By Rick Anderson
The Bills put the heat on Dolphins quarterback Ray Lucas. Here Ron Edwards gets into Lucas' face in third quarter action.|
[AP Photo/ Gary I. Rothstein] |
Nate Clements knew that the Bills secondary had to step it up big time. With Antoine Winfield not playing and the opposing quarterbacks making mince meat of the secondary for the first 6 games, Clements knew this would not be an easy game. Clements not only was up to the challenge, but he had a career day, picking off three passes and taking back one for a touchdown as the Bills upset the first place Miami Dolphins 23-20.
The Bills had to make some adjustments in their secondary to compensate for Winfield, who had gone done in practice in a collision with Bills receiver Eric Moulds. With the Bills not having one interception in six games, they were hoping to finally get one against the Dolphins. Clements did the honors to finally getting a pick and he had two more, one which went for a 29-yard touchdown.
"I forgot what it felt like, almost,'' admitted Clements. "We said that when they come, they're going to come in bunches, and they did today.''
"I told Nate before the game that, "Hey, Antoine is out. You're on your own,' "said Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "He did a great job today."
The Bills defense came up big for the first time all season, getting 6 turnovers and finally helping out the offense, which had carried the team all year. After getting torn apart by opposing quarterbacks and local media alike, the Bills defense finally made a big statement. It spelled "Victory."
Ray Lucas played in place of injured quarterback Jay Fiedler. Fiedler was out with a broken thumb on his throwing hand and may be out at least 6 weeks. It was no day in the park for Lucas, who threw 4 picks (Eddie Robinson had the other interception late in the game) and was responsible for 2 fumbles. Lucas threw 13 out of 33 for 165 yards and one score.
"The opportunity was here," said Gray. "You've got a backup quarterback and two backup receivers. We had to take advantage. All of a sudden, the ball started bouncing our way."
The Dolphins had struck on their first drive, when Lucas engineered a 57-yard drive. He hit Randy McMichael for a 4-yard touchdown. The Bills tried a trick play where they faked a punt and it was stopped and it gave the Dolphins possession on the Bills 31. The Fish had all the momentum going to turn this game into a rout.
Then came the turning point of the game.
On the very first play after the Dolphins took over, Lucas was hit by Ron Edwards as he attempted to pull off a reverse to James McKnight and fumbled the ball. The Pat Williams recovered and were able to drive down the field allow Mike Hollis to kick a 46-yard field goal. So instead of being up at least 10-0, the Dolphins were only up by 4 and the caging of the Fish had begun.
The Bills D came in storming and they never let up their relentless pressure on Lucas. Ricky Williams did have a good day against the Bills with 97 yards on 25 carries, but the Bills were able to shut him down when they had to. They were able to sack Lucas only once, but still put plenty of pressure on the Dolphins replacement quarterback and force him out of the pocket on numerous occasions.
What a breath of fresh air. The Buffalo offense could play a game that was below its average, yet it still produced just enough. For once they didn't have to score 40 points to win. The defense gave the offense the help it needed and the offense for once had praises for their defensive teammates.
"It puts us right back in the middle of the race,'' pronounced Bills QB Drew Bledsoe. "It was a big game for our defense. They stepped up and caused turnovers, and we were able to capitalize.''
Other offensive players sang the accolades to their defensive brethren.
"I think deep down, individually, they felt that way," fullback Larry Centers talked about how the defensive felt they owed the offense a day off. "I've talked to some of them individually and they know it's a complete team effort. They know there's a certain standard we want to achieve, not just on offense. We want to be a complete football team, and I think today was the first step in that direction."
Bledsoe had his most mediocre day as a Bills. He completed 15 out of 31 attempts for 182 yards. His one TD strike was a long one, a 70 yard passing play to Eric Moulds that put the Bills in the lead for the first time. Moulds beat two Pro Bowl players on that play, safety Brock Marion and cornerback Sam Madison.
