new life on the Bills 21.
"That pass interference penalty on 4th down was the key play of the game," Bills coach Wade Phillips said
After getting a new set of downs, Bledsoe did his best Flutie impression, running 14 yards on 3rd-and-6 to get all the way down to the Bills 3. The Bills defense finally stiffened after that to force Vinatieri's field goal.
The weather conditions were like a summer breeze for Flutie. He has seen a lot worse.
When asked how he'd rate the conditions to others he's played in, Flutie responded, "Probably about 4 or 5. The worst was in Calgary (while he was in the CFL), it was -24° F, -44° F by the end of the game, -85° wind chill with 6 inches of snow and 35 mph winds. The stats for that game: I had 22 completions for 260 yards, the other quarterback had 4 completions. Three were for touchdowns. He put studs in his shoes and ran 3 hitch and goes for touchdowns."
When Flutie got more serious, he said, "The key is not to turn the ball over and make mistakes. Everything was great until I fumbled on the one yard line. In those conditions, handling the snap was difficult."
Bledsoe also seemed to manage the weather conditions well.
"I've kind of always enjoyed the (weather) change-up," said Bledsoe. "It changes the way you do things, and a lot of times it comes down to the team that can manage the game best ultimately wins it."
"We scrapped about half of our game-plan throwing wise, and changed some things in our running game, because we didn't want to toss the ball in this wind," Bledsoe said.
"You can't take anything for granted," said Flutie. "I felt like we controlled the entire game."
Pats coach Bill Belichick was proud of his team's effort.
"I know we aren't going to the playoffs this year," Belichick said. "But when you walk in the locker room, you can see this game meant a lot to these players."
Copyright © 2000 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.
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