The Defense wins one for the Bills.
by Steve Saslow
Oct. 20, 2002
The Bills much maligned defense finally put it all together as they forced six turnovers, including the first four interceptions of the season, to lift the Bills over the Dolphins 23-10. The win puts the Bills in sole possession of second place one game behind Miami.
The Bills were supposed to be able to stay with Miami offensively, but the defense has been a problem all year and without Antoine Winfield the defense was suppose to suffer even more. Instead they finally got the turnovers they were seeking against a depleted Miami offense missing their starting quarterback and both starting wide receivers.
The Bills came into the game with only four takeaways but left the game with 10. Their first three interceptions of the season all were made by Nate Clements. The second one being returned 29 yards for the go ahead score late in the first half. With Winfield out, it is shocking that Miami would try to attack the Bills in the air by throwing against Clements and not Chris Watson or Jason Bostic. Neither was very busy as Miami didn't challenge that part of the secondary much.
Ray Lucas was responsible for all six of Miami's turnovers as he fumbled twice to go along with his four picks, as Eddie Robinson recorded the final pick to put the exclamation point on the victory late in the game. When he wasn't turning the ball over he was being harassed by a Bills defense that hit him hard any chance they got despite only getting one sack. They also made punishing hits on the Dolphin receivers and running back Ricky Williams whenever possible. The Dolphins offense was suppose to be a steady diet of Williams' runs and he did gain 97 yards but when the Dolphins fell behind he wasn't much of a factor.
The Bills went three and out on their opening possession and Lucas drove them right down the field 57 yards in 9 plays including two third down conversions to a four yard scoring pass to Randy McMichael giving Miami a 7-0 lead. At that point it looked like the Bills defense was going to be as pitiful as they have been all year. That would be the last touchdown of the game as Miami would see only one field goal the rest of the way.
The Bills went three and out again on their next possession and shockingly tried a fake punt, it wasn't executed well and Miami took over in great field possession looking to break the game open early. The Bills defense would rise to the occasion for the first of many times on this day. Miami tried trickery of their own on the next play but a double reverse was late developing and Ron Edwards hit Lucas before he can deliver the handoff forcing the fumble that Pat Williams recovered. Williams continues to play solid football as he plugged up the middle very well for the third straight game.
The Bills went right down the field after the turnover but a chop block penalty on Marques Sullivan stalled the drive and the Bills had to settle for a 46 yard field goal by Mike Hollis. It was the first of three on the day for him as he was the key offensive performer for the Bills, besides Travis Henry. The real surprise in this game besides the opportunistic defense, was the ability to run the ball. Henry carried the ball only six times in the first half for 40 yards. The Bills gave him the ball more often in the second half and he finished with a six yard per carry average as he rumbled for 132 yards on 22 carries.
Drew Bledsoe was quiet most of this game as he let the running game and the turnovers forced by the defense rule the day. He did have one shining moment however and it came after Clements picked off his first of the game, and the first of the year by a Bills defender. The Bills struck quickly with the new momentum and Bledsoe hit Eric Moulds in stride for a 70 yard touchdown bomb to give the Bills a 10-7 lead. Miami countered with a long drive of their own but a holding penalty on former Bill Marcus Spriggs forced Miami to settle for a tying 42 yard field goal.
The Bills offense went back to struggling and went three and out again. Two plays after a 62 yard punt by Brian Moorman, Lucas would be picked off by Clements again. Lucas stepped up under pressure from Aaron Schobel and threw a pass into Clements hands, he had clear sailing into the end zone for the 29 yard return and it gave the Bills a 17-10 lead at the half.
The second half was absent of the fireworks of most Bills games this year. The defense continued to crackdown and held Miami scoreless. The ball control, conservative offense the Bills used with the lead drove for two field goals. The first field goal of the second half was setup by a 34 yard run by Henry as Hollis hit from 26 yards out to give the Bills a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter.
The final field goal came in the final minutes of the game as they drove down the field running out the clock behind grind it runs by Henry, who did not fumble the ball once in the game. There was also a key third down conversion pass to Larry Centers that kept the clock killing drive going. Hollis hit from 44 yards for the final points.
It was a different type of game for the Bills. It was nice to see that they could win a game without Bledsoe doing it all. It was nice to see the defense play very well and win a game against a very good team on the road. Granted, Miami was very banged up with injuries, but the Bills had their share of injuries as well and pulled the game out. This game may have done what the Bills wanted it to do. They may have gone from pretenders to contenders, and what better way to do it than beating the dreaded fish in Miami.
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