"I gave him a move like I was going to run a stop route, and Drew made a perfect throw," described Moulds, who was questionable before the game because of back spasms. He had collided with Antowain Winfield in practice during the week, hurting his back and forcing Winfield out of the lineup.
"I didn't know if I was going to play,'' Moulds said. "I was dying out there.''
Bills running back Travis Henry is brought down by 3 Fish, Derrick Rodgers (59), Brock Marion (31) and Zach Thomas (54) in second half action. Henry gained 132 yards and had no fumbles in this one.|
[AP Photo/ Gary I. Rothstein] |
"The interesting thing is our offense has forced the last two defenses we've played to come out of character a bit," described Bledsoe. "They showed a great deal of respect for our running game early in the game by bringing another safety down into the front, and that gave us a one-on-one with Eric. I saw the safety rolling down, which is something they haven't done very often during the season."
Henry continued his torrid running when he carried 22 times for 132 yards. That kept the Miami defense guessing and they sometimes overplayed the run, giving Bledsoe more time to setup his passes.
Moulds only caught 3 passes, but the one long bomb was enough to keep the Dolphins on guard. Larry Centers had the most receptions, 5.
"I think this is sort of validation that we're a contender," said Centers. "A contender not only in this division but in this league this season. It's a work in progress. But we'll continue to work toward that goal."
The win put the Bills over the .500 mark for the first time since 2000 with a 4-3 mark, one behind the Dolphins.
No interceptions in seven straight games. The only team to not record a pick this season. That did not sit well with the Bills secondary. In fact, they pooled their money so that the first guy to pick off a pass would get a $1,500 bounty. The league heard about it and squashed that idea a few days before the game. However, the message was sent loud and clear. The Bills had to start getting turnovers and the secondary was put on the hot seat.
Bills corner back Nate Clements is hauled down by Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael after making a pick in the second half. He had a hat trick for interceptions, and took one 29 yards for a TD.|
[AP Photo/J. Pat Carter] |
While Clements didn't collect any money, the pride he got when he intercepted not just one, but 3 passes was worth more than money in the bank.
"The important thing is we won the game," insisted Clements. "That's all that matters."
He also gave his kudos to the defensive line that put pressure on Lucas.
"I believe that's where it starts," said Clements about the front four. "You got the guys up front kicking butt and it makes the job a lot easier on the back end."
"I knew that I was just going to keep playing my game and not try to force the issue," Clements continued. "Losing 'Toine was a key loss in our scheme of the defense, so I just talked to the young guys to just play your game and make plays out there. Everything came together."
Gray knew he had to calm down his young secondary before the game.
"We brought them in Saturday morning and sat the young guys down and told them opportunities come out of things like this," said Gray. "Our cornerbacks go against Eric and Peerless (Price) every day. Now it's not a real game, but those guys are the best, so that helps. So that should give you confidence."
Lucas took all the blame on his shoulders for playing what he thought was a terrible game.
"The way I played today was probably the worst a quarterback has ever played in the history of the NFL,'' admitted Lucas. "I don't think I've ever thrown four picks since I was born. I embarrassed myself. I probably won't sleep for the next three days.''
Miami linebacker Zach Thomas tried to comfort Lucas.
"Ray will be fine. He's the toughest guy in here,'' Thomas said. "He'll bounce back.''
Bills Head Coach Gregg Williams described his plan to contain Lucas, who was known for his mobility.
"We wanted to make sure that he stayed in the pocket and throw the football," said Williams. "We felt we would do a pretty good job in coverage and we did that today. Nate (Clements) had some good plays, but could have had some more. We left some plays on the field that I wish we could have got. It was a good team win."
Bledsoe, who has had some tough times in Miami while playing for the Patriots, knew how big this game was.
"To come down here and beat a good team in their home stadium is a big win for us," said Bledsoe. "The big thing for this team is that we've gotten better each week and seen continuous improvement across the board whether your talking offense, defense or special teams."
Copyright © 2002 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.
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