Bills Thunder

Special team meltdowns ruin opening day for Bills

By Rick Anderson

Eric Moulds clutches the ball with the tying touchdown against the Jets late in the game. The Jets won in overtime on a 96-yard kickoff return.
[AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli]

It was Heartbreak City all over again. Shades of that "Homerun throwback" wildcard game with the Tennessee Titans a few years ago. The Bills came storming back but their special teams let them down as two "homerun" kickoff returns did them in as the New York Jets won a wild shootout 37-31 over the Bills to open the 2002 regular season.

The packed house at Ralph Wilson Stadium sure got their money's worth this time. If only the Super Bowl could be this exciting!

The Bills put together almost a complete package. However, it was the special teams that was their Achilles Heel, not once but twice.

Chad Morton returned kickoffs of 98 and 96 yards to rip the hearts right out of the Bills fans and ruin the opening day for the Bills.

Bledsoe stands tall under pressure

Drew Bledsoe, making his first regular season start as a Buffalo Bill had a roller coaster game just like his team. Bledsoe completed 26 out of 39 for 271 yards and one TD. He also threw 2 picks and was sacked 4 times and knocked down on his duff numerous occasions. He was passing from the danger zone most of the game.

Bledsoe has the heart of a lion. He proved that he can pick himself up after a bad play and get right back into the game. Not only does Bledsoe share the same birthday as Jim Kelly, but his "never say die" attitude is very reminiscent of Kelly's.

Bledsoe in the face of a ferocious pass rush and time running out, had one last chance to get the Bills back in the game. On 4th and 9, on the Jets 29, Bledsoe stood confidently in the pocket and threw long to Eric Moulds at the one-yard line. Moulds cradled it in the endzone and the Bills tied it up with the extra point.

"Early in the game they made an interception on that play, so we talked about if we got another opportunity we would come out pump fake it at them and get the safety to come up and go over the top of him and it worked out for us," described Bledsoe.

"It was a wild game with a lot of big plays up and down the field," said Bills coach Gregg Williams. "It was great to see Drew make some big plays and he kept us in the ball game."

Henry adds punch to running game

The Bills dominated the first half in time of possession. With Travis Henry churning up 74 yards and scoring twice, the Bills balanced their attack and kept their defense off the field. Henry exhibited the power running he displayed in his rookie year, churning up 146 yards on 31 carries. He scored three touchdowns. With Henry keeping the Jets defense honest, it took a lot of pressure off Bledsoe. Henry, taking a page out of Thurman Thomas' book, also became a valuable receiver of Bledsoe, catching 6 out of the backfield for 28 yards.

Mistakes due in Bills

Even though the two kickoff coverage meltdowns were the most glaring of mistakes, there were quite a few others to spread around. Bills rookie kicker Mike Hollis kicked a 52 yard field on the Bills opening drive. However, he sliced a 50-yarder off the right goal post, no good. The punting game had problems also. Brian Moorman was getting low snaps and had one of his kicks blocked, allowing the Jets to recover deep in Bills territory. Moorman was also able to draw 2 roughing the kicker penalties that kept Bills drives alive.

Other penalties were the two picks that Bledsoe threw and a crucial fumble by Henry deep in Jets country.

With the Bills driving down in Jet territory in the fourth quarter, on second down, Bledsoe was tripped up by the center when he went back to pass, losing 6 yards to the Jets 32. Next play he threw an incompletion and was followed by the 50 yard field goal attempt clanking off the right upright.

Testaverde prevails

Veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde was superb most of the game for the Jets. He was 24 out of 30 for 211 yards and two touchdowns. In the first half he had one incompletion and seemed invincible.

On one of the key plays in the second half, Testaverde threw a bomb to Morton, who looked like he made a miraculous reception. One ref ruled an incompletion, another said it was good. Gregg Williams had to challenge that play and he did. After a lengthy review by the refs, they ruled that the ball had touched the ground and bounced back into his hands.

The Bills Pierson Prioleau picked off a Testaverde pass, but the Bills were called for interference, putting the ball on the Bills 18 and giving the Jets new life. Next play, Testaverde hit Wayne Chrebet all alone in the back of the endzone for a TD.

Bills can't put a hand on Morton

Peerless Price shoves Jets' Donnie Abraham after making a catch in the first quarter.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

In the end, it wasn't the two magnificent games played by the quarterbacks, but the kickoff returns by Morton. After the Bills took what looked like a commanding 10-0 lead, Morton took the kickoff at the 2 yard line, broke through traffic and scampered 98 yards for the TD. Who would think that lightning could strike twice in the same game, but it did and at the most crucial time, in overtime. The Jets won the toss and the offense didn't even have to come on the field as Morton took this one 96 yards for the winning score.

It was an extremely exciting a game and a shame for the sellout crowd that the Bills effort went for naught as the Bills special teams failed to even come close to putting a hand on Morton. The bright side is that the Bills defense stuffed the run and the offense suddenly became balanced. Next week against the Vikings, the Bills hope that all facets of their game comes together to produce the first victory of the season.

Bills Talk

The Bills, along with the fans, were in a state of shell shock after the game.

"It seemed very surreal. I am coming off the field and I have my mind set as far as what we are going to run, what we are going to call and how we are going to win the game," Bledsoe said. "It took me awhile to settle down."

"As a team we need to avoid the mistakes and we did an outstanding job, I think all game, moving the ball against them," Bledsoe continued. "When we got stopped, it was because we made mistakes and we need to correct those."

Bledsoe was asked if the Bills could win a lot of games if he had the running attack like they had against the Jets.

"I sure hope so," Bledsoe replied. "Our offensive line came out, they heard all preseason how we could not run the ball, so this week they really took it on themselves to show that we can. Physically, they are a very good group. When they know where they are going, get themselves pointed the right direction, they can be very good. I expect them to continue to be a dominant the rest of the season."

Williams was proud of the defensive play.

"Defensively they really played with their backs to the wall and overcame a bunch of things during the ball game," said Williams. "We gave up too many big plays and the big play that beat us at the end of the ball game."

While Henry had his best game as a Buffalo Bill, he was none too happy after the game.

"I am disappointed because nothing feels good if you do not get the win," reflected Henry. "It was a great team effort today, we just came up short."

There were concerns about the lack of a running game during the preseason, but Henry was confident he could gain the strides he reached last season.

"We came in with the attitude that we were going to be physical up front," said Henry. "The offensive line did a great job, all I did was run and choose the holes. They (Jets) did great job up front all day, we took their effort as a challenge."

Copyright 2002 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.

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