Inside Bills Report: Jets preview

Last week, cornerback Antoine Winfield questioned the play of the Bills offense and essentially laid the blame for the team's dire playoff situation at the feet of quarterback Drew Bledsoe, coordinator Kevin Gilbride, a struggling receiving corps, et al. <P><P> After all, the Bills No. 3-ranked defense had been doing its part in losses against Dallas by 4 points, Houston by 2 and Indianapolis by 3.

Last Sunday, though, there was nothing to complain about as the offense woke up in a big way in Buffalo's 24-7 victory over the New York Giants, putting up 403 yards and snapping a four-game skid.

"You love that when the offense moves the ball and scores points," Winfield said. "They did (come through). They played well. They threw the ball, ran the ball, put up 24 points. We can't ask for much more."

They can ask that things stay this way through the season's final month, starting this Sunday against the New York Jets. The Bills lost 30-3 to their AFC East rival on October 12 when they were 3-2 and the Jets 0-4, a loss fueled by four turnovers and seven sacks.

The Bills (5-7) and Jets (5-7) face stiff odds in capturing a wild-card playoff berth, but neither has given up the zest for tasting victory as evidenced by Buffalo's win over the Giants and New York's 24-17 upset of AFC South Division-leading Tennessee (9-3) on Monday night.

The Bills are hoping their offensive breakout last Sunday wasn't a mirage because they'll need all facets of their game clicking to top a Jets team that's soaring since quarterback Chad Pennington returned to the lineup five games ago after a preseason wrist and hand injury.

The Jets have won five of their last eight and are 3-2 with Pennington, averaging 24.7 points per game. This is a revenge match the Bills have been looking forward to.

"Herman (Edwards) has a history of getting guys to play very hard and play very well," said coach Gregg Williams of his New York counterpart. "They've done this the last couple of years, and we know we're going to get their best. We're similar teams. We need to play better than we did the last time. Our guys are looking forward to this contest."

For the better part of a month, as their offense failed to score a TD in a team-record three consecutive games, the Bills talked about needing just one big play in the passing game to get them kick started.

Against the Giants, they got nine.

"At times, all it takes offensively to get into a rhythm in the passing game is one guy to step up and make a play," said Bledsoe, who hadn't thrown a touchdown pass since October 19 against Washington, but had two against New York. "(Sunday) there were a number of guys that did that."

A 16-yard catch by Bobby Shaw and a 22-yarder by Eric Moulds set up a 24-yard touchdown catch by tight end Dave Moore.

A 31-yard catch over the middle by Shaw on third down when Bledsoe beat the blitz and Shaw stretched every inch of his body set up a Rian Lindell field goal. A 20-yard catch by Josh Reed after the ball was tipped by Shaw converted a third-and-19 play. That set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Bledsoe to Shaw.

And Moulds' 21-yard grab followed by an 18-yarder by Shaw set up a 13-yard TD burst by Travis Henry to cap the scoring.

In all, the Bills had nine pass plays cover 15 yards or more, and seven that went for 20 or better. Bledsoe completed 19 of 29 for 252 yards, his most in eight games. His sparkling 115.9 rating was his best since a 144.2 against Jacksonville in Week 2.

On the day, Buffalo had no turnovers after committed 16 in its previous four road games, all losses; led in yards 403-222; rushing yards 151-24; and time of possession 39 minutes to 21.

"I don't think there was much difference in the way we approached the game or how we prepared, we just came up with the plays when we had the chances this time," said Bledsoe, who left the game in the third quarter after taking a blow to the head. He's probable for the Jets.

Shaw and Reed were particularly effective running with the ball after making catches underneath the coverage, which is their strength. The two had struggled picking up the slack after Moulds injured his groin seven weeks ago, but on Sunday, Shaw made four catches for 87 yards and Reed six for 61.

In the process, Buffalo finally got an opponent to back off blitzing and playing eight men against the run.

"That's what the coach has emphasized, hit them in the teeth of the blitz and they'll back off," Reed said.

Henry gained 92 of his 113 yards on 16 carries after halftime. Incredibly for the Bills, they chewed the final 6:54 off the clock with 11 consecutive runs.

"They were doing a good job loading up on the run. That means you've got to make plays as a receiver to keep the offense moving," Shaw said. "We had to open it up by making plays through the air. I just think it was a matter of executing better, guys getting over that hump and actually making plays."

Sounds so simple. Then what was the problem for so long?

The Bills have no answers accept that they underachieved.

"I think there is just a general sense of frustration because we don't feel like we've played up to our capabilities. That being said, we're proud that we've been able to stay together," Bledsoe said.

Had the Bills just dripped a drop on offense in narrow losses to Dallas and Houston, they'd be 7-5 today and positioned for a serious December playoff push. But that's history.

"We are where we are right now because we didn't play well and we have to deal with that," Moulds said. "These last four ball games we can still go out and show what we can do."

