Defense wins the game as Offense plays lackluster.
by Steve Saslow
Sept. 4, 2000
The Bills were looking for revenge for the "Music City Miracle" last January. They got it, but not before it looked like deja vu was happening in the final minute of the game. When Steve Christie hit a 33 yarder with 31 ticks left on the clock to give the Bills the lead there was an eerie feeling in Ralph Wilson Stadium that we have been here before. That feeling got worse when a gaping hole opened up for Derrick Mason's return. When he was finally brought down at midfield their was no time to relax as after one completion punter Craig Hentrich came on the field looking for another miracle, a 60 yard field goal. He wasn't close and the Bills have some measure of sweet revenge and a 16-13 victory over the defending AFC Champions on a wild opening night game.
I thought the Bills would need a quick start to win the game, which would keep the very fired up crowd in the game. The Titans defense had other ideas forcing three straight three and outs to start the game. It looked like a replay of the first half of the wild card game, as Rob Johnson took hit after hit and bounced up every time showing some durability that was perceived to be lacking. He would leave the game in the fourth quarter however, due to a nerve injury after one final hit by Jevon Kearse.
The Bills defense was also up to the task forcing three straight three and outs of their own and stifling Eddie George all game and holding him to a paltry 37 yards rushing. The other thing the defense did well was contain Steve McNair, they kept him in the pocket most of the time and sacked him four times while allowing him to scramble out of the pocket only twice. Stopping the two big threats allowed the defense to hold Tennessee to only 172 yards of offense.
The game remained scoreless until the Bills started a 71 yard drive late in the first quarter for their only touchdown. Johnson hit Peerless Price and Jeremy McDaniel with big catches to keep the drive alive before a beautiful 15 yard touchdown reception by Price gave the Bills a 7-0 lead. Johnson moved out of the pocket and motioned Price to break from his route, Price went to the end zone where he made a nice catch over the top of the defender who was blanketing him. Johnson made the nice throw on the run, as he was able to move out of the pocket very well all night. He led the team with a Doug Flutie-like 60 yards rushing on 6 carries.
Tennessee started a drive at the Buffalo 43 after they had the Bills offense pinned in on their next possession. The field position led to an Al Del Greco field goal and a 7-3 game. The Bills drove down to the Titans 15 yard line when the two minute warning hit. A Buffalo score would give them tremendous momentum at halftime. With the crowd in a frenzy it appeared the two minute warning took the wind out of the fans and the offense's sails. A penalty and a sack, that Johnson could've avoided if he through the Ball away, made the Bills try a 51 yard field goal that was wide left. This gave the Titans great field position again. McNair had his only good scramble of the game when he narrowly escaped the blitz by Sam Cowart to setup a 27 yard field goal to close the gap to 7-6 at halftime.
The Bills would score two more field goals on back to back short drives late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter to open up a 13-6 lead. The first field goal was setup by good field position and two Johnson scrambles, as he showed good pocket presence for most of the game. The next field goal drive was also setup by a Johnson scramble. The Titans quickly tied it with just under nine minutes left in the game after getting a pass interference call on Ken Irvin that put the Ball in position for Eddie George's touchdown.
When Johnson went down with the nerve injury early in the fourth quarter it became apparent that the insurance policy the Bills took out when they signed Alex Van Pelt would have to pay dividends immediately. With many in the crowd chanting for Flutie, Phillips was sticking with the healthy Van Pelt instead of risking further injury to Flutie's groin. Van Pelt struggled at first but showed great poise on the final drive to the winning field goal. The best player on the team did the rest; Eric Moulds caught a short dump pass from Van Pelt and ran the rest of the way for a 36 yard game to the 20 yard line. A few plays later Christie hit the game winning kick. Then it was an uneasy 31 seconds before the fans could celebrate a hard earned victory.
The win over the Titans gives the Bills confidence that they can beat anybody. They need to be weary of suffering a letdown next week when Green Bay comes to town. It would be a shame to have a lackluster performance after a big victory.
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