Raiders thrash Bills, 49-31

Drew Bledsoe was AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September. Unfortunately, that didn't mean anything in October. Bledsoe kicked off the month with his most inconsistent effort as a Bill, throwing three interceptions in Buffalo's 49-31 loss to the Raiders at Wilson Stadium on Oct. 6.

Two of the interceptions led to Raiders touchdowns (See "The Big Play.") And that's not good, particularly when the Bills' defense is so dry of turnovers - it hasn't recovered a fumble since Week 2 and it hasn't intercepted a pass since Dec. 30, 2001 - that sources say antiperspirant companies are lining up for sponsorship opportunities.

The day began ominously for Bledsoe and the Bills, foreshadowing trouble down the road, like this guy in a Stephen King short story who became stranded alone on a tiny deserted island with nothing but a bag of heroin: a guy ... stranded on a tiny deserted island ... heroin ... Stephen King story ... let's just say that foreshadowed an outcome that was not good.

The foreshadowing for Bledsoe didn't present such dire circumstances, but there were enough clues on this day that would have captured the fancy of King.

"I started off poor in the first quarter, particularly and missed a couple easy throws that could have been big plays for us," said Bledsoe, who was 32 for 53 for 417 yards and two touchdowns. "Our defense was really holding them down at that point and we could have jumped out to a lead there if I would have been a little sharper in the beginning of the game. I missed those easy throws and I usually never miss."

Against the Raiders, he did. But what's he gonna do? Be awesome every game? When he's off, that's when the defense has to pick him up, which it didn't, surrendering 495 yards, five touchdowns, and offensive plays of 69 yards, 36 yards (twice), 33 yards, 24 yards and 21 yards.

It was enough to make you wish for the good ol' days of the Wade Phillips' "Keep-Everything-In-Front-Of-You" defense, when double-digit gains were rarer than somebody dying on the "A-Team." (Ha-ha! That's a trick fact: No one ever died on the A-Team. But there were plenty of bruises.)

"I don't like it when we don't get a turnover in one or three games. There is no difference," said Gregg Williams. "You want to get one in every game. I could see them trying to strip the ball out and the ball (came) out a couple of times and we didn't make that play. Those are the kind of plays we have got to make to take the next step - a difference - to give our offense another (chance). We've got to learn to do those things. We've got to get some turnovers."

But Gannon and the Raiders - a veteran bunch featuring receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice - aren't going to give a defense many opportunities. Their short passing game is all about low-risk throws and exquisite execution. It doesn't give a team much time to get at the QB, nor get in position to jump patterns to intercept passes.

"It's really the West Coast offense, the way it's set up (with) a lot of quick, three-step, get rid-of-the-ball (emphasis)," said middle linebacker London Fletcher, who led the team with 10 tackles. Fletcher added that once the passes were completed the defense had to make sure it tackled the ball-handler.

But the Bills didn't make the tackle on a couple of the Raiders scoring plays, such as the 69-yard down-the-middle touchdown pass to running back Oakland up 35-31 in the fourth quarter with 11 minutes, 18 seconds remaining. Garner slipped behind Fletcher's coverage and was off to, as they say, the races, with safeties Pierson Prioleau chasing him like Geraldo Rivera chasing war stories in Afghanistan like a man possessed.

"They showed that in previous games," said Prioleau about Garner's game-winning score. "I take the onus of it. I got to give London Fletcher a little more help. We had Garner matched up on him and he's really a receiver-type guy. When I'm looking at Tim Brown, I'm helping on him more. But at the same time, I got to realize that it's up to me to save London and give him some help."

It was Garner's second touchdown and one of three touchdown throws for Gannon, who finished 23 of 38 for 357 yards, plus a touchdown run himself.

Overall, Gannon was like a dude in control all day. And the Bills defense was his ... ummm ... slave.

That will change once the defense proves it can control an offense by forcing turnovers with regularity.

"Sometimes it's luck," Williams said, "but there was some out there to be had today and we didn't make the plays."

Prioleau said, "The answer is obvious. We got to get some technique things and some fundamental things cleared up. It's kind of frustrating and disappointing as a defense to continue giving up points every week like this and not be able to stop offenses when we know what they're doing. It's like they came out and ran all the things we saw all week in practice. We had a letdown on defense. I expect the best out of this defense because with the talented athletes on this defense there's not an offense in the NFL that we can't stop."

Fletcher said, "(Crap), we got to create turnovers. They aren't going to come to us by accident. We got to go out and make plays - strip the football. Get some sacks. Try to knock the ball out of the quarterback's hand."

 

Big play

Bills' ball, third and 8 from the Oakland 27, eight minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the game, Oakland up 35-31.

Drew Bledsoe was in the shotgun, Larry Centers parallel to him a few steps to his left. Peerless Price was in the slot to his right, Eric Moulds wide right, Josh Reed wide left. Jay Riemersma was next to left tackle Jonas Jennings.

The Raiders were in a 4-2-5 nickel with Philip Buchanon covering Price.

Right end Chris Cooper stunted and went inside nose tackle Sam Adams. Left end Trace Armstrong was against right tackle Mike Williams. Both Cooper and Armstrong came free and chased Bledsoe to his right. The quarterback threw it to Price, who became open about 10 yards downfield. Unfortunately, the throw was short and Buchanon, somewhat off balance, was able to bring the pass in and make the pick. He ran down the left sideline, avoiding Bledsoe, who was really the only obstacle between him and the end zone, and then took it 81 yards for game-killing score and the 42-31 lead.

"I was scrambling out to my right and Buchanon had come up a little bit," Bledsoe said. "I was trying to throw the ball over his head to Peerless and I just didn't throw the ball high enough. And he made a great play on it. And then I wasn't able to make the tackle. It was just a poor play on my part."

Peerless Price said, "We had a corner route, I was in the slot. Drew tried to zip it in there and if it had a little air on it, we would have been all right. I was open."

Buchanon said, "Before that drive, I had a vision I would make a play. I wasn't thinking it would be an 80-yard touchdown. I thought I would get a pick or something like that. The first time it happened, I dropped the ball and I thought, 'That was the play.' Something told me to not worry about it and keep playing. They came back to it and I picked it and scored."


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