Bills Thunder

Bledsoe has career day in overtime win

By Rick Anderson

Drew Bledsoe broke Joe Ferguson's Bills record by throwing for 463 yards in Bills 45-39 overtime victory over Minnesota.
[AP Photo/Paul Battaglia]

Two straight overtime games. Two wild shootouts. The Buffalo Bills came out on the winning side at last on Sunday as Peerless Price took a Drew Bledsoe pass 48 yards for the winning score in sudden death overtime to beat the Minnesota Vikings 45-39. Speak about excitement, this game had a season's worth of exhilaration. There were more fireworks in Minneapolis than the Fourth of July.

Bledsoe shines

The Bills finally have a quarterback who can get the job done. For the first time since Jim Kelly retired, they have a real leader who never gives up, no matter the odds. Bledsoe broke the Bills single game franchise mark by passing for 463 yards and he led the Bills down the field with only 26 seconds left in regulation to get them in position for Mike Hollis' 54 yard field goal to send the game into overtime. Hollis' kick hit the crossbar and bounced over for the tying points.

The one thing about this game was the Bills did what it took to win, especially Bledsoe. Drew came to Buffalo with hype and celebration, but Sunday's game was a milestone in his career. Maybe Bledsoe is even more than advertised.

"He comes back to the huddle with a staple in his neck," described Bills fullback Larry Centers. "A staple! A piece of metal holding a cut together. His lip is bleeding. I think he got hit and it bent his helmet somehow. But he comes back to the huddle, and he's standing in front of 10 guys, bleeding, with a staple in his neck, and he's calling the plays, saying, "Let's go,' and trying to get everybody else going."

Bledsoe's 463 yards was only the statistics of his stellar game. The true measure of what Bledsoe accomplished could not be measured and recorded as a statistic. It came from the heart. Bledsoe's heroics would make Kelly proud. Playing with pain and blood, Bledsoe would let nothing deter him from his mission. It seemed like nothing would this day.

"I had no idea the type of player he was, the type of person he was," reflected Centers. "No idea. After the game, I told Drew, "I'm going to tell you something and I don't want you ever to forget it. In my opinion, you're a true warrior.' I meant every word. But you know something? I shorted him somehow. I don't even know the words. I'm not educated enough to find the words that can express how I felt about him today."

Bledsoe once again stood tall in the danger zone, completing 35 out of the 49 passes and clicked on three TDs, two of which went to Price. Bledsoe also set another milestone, hitting the 30,000 yard passing mark for his career. He became the third quickest to achieve that mark.

"With Drew, if you're down 40-0, you believe you can win," praised Price. "We never thought we were out of it. With Drew in the huddle, the thought of losing never crosses your mind."

While Bledsoe had a career day, he will be the first to acknowledge the others who helped him achieve that. First was Price, who came down with 13 of Bledsoe's passes for 185 yards and two scores. Another new weapon in Bledsoe's arsenal is Josh Reed. Reed reminded people of his namesake, Andre Reed, in more ways than one. He wasn't afraid to go over the middle and take vicious hits in order to haul down Bledsoe's strikes as he caught 8 for 110 yards and one TD. The touchdown was classic Reed, pushing his way two yards deep in the middle of the endzone and hanging on to the pass.

Another weapon was the man who drew double coverage and freed up Reed and Price, Eric Moulds. Moulds did his share, catching 8 passes for 86 yards. With the other two wideouts taking off some pressure with big numbers, it could free up Moulds from double coverage in the future, which would be fine by him.

Bledsoe put in a great effort, but it will be hard to produce those numbers week in and week out.

"It took everything we had," Bledsoe admitted, "but hopefully this is a step for us in the right direction."

Bledsoe added, "It'd be nice to win one in regulation."

Lady Luck on Bills' side

Luck just seemed to be with the Bills in this game. After the lucky bounce of Hollis' last second kick in regulation, the Bills won the coin toss to receive the kick in overtime and also got the benefit of a Vikings' coaches challenge of a pass that some say bounced off the ground before Price scooped it in. Also to the Bills benefit was the fact that Vikings kicker Doug Brien missed two extra points along with a field goal attempt.

The Bills also got to Daunte Culpepper three times, forcing him to fumble. One of those resulted in a squibbling ball that rolled to the Vikings goal line and Ron Edwards fell on it in the endzone.

Highs and lows of the game

This was a game of spectacular highlights along with killer mistakes by both teams. The Bills had miscues that could have cost the game. They had Culpepper sacked deep in Vikings territory but an unsportsmanlike penalty kept the drive alive, resulting in a Vikings touchdown. Bledsoe had to dive on a loose ball that he could not handle when the snap was low, preserving a drive that resulted in a field goal.

