Defense wilts in heat as the Offense never gets going.
by Steve Saslow
Sept. 10, 2001
The first half looked like everything that Coach Williams expected from the club came to fruition as the defense swarmed to the ball allowing just three yards rushing and one hail mary first down on the final play of the half. In the second half they wilted in the extreme heat that read 102°: on the field and they collapsed behind a barrage of Ricky Williams running plays and passes from Aaron Brooks as the Saints marched out of Buffalo with a 24-6 victory.
The Bills came out fired up to play and it appeared in the first half the intagibles that we highlighted in our preview were going to lead them to a victory. They dominated the first half despite losing their best defensive player, Sam Cowart with an achilles tear that will keep him out for most or all of the season. The defense stepped up for their fallen leader as they complete shutdown the Saints offense allowing only 27 yards in the first 29 minutes. They then allowed a hail mary pass for 38 yards on the last play of the half giving the Saints their only first down of the opening half. Ricky Williams was held to five yards as the Saints punted four times and were stopped on a fourth and one play when Cowart's backup Kenyatta Wright stuffed Williams for no gain.
While the defense was dominating the offensive struggles from the preseason continued into the opener as they couldn't find the end zone. After going three and out on the opening series the Bills moved the ball downfield on their second series before Rob Johnson threw the first of his career high three interceptions, all to Sammy Knight. His first pick stopped a drive that was highlighted by a 21 yard pass to Jeremy McDaniel. After stopping the Saints on down the Bills drove down for their first points as 32 yard pass to Peerless Price setup Jake Arians first points as a pro when he connected on a 37 yard field goal to give the team a 3-0 lead.
The Offense continued to move the ball on their next series. They followed up the nine play 51 yard drive with a 12 play 72 yard drive that helped lead the Bills to a time of possession edge of nearly 22 minutes to 8 minutes in the first half. The offense bogged down in the red zone once again however. Travis Henry burst through a hole setting up a first and goal at the one giving the Bills a chance to go up by 10. A three yard loss on his next carry and two incompletions forced the Bills to settle for another Arians field goal and give the Bills a 6-0 halftime lead. Henry was impressive in his debut gaining 55 yards rushing in the first half, unfortunately he was shutdown in the second half with the rest of the team.
How thoroughly dominating the Bills were in the first half, the Saints were just as dominating in the second half. The difference was they scored touchdowns and the Bills defense wore down and wilted in the scorching heat at Ralph Wilson Stadium that saw a field thermometer record a temperature of 102°. Jim Haslett made some nice adjustments and they paid dividends right away as the Saints marched the length of the field on the opening drive of the second half and grabbed the lead when Albert Connell made a leaping, juggling grab over Ken Irvin for a 46 yard touchdown play. Irvin would have been called for interference if Connell didn't make the great grab. The Saints extended their lead to 10-6 on their next possession after Sammy Knight returned his second pick 19 yards to setup a John Carney field goal. On the Bills next possession, Johnson continued to play catch with Knight as he picked off his third pass of the game on a deflection off of the hands of Jay Riemersma. A 12 yard touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland gave the Saints the 17-6 lead.
Johnson was done throwing picks at that point but the damage was done as the Saints turned two second half picks into 10 points and the Bills defense at that point seemed to either give up or just plain get worn out in the heat. Either way that is not a good testimony for Coach Williams who said his team would be prepared to play and give a full effort as well as being the best conditioned team in the league. Ricky Williams started churning out big yardage as the Saints continued to move the ball as they held it for almost 20 minutes in the second half. The Saints finished the scoring when Ricky Williams took a screen pass 19 yards for a score with nobody near him to make the final score 24-6.
This was definitely a tale of two halves, the Bills dominated the first half, the Saints dominated the second half. The difference: the Saints were able to finish the job and forced turnovers while the Bills couldn't do anything more than two field goals with their half of dominance. The fact that it looks like the team either quit in the fourth quarter or were exhausted from the heat can make you think a long season is ahead of us. Williams will need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to play defense without Cowart which is a much bigger blow than losing this game. It can cost the Bills a semi successful season.
As we have done in the past, we will give you our gameballs and goats from each game, obviously this week we will have more goats than gameballs.
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