SERIES HISTORY: 86th meeting. Bills lead series 46-39, their most wins against any opponent. The Jets, however, have won three straight and are looking to sweep the series for a second consecutive year.

Jets coach Herman Edwards is 4-1 against Gregg Williams since both took over their posts in 2001. New York's 37-31 overtime victory in the 2002 season opener in Buffalo was among the most memorable in the long history between these old AFL rivals. Chad Morton returned two kickoffs for touchdowns including the game-winner in OT.


--Coach Gregg Williams, who's hardly off the hot seat, did get a reprieve with Sunday's win over the Giants. There are now rumblings that should the Bills somehow win their final four games, giving them a 9-7 record, it will be good enough for GM Tom Donahoe to re-hire him. Even 8-8 might do the trick as long as the team keeps playing hard for Williams and shows improvement. The defense is now No. 3 in the league. Donahoe continues to give off solid vibes that he likes Williams, whom he hand-picked three years ago. Williams just keeps plowing ahead, knowing the only thing he can control is what takes place on the field. "These guys have been working hard," he said of his players. "There's been a lot of good football played in that locker room without getting a 'W.' It wears on you. Our guys did good a job of battling through that, never wavering, and to the credit of a lot of the guys in there, guys are getting better and better."

--The Bills have made dramatic strides on defense, moving from 20th place a year ago after 12 games to No. 3. Overall up to this point, Buffalo has given up 144 fewer points, 22 fewer touchdowns and 67.2 fewer yards. Coordinator Jerry Gray said better players and more quality assistants, led by Dick LeBeau, have made him better. "We said back in training camp that we wanted to be the No. 1 defense in football," Gray said. "The best thing you can do is go out and play like it, no matter what the circumstances are. You wish that record was totally different, but it's not. You have to play with what you have. You can't change the past. The thing we're trying to do is keep going forward."

--DE Aaron Schobel had a career-high three sacks against the Giants, giving him 7.5 for the season, and was voted AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Schobel also had a fumble recovery and is just the third Bills DL to earn the award, joining Bruce Smith (seven times), Fred Smerlas (once) and Jeff Wright (once). Schobel's goal of hitting double digits is still very much reachable with four games left. Schobel took advantage of backup Jeff Roehl, who was subbing for an injured Luke Petitgout, and dominated him. "I think I've had better games overall, but ... we got up on them and they had to throw the ball so that's always fun when you know they are throwing you can just pass rush," he said.

--SS Lawyer Milloy wasn't as blunt as Antoine Winfield about the disappointing play of Buffalo's offense, but he made it clear the defense was let down this season. "Sometimes you can't control the outcome of the game," he said. "But defensively, you show up and play hard and give your team a chance to win. Nine times out of 10, you will win the game. If you go back and see all the games we had a chance to win, if we win three or four of those, people are talking about us."

--QB Drew Bledsoe, when it was suggested to him that he in fact did play better with a concussion against the Giants after suggesting that he would: "Come on man, it was a joke. Don't take it literally."

BY THE NUMBERS: 24 -- Yards rushing allowed by Bills against the New York Giants, a season low.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels good to win but we take it one game at a time and at the end of season, you collectively look back and see what happened. Right now, we're in the hunt. We have four ball games left and we need to win all four to make the playoffs. That's our plan. I think we have good opportunity with the personnel here. That's what gives us a positive outlook for the rest of the season. We know we can beat every team. It'd be different if we didn't have the tools and the weapons, but we do." -- Veteran DT Sam Adams, who still harbors playoff dreams.


Quarterback Drew Bledsoe is hoping to play against the Jets despite suffering concussion-quality hits in back-to-back games. Bledsoe was dinged against Indianapolis on Nov. 23, and took another blow to the head on a late-hit by DT Keith Hamilton of the New York Giants last weekend. He said he's still feeling light headed and tired but plans to practice Thursday or Friday. Bledsoe had an MRI and neurological testing last week, but none this week.

"They're checking me out," Bledsoe said. "The league as a whole has really changed their stance on the whole head injury thing now. Guys like Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Chris Miller who ended up ending their careers because of head injuries, the league is very careful. I have confidence our guys are going to do the right thing and analyze my situation the right way and if it's not safe to play, I wont play."

After he was hit on Sunday, Bledsoe played six more plays and led the Bills to their third TD. After Bledsoe was checked out more thoroughly, coach Gregg Williams elected to sit him the rest of the game as a precaution.

On the sidelines, Bledsoe was asked a series of questions to gauge his alertness and answered them all correctly. What were they?

"They start off with the very most basic stuff," Bledsoe said. "'Do you know where you are?' 'Yeah, Giants Stadium.' 'Do you know what day it is?' 'Sunday.' 'Do you know what just happened?' 'Yeah, I just got the crap knocked out of me.' They asked me what the last play was and I answered that. I was able to answer them all, I remembered everything, so from that standpoint I was operating OK."

