Colts STEAMROLL Bills, 30-14

After two hopeful performances on the road against San Diego and Jacksonville, the Bills came home to Ralph Wilson Stadium Nov. 4 and showed their fans that they're still capable of being the same team they were during their last home game – that 42-36 mistake-filled loss to the Jets on Oct. 7.

 

The good thing is that the Bills have cut down on their penalties and mental mistakes since then. They still occur occasionally, but not at the alarming rate they did early on. And another good thing is that rookie Nate Clements is looking like a good first-round pick – his game-tying 66-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter is certain to be one of the memorable plays of the year, just like his interception return for a touchdown, which came against the Colts in the previous meeting.

Unfortunately, the bad thing is what mostly will be remembered, and it is this: the Bills were straight-up beaten by the Colts, 30-14. No shooting themselves in the foot. No missed opportunities. Just Indianapolis lining up and beating Buffalo.

What does it all mean? It means that even when Buffalo isn't making stupid undisciplined errors, it lacks the talent to stay with a team such as Indianapolis – a team that was missing No. 1 running back Edgerrin James and No. 2 wide receiver Jerome Pathon. Buffalo lacks talent, plain and simple.

"It's disappointing," said Johnson, who was 17 for 33 for 172 yards and a touchdown and was often running from the Colts in utter desperation. "They got after us pressure-wise and we never got into a rhythm . . . It is very hard to get into the rhythm. I feel bad for the wide receivers. Those guys out there are working hard and are getting double-covered. I try to give them time to work. It is hard for them to stay efficient."

And it's hard for Johnson to give them time when he's not getting time.

Things started out well. During player introductions, the Buffalo crowd cheered loudly for Johnson, recognizing his gutsy performance against San Diego Sept. 28. It was a heartfelt moment, leaving a lot of lumps in people's throats.

But after that, Johnson's streak of playing well went down the tubes. And the reason why was that he didn't have any pass protection – again, for the umpteenth time this season. Buffalo's offensive line was more horrible than it was against San Diego. Left tackle John Fina was inactive with a leg injury, meaning rookie Marques Sullivan received his first NFL start. And rookie right tackle Jonas Jennings was out with a foot injury, which put Jon Carman into action again for the second-straight week.

Colts ends Chad Bratzke, Brad Scioli, Mark Thomas, Chad Nwokorie each recorded sacks. With the rush from the edges, it began to look like Sullivan and Carman actually planned meetings around Johnson because they just didn't have the foot speed to hold off the ends. The plays seemed to end with the two linemen standing around the fallen quarterback. The Colts just went around the blocks.

"We've got four first-time starters in there," said Johnson, who then proceeded to rattle off the number of starts by his linemen, giving the impression that even he believes he's fighting a losing battle with the Bills' offensive line inexperience. "Those guys are learning on the fly. The Colts did some different blitzes they never had shown. They did a better job than we did."

Aside from the blitzes – because there weren't very many – Indianapolis could sometimes rush three and four people and still manage to pressure the Bills. They would run stunts against the Bills' line, moving the defensive linemen around during the rush, and the Bills often had trouble figuring out who was going where.

"They are a stunt team," said Williams. "They stunt and twist around, giving our young tackles fits. Even when we doubled and chipped, we went back inside on a couple of things. Our young guys did not play as well today as they had been previously."

Johnson said he thought that because the Colts and Bills played previously and are AFC East rivals, Indianapolis' familiarity with Buffalo allowed it to exploit the Bills' weaknesses better than the Jaguars or Chargers did.

The weaknesses turned into points for Indianapolis as it converted two Johnson fumbles into 10 points and a 17-7 lead. Marcus Pollard caught a 15-yard touchdown stemming from the first Johnson fumble; Manning ran for a 33-yard touchdown; and Mike Vanderjagt kicked a 34-yard field goal, stemming from the second Johnson fumble. After that, the game was virtually over. The Indy defense is at its best when it has a lead and the Buffalo offense is at its worst when it trails by more than a touchdown.

"When you turn the ball over and create a short field, we're not good enough to play on a short field," Williams said.

The Bills are not good enough to do a lot of things.

But Williams is not without solutions. His plan to make Johnson's pass protection better is to move him around. He has said that before. Johnson rolled out a few times this game, but he wasn't doing it often. And even when he was rolling out, he was trailed by a number of Colts defenders intent on taking his head off.

"We'd move him out of the pocket," Williams said. "We also (max protected) but there are only so many people you can max when you call max protection. It's everybody, but the two wideouts staying in. Those things are happening and those things are being called. You saw Larry Centers do a great job of helping out a lot of the ballgame. We had to keep Jay Riemersma in several times to help out and those were effective, but then somebody got beat inside. Somebody's got beat inside who's in on a one-on-one. You can't double everybody. Somebody's going to be one-on-one."

And with the max protect, the two receivers are usually double covered and Johnson will never, ever – ever – throw into double coverage. He just doesn't take that risk.

So it's disheartening. Line coach Ronnie Vinklarek maintains his linemen will get better with experience and learning fundamentals. What else is he supposed to say?

"Are they as good as we want them to be?" Vinklarek asked rhetorically. "No. Are we going to get better? Yes, we are. I was hired here to be a teacher and stress fundamentals to get this line ready to go . . . I'm disappointed for them right now. I know the future is going to be good for us."

"We have to be patient and give them ways to succeed," Ruben Brown said of his young linemates. "I don't think there was too much thrown at them . . . The two tackles haven't really played. You've got to have guys in this league that has played. But when you get the opportunity to play, you've got to step it up."

On some of Johnson's scrambles, it appeared that Eric Moulds and Peerless Price would not break off their routes and just get open. Johnson said it's tough for the receivers to do that because the pressure came so quickly.

"The receivers have scramble reads and stuff," he said, "but sometimes, they're just doing their routes and I'm out scrambling. They don't know it's a scramble . . . A lot of times it's just quick pressure so they're not even out of their routes. A lot of times they don't even have a chance to help me out that way."

That's what Johnson needs right now – help. And he may be getting it. Jerry Ostroski and Jonas Jennings said they were going to try to play against New England Nov. 4. Fina seemed less optimistic saying, "I'll let you know."


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