Bills get flat-out smoked

INDIANAPOLIS -- During an emotional ceremony preceding Sunday's AFC East matchup at the RCA Dome, the resumption of the National Football League's regular season was billed as a respite from the grief and horror that have enveloped the real world since Sept. 11; a chance for people to take a step toward something approaching normalcy.

Once the game started, the Buffalo Bills did just that. Two weeks after giving up 24 straight points in the second half against New Orleans, Buffalo's suddenly porous defense yielded 35 to Indianapolis in the first two quarters of the Colts' 42-26 win.

"We played against a good offense today," Bills coach Gregg Williams said in a bit of understatement after the Peyton Manning-led machine rolled up 555 yards and scored touchdowns on six straight possessions. "Defensively, we gave up some big plays and we've got to correct that."

Every first-half possession by Indianapolis ended in a touchdown -- one by Buffalo on Nate Clements' 48-yard interception return, then five in a row by the Colts. Four came on Manning passes, three to Marvin Harrison and one to Jerome Pathon. Until halftime's merciful arrival, Mannning connected on 17-of-20 passes for 324 yards, with both Harrison and Pathon accounting for more than 100.

Manning said Clements' interception sparked Indianapolis.

"Any time that happens, the quarterback and offense feel responsible for giving up seven points and try to make up for it," said Manning, who finished with 23 completions in 29 attempts for 421 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions. "We tried to score a touchdown to make up for that touchdown we gave them. We knew we had a good plan, ran the offense, didn't panic whatsoever and put up a lot of points."

The Colts didn't slow down after halftime, either, moving 60 yards in 10 plays to Manning's 1-yard touchdown run and taking a 42-20 lead. With Buffalo's offense reverting to field goal-only mode after Travis Henry's 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the game was effectively over with 5:56 left in the third quarter.

Indianapolis did most of its damage much earlier. In the week before the game, coach Gregg Williams said the Bills would utilize the same defensive scheme against the Colts that Tennessee had used effectively when he was the Titans' defensive coordinator -- keep pressure on Manning and his receivers, relying on man-to-man coverage to keep Indianapolis from getting into a rhythm.

The plan looked like it just might work on the opening series, when Bills cornerback Nate Clements stepped in front of Harrison along the sideline near midfield, grabbed Manning's medium-range out and sprinted 48 yards with his first professional interception, which he took for a score.

But after his early blunder and a fumble by tight end Ken Dilger that ended the next Indianapolis drive, Manning just kept getting hotter and hotter. He hit five of his next seven throws as the Colts moved 90 yards to Edgerrin James' 1-yard run, which tied the game at seven.

James almost didn't get the chance, as Clements apparently intercepted Manning's third-down pass two plays earlier. But cornerback Antoine Winfield was flagged for defensive holding for the second time in less than 10 minutes, one of a franchise record-tying 19 Buffalo penalties.

"We were fighting in the end zone, trying to get position," Winfield said. "Marvin's not a physical receiver. You have to put your hands on him and you can't let him run down the field. We did that, and you saw what happened."

From there, Manning couldn't, and didn't, miss. He connected on his last 11 throws of the first half, including all four touchdowns.

Buffalo gave Manning a wide-open secondary to exploit by over-committing to the run. The Bills limited James to 35 yards on 11 carries in the first half, but the Colts made them pay for their effectiveness in that phase.

"There were at least three of times that we gave it to them uncontested -- wide open," said Bills cornerback Ken Irvin, who got burned badly on Manning's 60-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass to Jerome Pathon. "Not that they didn't earn it, but if you take those three plays away, it's a different ballgame.

Indianapolis' first big passing play came on third-and-1 from its own 46-yard line, when Manning faked to James and found Dilger all alone and lofted a short pass that the lumbering tight end took all the way to Buffalo's 10, setting up James' first score.

"I played awful," said free safety Keion Carpenter, who left several of those gaps in the secondary by biting on run fakes. "When guys are wide open, anyone can throw them the ball. We just gave them some plays and we don't normally do that."

Play action became even more poisonous for the Bills thereafter. Fake handoffs triggered two of Manning's four scoring throws, with another coming when James pitched back to the quarterback before his scoring strike to Pathon. The fourth score was on a modified hitch-and-go, with Manning faking a short pass after a three-step drop, then retreating four more paces and hitting Harrison in the end zone.

The Bills sent an all-out, seven-man rush at Manning, but the Colts' maximum protection scheme absorbed the blitz.

"I'm sitting there thinking it's going to be a quick pass," said Winfield, who bit on the fake and had no chance to catch up to Harrison. "He shouldn't have had time to do that. He ran a play that we should have stopped."

Manning's brilliance and an ugly, sloppy, fight- and penalty-filled final 20 minutes more than overwhelmed a handful of Buffalo bright spots.

---After spending more than two-thirds of the first quarter on the sideline, Buffalo's offense moved the ball well in the second quarter. A 28-yard run by Peerless Price on a reverse and Johnson's completions of 19 yards to Travis Henry, 8 yards to Jay Riemersma and 10 yards to Larry Centers highlighted an eight-play, 84-yard drive to Henry's 4-yard touchdown run -- Buffalo's first offensive touchdown of the season.

Johnson was particularly sharp in the second quarter, going 10-for-13 passing for 84 yards and covering 33 more on three scrambles. He did throw his only interception of the game during the frame, a poor pass deflected by Eric Moulds. Johnson finished 24-of-37 passing for 257 yards, including a virtually meaningless 40-yard Hail Mary heave to Price with 1:25 remaining. He also finished with 63 yards on five runs, with two other good gains wiped out by penalties. And he didn't get sacked until late in the third quarter, well after any doubt about the outcome had been eliminated.

---Henry's carries became sparse as the score got out of hand, but the rookie did nothing to hurt his spot as the Bills' featured runner. He finished with 39 yards on 12 carries, and adjusted well on his touchdown run by bouncing off the pile in the middle and knifing off left tackle and into the end zone.

---Kicker Jake Arians, who replaced an injured Steve Christie a day before the season opener, showed good length strength by nailing a 49-yard field goal 4:25 into the third quarter, but missed wide right on a 37-yarder as the first half expired.

But scattered positive signs proved little consolation for the Bills, who dropped the first two games of the Tom Donahoe-Gregg Williams era by a combined score of 66-32.

"I can't speak for the other 52 guys on this team, but I'm going to go back and I'm going to get better," Carpenter said. "This is not me, this is not how I play and this is not how the Buffalo Bills play. It was just bad football."


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