Henry's last minute touchdown overcomes Flutie's return to Buffalo.
by Steve Saslow
Dec. 15, 2002
It was a lackluster, boring performance for three and a half quarters and then this game turned into a classic for the final 8:23 to go in the game. Why at that time? Doug Flutie entered the game for his first appearance of the year and his return to Buffalo. With both starting quarterbacks struggling mightily, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer was looking to catch lightning in a small bottle. Flutie entered the game and Bills fans everywhere held their collective breath. On his first play, Flutie magic reared its head as he completed a 47 yard bomb to Curtis Conway that was tipped a few times in his battle with Pierson Prioleau before he came down with the ball. Moments later another ex-Bill, Steve Christie hit a monster 53 yard field goal with the wind at his back to tie the game at 13.
With Drew Bledsoe having quite possibly the worst game of his career, and with Flutie's magic now in the game the feeling was growing that the Bills were going to come up short to San Diego like they did last year. Travis Henry saw it differently. With the passing game doing nothing, the Bills finally turned to the run on their final drive as they went 64 yards in the final three minutes, 53 on the ground including a 26 yard run down the right sideline to the winning touchdown with :52 remaining. The key play on the drive was a third and two run up the middle by Henry for the first down. Normally, that is a passing down in the Bills offense but not on this day.
After completing that 47 yard bomb on his first play, Flutie would just complete two of his last 10 attempts for only 17 yards on the Chargers last two possessions. It did come down to one more hail mary in Flutie's illustrious career. Fans were able to sigh when that final play was tipped out of the end zone.
Henry was the story for the offense but the defense was the big story overall as they played one of their best games of the year. They committed 8, even 9 players in the box to contain LaDanian Tomlinson and despite getting 110 yards, they contained him fairly well, stopping him on third and short, twice short of first downs. They dared Drew Brees to beat them through the air and when he couldn't do it, they turned to Flutie. He couldn't do it either despite one magic throw, and one Flutie-esque scramble that resulted in an incomplete pass. They used waves of defensive linemen to keep them fresh to keep Tomlinson in check besides a 31 yard run that setup the first score of the game, A Christie 39 yard field goal.
This defense made big play after big play despite not forcing a takeaway for the 10th time this year. Even after Henry fumbled the ball away the defense stiffened and stopped the Chargers on a 4th and 4 pass when Antoine Winfield had good coverage on Conway. In the past, a turnover would automatically turn into points against the Bills defense, in this game they got the ball back for the offense on downs.
The offense meanwhile struggled mightily through the air, and for some reason they stuck with the air attack even though Henry was running well. The best offensive weapon most of the day for both teams was the pass interference penalty. Two of the first three scores for the Bills were setup by pass interference penalties. The Bills took a 7-3 lead on Henry's first touchdown, a four yard run up the middle. That score was setup by two pass interference penalties worth 37 yards on third down plays that kept the drive alive.
The Bills added to their lead on a drive in which the big play was a 21 yard pass interference penalty. Mike Hollis would hit a 42 yard field goal giving the Bills a 10-3 lead. The Chargers would tie the score on their next possession on a nice 83 yard drive in 9 plays, they got help from a 35 yard pass interference penalty on Nate Clements. A 3rd and 6 completion for 11 yards to Stephen Alexander setup Tomlinson's two yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Bills grabbed the lead just before a halftime on a 36 yard field goal by Hollis that wasn't setup by a penalty. It was setup by a big play by the special teams. On the ensuing kickoff the Bills were going to take over at their own 28 but an offsides penalty made the Chargers re-kick. Joe Burns picked up the squib kick and returned it 35 yards to the Chargers 35. Making it, an essence, a 37 yard penalty. A 16 yard pass to Eric Moulds on a third and 13 play was the best pass play of the game and setup the field goal.
A bad pass to Larry Centers forced the Bills into kicking the field goal on that final drive of the half. Bledsoe had him open on third and 6 but missed him. He would miss on most his passes in this game as he finished by completing just 11 of his 33 passes.
It was a must win for the Bills to keep their very remote playoff hopes alive. The Chargers needed it to improve their playoff chances. Bledsoe was awful, and the Chargers turned to Flutie magic. It wasn't enough for the visitors, as the Bills led by a tenacious defense for one of the few times all year and a fabulous effort by their team MVP, Travis Henry, was able to pull out a thrilling victory in a game that was downright boring for most of it. In this league you have to win ugly sometimes, and today the Bills won ugly. Bills fans everywhere will take it though.
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