Backup Alex Van Pelt asked Bledsoe to recite a particularly wordy call, and Bledsoe got that right, too. What was it?

"Y shift, Bison Right Flip, Y-peel, Counter 324, Lake, switch double post, z-cross," Bledsoe said.

Williams still took him out.

As for his standing as a team leader, Bledsoe did wonders for his standing as a team leader by suiting up against the Giants against the wishes of loved ones.

"I don't have that much experience with concussions," he said. "I will say that if you're going to be a leader, it's more important to be on the field when things are going bad. If things are going good, then maybe you sit, but if it's going bad and you want to call yourself a leader, you've got to play.

"I was comfortable in the (medical staff) telling me there wasn't added danger in playing the game. My wife, my mom, all those people who really care about you, were hoping I'd sit one out. But it's the game of football and that's what you do."


--LT Jonas Jennings was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a fractured big left toe, ending his injury-plagued season. Jennings had been playing with a right hip pointer for weeks. He hurt his toe in the fourth quarter against the Giants. He's not expected to need surgery.

--QB Travis Brown re-signed with the team on Wednesday, taking LT Jonas Jennings' roster spot. Jennings (toe) was placed on IR. Brown, Buffalo's No. 3 quarterback in 2001 and 2002, injured his finger in the preseason and reached an injury settlement on Sept. 4. Wednesday was the first date he could re-sign with Buffalo and he chose to do so. The Bills have gone all year with no true No. 3. In a related move, QB Randy Fasani was dropped from the practice squad and OT David Porter took his place. Porter played at Iowa and was in the Green Bay Packers' camp last summer.

--LT Marcus Price will start in place of Jonas Jennings the rest of the season. Jennings was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a fractured big left toe.

--LB Jeff Posey, who sprained a knee against Indianapolis, was able to play against the Giants and contributed two tackles.

--WR Eric Moulds, who has spent seven weeks battling groin and hamstring issues, had his most productive game since the opening weeks of the season with five catches for 66 yards against the Giants. The coaching staff has been diligent in giving him lots of rest during the week so that he can show up on Sunday.

--FS Izell Reese, who sat out the Colts loss with a concussion, returned to the starting lineup against the Giants and had six tackles as the Bills held New York to just 24 yards rushing. --RB Sammy Morris, who sat out the Giants win, is still questionable with a knee injury. He did not practice on Wednesday. --OG Mike Pucillo, who sat out the Giants victory with turf toe, is doubtful and likely won't practice this week. Ross Tucker would get his second start in his place. --TE Dave Moore, who suffered a concussion on his 24-yard TD catch against the Giants in the second quarter, is fine and returned to practice on Wednesday. --CB Terrence McGee, Buffalo's starting nickel back, injured an ankle against the Giants. He practiced Wednesday and appears OK for the Jets game.

GAME PLAN: For the Bills, it's pretty simple, clean up the mistakes. In its 30-3 loss to the Jets on Oct. 12, Buffalo committed four turnovers and gave up seven sacks. Coupled with some soft special teams tackling by the Bills, the Jets' average drive start was the 50-yard line and half of their 12 possessions began in Buffalo territory. As much as Buffalo's defense has improved, playing on that short of a field was asking way too much. Offensively, the Bills need to stay committed to the run against the Jets' No. 30 run defense but will need a few big passing plays early to help neutralize the NFL's top pass-rushing team (32 sacks).

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills SS Lawyer Milloy vs. Jets TE Anthony Becht. The underrated Becht had two TD catches in this year's first meeting.

--Bills OL vs. Jets DL. Jets had seven sacks in the first meeting, led by Jason Ferguson and Shaun Ellis with two each. Bills banged up front five will need to back each other up against active Jets front seven. Mike Williams draws the assignment on Ellis (11.5 sacks).

--Bills LBs vs. Jets RB Curtis Martin. Martin had 77 yards on 20 carries in first matchup, giving QB Vinny Testaverde just enough of a play-action game to hurt the Bills for three TDs. Chad Pennington is an even better magician with the play fake if he's got a running game to respect.

--Bills special teams vs. Jets return specialists. Jets enjoyed great field position in first meeting thanks to punt returner Santana Moss (3 for 102 yards, long of 47) and kickoff man Michael Bates (2 for 41, long of 24).

INJURY IMPACT: With every offensive linemen nursing and injury, the Bills' depth is being tested. Veteran Marcus Price will be rushed into duty again at left tackle for Jonas Jennings (IR with broken toe) and free agent Ross Tucker is likely to get his second start at right guard for Mike Pucillo (turf toe).

Tucker, who started seven games for Dallas last season, graded out OK against the Giants, opening up some nice holes for the running game, but he was also flagged for holding and a false start. "A backup has got to be smart and has to be able to step in and hopefully have very little down turn in production because they are smart people and they can do the same quality job with less reps," coach Gregg Williams said. "(Ross) is a very smart football player."

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