Defense can't overcome six turnovers by Offense.
by Steve Saslow
Dec. 22, 2002
The Bills knew heading into the showdown in titletown that they would have to play a perfect game to beat Green Bay. The truth was, that they almost played a perfect game on one side of the ball, and played the worst game of the year on the other side. Surprisingly enough, it was the defense that came to play for the second week in a row and the offense continued its second half swoon as the Packers shut the Bills out 10-0. The loss officially ends the Bills flirtation with a playoff berth and leaves fans and coaches shaking their heads about what has happened to the offense.
The Bills turned the ball over a season high six times as Drew Bledsoe followed up a terrible performance last week, with an even more dismal one this week. He threw two interceptions and put the ball on the carpet four times, losing it twice. Amazingly enough with the offense struggling so bad and giving the high powered Packers offense so many opportunities they only trailed 3-0 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Packers did not turn any of the first four turnovers into points and the Bills defense played inspired as they shutdown the Packers attack with big stop after big stop following Bills offensive miscues. Weather was a factor as neither quarterback could throw the ball with the wind and that was evident early. Brett Favre was picked off on his first pass attempt by rookie Kevin Thomas who saw extensive playing time as the Bills nickel back and showed that he may be the nickel back next year as Chris Watson was inactive for the game. Thomas returned the pick 31 yards to the Packers 9 giving the Bills the start they could only dream of having.
The offense showed that this would be a day of mistakes and missed opportunities as they turned the ball back over to the Packers even after getting a gift first down on a phantom facemask penalty. Bledsoe was picked off in the end zone when his pass for Peerless Price was thrown behind him, deflected, and picked off for the first of two interceptions on the day.
The way the game started set the tone for the whole afternoon. It was a back and forth defensive struggle all day. The Packers couldn't cash in on Buffalo miscues as they turned the ball over on their second possession as well on another Travis Henry fumble. The Packers did go up 3-0 on a Ryan Longwell 33 yard field goal midway through the second quarter on one of the few drives not setup by a Buffalo turnover.
The score would stay that way into the fourth quarter. The Bills had opportunities but Bledsoe threw an interception late in the first half and a 15 play, 54 yard drive to start the second half ended in no points when Mike Hollis missed a field goal from the same spot on the field that Longwell hit his kick. Bledsoe was sacked a play earlier forcing the longer 33 yard attempt into the wind instead of a chip shot.
The two teams exchanged turnovers early in the fourth quarter as Nate Clements muffed a punt but made up for it by picking off Favre on the next play. The Bills couldn't capitalize but an 84 yard punt by Brian Moorman should have breathed new life into the Bills as they were winning the field position battle down by a field goal. The defense forced a three and out setting the Bills up at midfield but Bledsoe would fumble the ball away for the Bills fifth turnover.
The defense was game, but tiring at this point but it looked like they came up with one more big play when it appeared they forced a fumble that would have been returned for a score by Clements but the whistle blew quickly calling the pass incomplete. That non-call broke the spirit of the defense as Favre found Donald Driver on the next play for the lone touchdown of the game.
It was fitting that the last Bills possession would end with another Bledsoe fumble as the Bills tried to avoid the shutout. Vonnie Holliday forced both lost fumbles by Bledsoe with two of his club record five sacks on the afternoon. Bledsoe was sacked six times in all as the Bills finished with just 185 yards in total offense and many of them were in garbage time. They couldn't run, and Bledsoe couldn't throw with any accuracy, he held the ball too long when he could have thrown it away. The one time he threw a deep ball on the money, Price dropped it.
It has definitely been a tale of two halves when you look back at the 2002 season that is now effectively over. The Bills have one more game against the Bengals, and they need a win to save face and finish with a respectable 8-8 record. The defense is finally showing some promise and reason for optimism going into the offseason, the Offense however has lost confidence and Bledsoe is showing some of the same inconsistencies he showed in New England. It may be a long offseason of soul searching for that side of the ball as it appears they may have been a bit overrated while the defense may have been a bit underrated.
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