Bills have MEADOWLAND mania, BEAT JETS

Most observers who watched the Bills protect a thin 14-9 lead by muffing a punt with 52 seconds left – which the Jets conveniently recovered at midfield – probably thought that foreshadowed what was coming to Buffalo: another excruciating last-second loss. This time, however, it would be the opponent who provided the final boneheaded play of the game, not the Bills.

With 13 seconds left and no timeouts, Vinny Testaverde threw seven yards to Curtis Martin at the Buffalo 17, but Martin was in the middle of the field and the Jets couldn't get it together fast enough to spike the ball. So instead, Testaverde and the offense desperately rushed to the line of scrimmage and the quarterback then woefully overthrew a receiver in the end zone as time expired.

Of course, there was some question whether the Jets even got that last play off. It sure look liked the clock expired before the snap. So had Testaverde completed the pass for a touchdown, Gregg Williams would have had a reason to go ‘Cleveland' on referee Ed Hochuli.

Fortunately, fate was kinder to the Bills Sunday, Dec. 30 in the Meadowlands, and the play didn't matter. Buffalo beat the Jets 14-9 to improve to 3-12, while dropping New York to 9-6 and ruining their chances at winning the division.

Yes, finally, Buffalo had its chance to make an opponent feel the pain that it had endured all season, and that provided a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment – a sense that the season was not for nothing, even though it will still be considered a dismal campaign.

"We came in here in their place and beat a really good football team. Any time you're able to do that, that's got to be pretty good," said tight end Jay Riemersma, who caught a career-high eight passes for 78 yards. "It's a big win, on the road, divisional opponent, they had to win today and we came in and stole it from them," said Alex Van Pelt, who was 16 for 27 for 185 yards and a touchdown pass, with no interceptions. "That's a big win. First one of the year – we were 0-6 in the division and that's not very good, so we knew we had to come out and play today and we did."

"We are 3-12 now. It says we have to keep playing hard," Phil Hansen said. "It's nice to win, it's such a hard thing to do."

"These guys want to win," said Van Pelt. "Why wait to rebuild next year? We want to rebuild now."

And win now too.

Hansen, Riemersma and Van Pelt, among the small number of veterans on the team, keyed the win, with the aid of second-year running back Shawn Bryson and rookie cornerback Nate Clements.

Hansen's interception of Vinny Testaverde with one minute, 54 seconds left was the clutch play of the afternoon (see ‘Big Play'). It came on the 10th play of a drive that the Jets started from their own 25-yard line. They got down to the Buffalo 35 using a combination of Curtis Martin runs and safe, high-percentage passes. The drive included a fourth-and-two conversion.

Add it all up and there was a definite defeatist feeling that New York was gaining such momentum that a game-winning touchdown was imminent. Buffalo's defense was simply giving up too much yardage too fast, just as it did in the last moments against Atlanta Dec. 23. But Hansen made Testaverde pay for a bit of carelessness, and then he returned the pick 17 yards downfield, trying to bowl Testaverde over for attempting to tackle him. Finally, when other Jets players caught up to him, Hansen wisely decided to slide to the ground.

Gregg Williams said, "Five out of the last six weeks, we've had close ball game and we made enough plays in this ball game to win. And that's something the team needed."

As trite as it sounds, Buffalo did make enough plays.

Trailing 6-0 with halftime approaching, Van Pelt led Buffalo on an impressive 11-play, 87-yard drive that culminated in a Larry Centers up-the-middle touchdown run off a draw play, giving Buffalo a 7-6 lead at the intermission.

The score was set up two plays before by a fourth-and-seven conversion from the Jets' 30, in which Riemersma ran an inside pattern down the middle and Van Pelt connected with him for 21 yards.

"They played cover two (two defensive back splitting the field deep sideline to sideline) and I think they put (James) Farrior on me man to man. He tried to jam me at the line of scrimmage and Alex threw an awesome ball, right where it had to be." Riemersma said.

Riemersma played his best game of the season, eliminating the drops that often hampered him this year and catching every ball thrown his way. It is output Buffalo needs from its tight end every week.

And perhaps the best thing about that drive is that it once again showed Van Pelt's ability to stay calm and lead the team through pressure-packed situations, just as he did against the Falcons the game before. Van Pelt is not super-accurate, but he operates the offense with aplomb.

"He did a great job of calling the two-minute game once we went flipped over into two minutes," Williams said. "There were a lot of things that went on in that drive. We managed the drive well early until we got into position to take it in for a score and we did not want to leave time on the clock late in the half. Alex did a great job."

Buffalo got the opening kickoff in the second half and used eight plays to go 80 yards for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead. The drive featured two third-down conversions, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price on a third and six, which landed just beyond the defender's reach and into Price's arms.

And it was another good day for Shawn Bryson and the running game, which may make some forget about injured rookie Travis Henry.

Bryson ran 28 times for 107 yards, his second 100-yard game in a row and the first Bills' runner to do that back to back, believe it or not, since Thurman Thomas in October 1996.

Bryson's 15-yard run in the fourth quarter was one of the best anyone will see from a big back like him. He broke four tackles on his way down the right sideline. Unfortunately, the drive stalled thanks to two false start penalties and a sack, which moved Buffalo from first and 10 at the Jets' 22 to fourth-and-29 from the Jets' 41, which has to be some kind of record.

It bears pointing out that if the Bills played flawlessly there, Shayne Graham could have kicked a field goal and given the Bills a 17-9 lead. Instead, they had to punt.

Defensively, the Bills gave up some big Curtis Martin runs and pass receptions, but were able to keep the shifty running back out of the end zone. Through four visits to the red zone, New York mustered only three field goals. Another second quarter Jets drive in Buffalo territory ended with Nate Clements' end zone interception on a pass intended for Kevin Swayne.

"Defensively, we're playing well enough now to go out there and make some stops and win a close ball game," Williams said.

 

Big play

Jets' ball, second and 10 from the Buffalo 35, the Bills up 14-9, with one minute, 54 seconds remaining in the game.

The Jets lined up with four wide receivers wide, two to a side, and Curtis Martin as the lone running back. The Bills were in their nickel defense – Phil Ha


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