Bills DO IN Panthers !!!!! Come from BEHIND!

This time there was a reason for the cops in the chartreuse jackets to surround the field. The people inside Ralph Wilson Stadium might have been so excited and relieved about the Bills' 25-24 come-from-behind victory over Carolina Dec. 9 that they might have jumped onto the field and tore down the goal posts.


Heck, the Bills players might have done it themselves just to release pent-up frustration. Maybe Gregg Williams and Tom Donahoe would have joined in on the fun.

This was big.

It was the Bills' first regular season win at home in more than a year. It stopped a six-game losing streak, and included an improbable rally from an 18-point deficit, cementing the victory over the 1-12 Panthers. Finally, the Bills (2-10) strung together a series of impact plays and clinched a win, instead of making awful mistakes that led to yet another disappointing loss.

It was a good win over a similarly talented opponent. Sure, the Bills made mistakes – mostly in the first half, when they fell behind 24-6 – but they managed to find ways to overcome those. It felt good.

"Any win is a good win," said Williams, who notched his first home victory as a Bills coach in front of a 44,549-person crowd. "The guys did a great job at halftime. They had every opportunity to have an excuse not to play (in the second half) … I thought the guys made plays in the second half at significant times and we were able to correct the errors that we made in the first half."

In winning, the Bills, of course, lessened their chances at getting the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, especially with Detroit dropping to 0-12 and the Bills getting the tie-breaker win over the Panthers. But that kind of thinking is shortsighted. If Buffalo can win the remaining four games on its schedule – or more realistically two or three of four – establishing a winning atmosphere at One Bills Drive would pay more immediate dividends than the No. 2 pick. Winning is infectious.

"This is a building block for the future," Phil Hansen said. "We were down 24-6. We could have laid down right then and said, ‘We can't come back from this.' It's a Bills tradition though to circle the wagons and come back and keep fighting … I didn't realize winning was so hard. In my 11 years with the Bills, I didn't think the wins would ever be as few and far between as they have this year."

Travis Henry's one-yard touchdown run with seven minutes, 51 seconds remaining turned out to be the game-winner, giving Buffalo the 25-24 lead. Alex Van Pelt tried for the two-point conversion, but the pass to Eric Moulds failed.

Jay Riemersma was the key player on the game-winning drive, catching three passes for 46 yards including a third and eight conversion from the Carolina 49. On that play, Riemersma snuck outside with strong safety Deon Grant covering and caught an eight-yard pass, then put a nifty move on Grant and went inside for 11 more yards. It was among the biggest catches of any Bill this season.

"We got the coverage we expected and I was matched up one on one with (a safety)," said Riemersma, who led the Bills with 58 yards receiving on four catches. "The defender over-pursued the play and took a poor angle on me. I made one guy miss and Eric Moulds gave me a nice block and I was able to pick up the necessary yardage."

Williams said that there was nothing special the Bills saw Carolina do defensively that led the offense to key in on Riemersma, though he had been quiet up to that point, dropping one pass and catching another for 12 yards.

"Alex read it out," Williams simply stated. "In the scheme, Alex read it out."

Suffice it to say, it was a good read on Van Pelt's part.

Through most of the first half, it didn't look like Buffalo would even be close to Carolina by game's end. In fact, it seemed the Bills were intent on creating a sequel to their Dec. 2 San Francisco horror flick. They made the kinds of stupid errors and awful plays that have plagued them all year, giving Carolina great field position and opportunities to build a 24-6 lead.

Brian Moorman's poor punts of 32 and 24 yards resulted in excellent field position for Carolina and helped result in a 10-3 Carolina lead in the second quarter. An Alex Van Pelt interception at the Carolina 48 – a ball that bounced off the normally sure-handed hands of Larry Centers – resulted a touchdown two plays later and a 17-3 lead.

That particular drive was greatly aided by a pass interference penalty on nickel cornerback Chris Watson at the Buffalo 2. It was questionable as it looked like he barely bumped the receiver while going for the interception. But losing teams attract those kinds of tough breaks.

Carolina built a 24-6 lead off a drive start at the Buffalo 41, compliments of Panthers kickoff returner Steve Smith running back a kick 46 yards. A few moments later, Raion Hill was called for a weak pass interference call at the Buffalo 18 and three plays after that, quarterback Chris Weinke found reserve tight end Kris Mangum for the touchdown and the 18-point lead with 36 seconds remaining in the half.

That was the wake-up point for Buffalo.

With three timeouts in his pocket, Van Pelt was able to drive the Bills 70 yards for a score. The timeouts enabled Van Pelt to throw to the open field – completing passes to Eric Moulds for 25 yards and Peerless Price for 26 yards – knowing full well that he could stop the clock. At the Carolina 7 with six seconds remaining, Van Pelt had one shot at the end zone and found Price crossing in the back, just ahead of safety Deon Grant, Price's college teammate at Tennessee. It was Van Pelt's lone touchdown pass of the day, bringing the Bills to 24-13.

"That gave us more momentum coming in at halftime," Williams said. "Alex's drive at the end of the half was the catalyst to take us into halftime knowing that we could come back out and play hard."

On the first two drives of the second half, the Bills' offense was stifled, but the defense recovered a fumble and forced a punt. On Carolina's third drive, middle linebacker Brandon Spoon picked off a Weinke pass and returned it for the score and a 24-19 deficit (see "Big Play" below).

Buffalo was now taking advantage of opportunities that slipped through its hands during the Panthers' first-half scoring spurt. Two visits to the red zone stalled at the Carolina 2 and the Carolina 9 and resulted in two field goals – the first two of Shayne Graham's NFL career, despite an impressive 40-yard Travis Henry gain off a screen pass on the first field-goal drive and a spectacular 39-yard catch by Reggie Germany on the second. These were the kinds of impact plays Buffalo had been missing most of the season.

In the second half, it turned them into touchdowns.


Big play

Panthers ball, second and 2 from the Carolina 38, Panthers up 24-13, with five minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

The Bills were in a 4-3 alignment with strong safety Raion Hill playing near the line for eight men in the box. With the formation, the Bills obviously anticipated a running play, but Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke took a three-step drop and fired the ball to receiver Donald Hayes running a quick slant to his left. Nate Clements covered him.

Clements, behind Hayes, got his arm in front of the receiver as the ball simultaneously came in and bounced off Hayes' hands. Middle linebacker Brandon Spoon saw the ball in the air and caught it while heading toward the sideline. The rookie managed to stay in bounds and ran it down the right sideline for t

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