The biggest mistake was when the Bills had driven the ball down to the Vikings 20 in overtime and on second down, Kevin Gilbride, the Bills offensive coordinator called for a pass play. That resulted in a sack and put the Bills back to the 28. Two plays later, the Bills attempted a 45-yard fieldgoal and Hollis' kick was wide left.

The Bills special teams had another bad day on kickoff/punt coverage. This time a punt return of 61 yards by Dwayne Bates down to the Bills 3. The Vikings were able to drive it in on a Culpepper scramble. The Bills special teams coach may have had his job saved the next play when Charlie Rogers roared through an opening in the middle for a 90-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 20.

BILLS PLUS / MINUS

Obviously, the Bills bright side was the offense. Scoring 45 points was huge, especially after coming off a high scoring loss to the Jets. Bledsoe is finding a multitude of receivers and making the most of them. Besides the three wideouts, Bledsoe hit Centers 4 times for 44 yards and Jay Riemersma twice, each for crucial 19-yard pickups.

Peerless Price gains 9 yards against Vikings safety Ronnie Bradford during first quarter action. Price caught 13 passes and scored 2 touchdowns in the Bills give OT win over the Vikings.
[AP Photo/Jim Mone]

On the negative side offensively, the running game came to an almost compete halt. After Travis Henry ran for 149 yards against the Jets, he could only muster 30 yards on 12 carries, for 2.5 average and that was bolstered by a 17 yard run. The only other player to run the ball was Centers, who got one yard.

The Bills have to balance their attack again if they want to be successful this year. Running only 13 times is certainly not enough to take the pressure off Bledsoe. He needs to get his running backs to at least carry 25-30 times. With the opposition expecting the pass, Bledsoe is going to get beat up even worse than he was against the Vikings.

The defense didn't really step up until the overtime. Culpepper completed 25 out of 45 for 281 yards and 3 strikes. But in the overtime, the Bills D turned it up a couple notches and forced the Vikings to punt twice. The most crucial time was when the Bills missed that 45 yard field goal and if the Vikings had started a drive to get into Bills territory, they would have been hard to stop.

The Bills had a hard time stuffing the run in regulation. The Vikings gobbled up 213 yards on the ground, with Moe Williams getting 102 of that on 17 carries, a 6.0 average. The Bills D will have to make strides to cut down the ground game if they are to compete with the more talented teams they face in the next 3 weeks.

The Big Picture

This was the second straight highly emotional overtime game in a row for the Bills. If they had lost, it would have been extremely demoralizing and may have sent the Bills into a funk producing a season much like the last one where they only won 3 games. AS it is, Bledsoe & Co. put new life into the Bills and that momentum could carry through the rest of the season. Bledsoe, like Kelly, never says die. He feels he can get the Bills back in any game if he has enough time. Sunday, he only had 26 seconds to do that, but that was plenty of time for him.

"Watch us through the course of this season and you'll see our offense will do whatever we have to do," Bledsoe promised. "If we need to throw it a bunch, we'll do that. We've got the weapons to attack people when we do that. We've got the offensive line that can pass protect. We'd rather play it the other way and hand it off a bunch of times, but that's not going to happen all the time."

Now the big tests come up against Denver next week and home games against Chicago and Oakland. Bledsoe can't do it alone, but he sure can carry a lot of weight on his shoulders.

Bills Talk

Bills coach Gregg Williams was throwing praises on Bledsoe after the game.

"It was a pretty special performance," remarked Williams. "He was really cool the whole time out there. You could see the guys feeding off of him. Our receivers worked their tails off to get open for him, and they battled."

Bledsoe realized how important it was to fight and claw back to force the overtime and finally win it with the big strike to Price.

"The big thing it does is build confidence that we're doing the right thing," Bledsoe pointed out. "We believe that, and if we'd lost, we would still believe it. But it gives a little evidence that if you continue to put forth the type of effort we do during the week, you can come out on top."

The Bills defense, while they seemed to be out on the field most of the day chasing after Moss and Williams, they found the stamina to come up big in the sudden death overtime.

"I am proud of the guys," announced defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "They did a great job of battling back after facing a lot of adversity."

The big goal was to somehow contain Moss and Culpepper. While both stung the Bills for big gains and TDs, the Bills D didn't collapse after those scores.

"I'm a better coach because of them because you've got to do more things to defend those two guys," said Gray. "You can't play them in a conventional defense. Nobody in their right mind is going to single Randy Moss. Sometimes you've got a chance, but you've got to put pressure on the quarterback. But for the most part, you've got to play a smart football game from a coaching standpoint and make sure your guys have confidence enough to execute the game plan."

London Fletcher was the glue that helped cement the defense together. His veteran leadership is why the Bills brought him in here and he displayed that on the field in Minnesota.

"We had our share of struggles, but we dug down deep and that's what makes this team special," admitted Fletcher. "This win is one that we can use as a momentum-builder."

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

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