Chandler shreds Bills defense in 33-30 loss.
by Steve Saslow
December 24, 2001
The Bills continued to show this week that they refuse to pack it in for the season. Trailing by 10 points with under five minutes to go they rallied for two scores to tie the game. Unfortunately like the way the rest of the season has gone, they found another way to lose. Chris Chandler, who looked like the second coming of Joe Montana, led the Falcons on a perfect 30 yard drive in the final :48 to Jay Feely's 52 yard field goal at the final gun to give Atlanta a 33-30 win over the Bills.
Chandler was slowed by a flu bug that caused him to take an IV shot at halftime. All that did was help him throw for 214 of his career high 431 yards in the second half. He countered two first half interceptions with two second half touchdown passes to help Atlanta win a roller coaster affair.
When the two teams traded touchdowns on the opening drives it was a symbol of things to come. Atlanta used their own fumble to keep their opening scoring drive alive as Chandler picked apart the Bills secondary for the first of many times on this day enroute to the opening one yard score by Maurice Smith. Shawn Bryson countered for the Bills with a 15 yard scoring run as the Bills scored on a three play drive that was setup by a 32 yard kickoff return and a 19 yard run by Bryson.
The backup running back was fired up for his first start of the year in front of 200 family and friends. That first drive was just the beginning for Bryson as he scored his first two rushing touchdowns of his career and had his first career 100 yard game. He finished with 130 yards including a career long 68 yard run for a touchdown that gave the Bills a short lived 20-16 lead. Inexplicitly he only carried the ball 16 times despite the fact the Bills were in the game throughout. Equally as stunning was the fact that the Bills went for two points after Bryson's record run instead of kicking the extra point. The conversion failed and that point would come back to hurt them in the end when they tied the score instead of leading by a point.
Bryson was the lone bright spot on the offense for the Bills until the final five minutes when Alex Van Pelt and Eric Moulds began to heat up. The Falcons took a 30-20 lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to two quick long scoring pass plays by Chandler, a 63 yard bomb to Tony Martin and a 49 yarder to tight end Alge Crumpler. The Bills launched their comeback as Van Pelt led the team on a 73 yard drive in 14 plays that took up over 8 minutes and resulted in just three points as the offense once again sputtered in the red zone. Shayne Graham's 28 yard field goal pulled the Bills to within a touchdown with 3:55 remaining. The Falcons managed a first down on their ensuing drive but the Bills forced a punt and Van Pelt heated up.
He drove the Bills on an 82 yard drive in 11 plays in just 1:41. Big money players make the plays as the game is on the line and Moulds did that. Three of his four catches came on this final drive including a nice 3 yard touchdown grab. He also caught passes of 13 and 21 yards on the drive. The big play was a 31 yard pass to Reggie Germany that put the Bills on the three yard line.
Van Pelt spiked the ball instead of taking his time and running a play, if he took more time the Falcons wouldn't have had enough time to win the game in regulation. As it was the drive was too efficient leaving the Falcons :48 on the clock as the game was tied at 30. Reminiscent of the San Diego game, the kick coverage team suffered a letdown at the worst possible time, a squib kick was lateralled back to Darrick Vaughn who returned it 23 yards to the Falcons 43 giving them a short field to get into field goal range. Two seven yard completions including one on 3rd and 3 setup a 16 yard pass to Brian Finneran before Feely kicked the winning points through. Chandler was the hero for Atlanta but Feely wasn't far behind hitting all four of his field goal attempts in the victory.
The Bills other touchdown came when Raion Hill blitzed Chandler forcing an errant pass that was picked off by Brandon Spoon and returned seven yards for a score. It was Spoon's second touchdown in three weeks and it gave the Bills a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. The Falcons would add a field goal just before halftime and another one in the third to take a 16-14 lead before Bryson's long run gave the Bills the lead back.
The Bills lost another heartbreaker but on this Christmas Eve take comfort in the fact that the club never gave up, this character can only help build the foundation to an improving team next year. Here are our gameballs and goats:
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