Strong second half avoids upset in sloppy game.
by Steve Saslow
Oct. 13, 2002
The Bills struggled early in this game but overcame it in the second half as a Drew Bledsoe touchdown pass to Peerless Price and a defensive stand in the final minute allowed the Bills to escape Houston with a 31-24 win.
This was suppose to be the game that the defense got well against a weak Texans offense but early on it seemed to be a coming out party for rookie QB David Carr. On the Texans first play from scrimmage after a good Brian Moorman punt, Carr hit Corey Bradford on an 81 yard pass play as he easily beat Chris Watson and would have scored if Pierson Prioleau didn't bring him down. Watson getting burned would become the norm of the first half as the Texans looked like the Vikings, Broncos, or Bears offensively. The defense did hold the Texans to a field goal after the longest play in their brief history but that was the last big stand of the first half from the Bills defense.
The Bills countered the Titans field goal with one of their own on a long drive that was kept alive by a running into the punter penalty. It stalled at the Texans 15 and Mike Hollis tied the game at 3 with a 33 yard field goal. That was the way it would go for the offense much of the game. The Texans defense would play very well but commit big penalties at inopportune times keeping Bills scoring drives alive.
The Texans took control of the game in the second quarter as they picked on Watson over and over again. Carr hit Bradford for a 19 yard gain on a third and 17 play beating Watson and Coy Wire who was Watson's partner in crime on the day. That play setup a 26 yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney, who beat Watson over the middle and scored untouched to give the Texans the lead.
They would suddenly find themselves with a 14 point lead on their next possession. Carr marched his team right back down the field thanks in part to one of many personal fouls on the Bills this day. The first of two Chidi Ahanotu roughing the passer calls setup a 17 yard scramble for a score by Carr. He had a solid game and showed great mobility and poise in the pocket, there is no doubt he will be a very good, if not great, player in this league.
The Bills offense had yet to do anything but Bledsoe responded as the half was winding down. The team was in a must score situation before halftime and they drove 80 yards in 10 plays with the big play being a 35 yard pass to Price on a 1st and 20 play. Josh Reed made a great catch for an apparent touchdown, while being interfered with but the officials called it incomplete and did not overturn it during a review. Travis Henry would run it from one yard out to pull the Bills within seven at 17-10.
Henry was the only thing working offensively much in the first half as he seemed to churn out big yardage every time he carried the football. He gained 87 yards in the first half alone, on his way to a career high 159 yards on 28 carries. That yardage is the most by a Bill since Kenny Davis rumbled for 181 yards against Atlanta in 1992. Henry did almost everything well except his fumbling problem resurfaced at an inopportune time on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Bills tied the game at 17 on their first possession of the second half on another 80 yard drive, this one in 11 plays. Price had another big catch on this drive converting a third down and six into a first down. Jay Riemersma appeared to have scored on an 8 yard pass from Bledsoe but for the second time in the game a touchdown pass came off the board. Another personal foul hit the Bills as Henry was called for a leg whip. He would atone for that mistake on the next play taking a handoff on a draw play breaking two tackles in the middle of the field on his way outside, then sprinted down the sidelines for a 23 yard score. It reminded me of Thurman Thomas' touchdown in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants.
Henry atoned for that mistake but would almost kill the team when he fumbled the ball away at their own 16 yard line, another personal foul, this one on Price, moved the ball to the 8. The Texans used some trickery on second down and halfback James Allen threw to TE Billy Miller for a wide open touchdown to give the Texans the lead 24-17 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
This time the Bills didn't bench Henry after his fumble since he was running the ball too well. He ran the ball four times on the next Bills possession including a nifty 17 yard run. This drive was also dominated by penalties. Ex-Bill Jay Foreman was fired up for this game and he played very well most of the day but on this drive he was called for back to back personal fouls that greatly aided the game tying drive. Bledsoe was incomplete to Price on a 3rd and 1 at the Buffalo 34 but Foreman bumped Price after the play and was called for taunting. He must have still been thinking about that play when he grabbed Henry's helmet on the next play and was called for a 15 yard face mask penalty. Instead of punting the ball back to the Texans trailing by 7, the Bills were suddenly in Houston territory. After a penalty of their own pushed the ball back, Bledsoe found time to throw and hit Eric Moulds in the middle of the end zone for a 23 yard touchdown. Moulds was quiet most of the day, being held without a catch in the first half. Like recent games however, he came alive in the second half but finished with only four catches, ending his streak of 8 or more catches per game at five.
While the Bills offense was now clicking on all cylinders the defense was putting together their best half of football all year, after an awful first half. They forced the Texans to a three and out, their third in the second half. That is something they haven't been doing much of this year. The Bills took over and it Bledsoe marched the offense right down the field again. Once again Price made the key reception on the drive, catching a 23 yard pass on a 3rd and 11 play. The Bills converted 43% of their third down plays in this game, which was a key to the victory. Two plays after that reception, on another third down play, Price caught an out pattern good for a first down, but he made a nice move and went untouched down the sidelines for the winning score.
Carr was not done yet however, he showed poise in trying to bring the Texans down the field to send the Bills into yet another overtime contest. For a while it looked like he would do that. The Texans got a break when Watson got the elusive interception but the way it has gone all year for the secondary it did not stand. Ahanotu was called for his second roughing the passer call negated the pick. The Bills are still searching for their first interception. Later in the drive the Bills almost had that pick but Antoine Winfield and Prioleau collided on an under thrown pass. Carr kept the game alive by converting a 4th and 7 play by scampering for 13 yards. The Bills defense stiffened and Wire and Winfield knocked away a fourth down pass in the end zone to preserve the win.
This game wasn't pretty as the Bills were called for 13 penalties for a whopping 128 yards. They definitely looked flat in the first half and had to come from behind to beat an expansion team. Nevertheless, it was a game that should have won, had to win, and they did win it. Good teams win games even when they don't play well, the Bills are now back in the AFC East race. Still the defense may have played better in the second half, but their awful play in the first half showed that with this unit, the club isn't playoff caliber.
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