Bills clamp down on Texans, win 31-24

It was a lot harder than expected, but ultimately, the Bills' 31-24 win over the expansion Houston Texans on Oct. 13 was satisfying. You know, the same kind of satisfaction that the United States will get from inevitably flashing its military might over the tiny Iraqi army pretty soon.

That kind of satisfying.

In reality, the victory was only satisfying because it enabled Buffalo (3-3) to move into a second-place tie with the Patriots, who dropped their third in a row. And it was satisfying because, let's face it, wins have not come all that often during Gregg Williams' tenure, so any time the Bills can win, that's satisfying.

And lastly, it was satisfying because it's the latest in the season that the team was .500 since Dec. 23, 2000 – the season finale vs. Seattle, which was Doug Flutie's last game as a Bill.

Gregg Williams was all pumped because Houston had two weeks to prepare for Buffalo, yet the Bills still won.

"They were coming off a week's rest and they played very hard and very energetic," Williams said of the Texans. "And we knew that they could do some things against our protections (where) we had to be right on … We had to minimize negative plays in that situation because they had the right call for the right situation. They made a couple of big plays in the first half. And the difference in the second half was that we didn't give up many big plays."

Overall, the Bills were really fortunate to win despite the following: the defense playing a half of football and not recording a turnover for the fourth straight game; Travis Henry fumbling early in the fourth quarter and Houston converting it for a 24-17 lead; the team being called for a season-high 13 penalties for 128 yards.

Get the picture? The Texans had a lot going for them, but, like a typical expansion team, failed to deliver. They're just not very good. And Buffalo was good enough.

The Bills trailed by 14 right before the half, but put together an 80-yard drive that ended with a one-yard Henry touchdown run, closing the gap to seven.

Then at halftime, the defense experienced a miraculous transformation, after surrendering 258 yards to Houston – including 193 yards passing and two touchdowns. One of them came on a 17-yard David Carr run where the rookie quarterback noticed that the entire Bills defense – as if the players had huge magnets in their pants – was magnetically attracted to the sidelines, which convinced Carr to take a light stroll down the middle for the obvious score and a 17-3 lead. It was as if Carr had an oppositely charged magnet in his own pants, repelling the Bills like water vs. Gore-Tex.

At halftime, however, that would all change.

No matter how much Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray may have wanted to repel from his own defense, he stood in there tall and proud organizing his unit and getting it to play with purpose and flair.

What he said in that room would stay in that room, but Williams offered this: "The big thing was Jerry challenged them at halftime to step up … He did a very good job on (executing) the scheme the whole second half."

Gray didn't actually go on the field and execute, but his unit did step it up, giving up only 80 yards of offense the last two quarters – 46 of which came on the Texans' final desperation drive when they were down 31-24.

The step-it-up defense worked to perfection. What a strategy!

"It says a lot of the character of this football team," said strong safety Coy Wire. "Coach Gray could have been like a cheap tent and folded when they started getting some momentum there, but Coach Gray kept us in there and the veterans on the defensive side of the ball kept us strong."

"It wasn't anything at all that we did," said London Fletcher, totally blowing the cover off the step-it-up defensive scheme. "We stuck to our game plan. We did a couple more changes as far as how we were rushing the quarterback because he was able to hurt us a couple of times rushing the football in key situations, but really, there wasn't any wholesale changes. Everybody took the onus on them to make a play happen."

Yes they did.

Five different players recorded sacks on a Texans line that might just be worse than the line the Bills used against Pittsburgh last year. There still weren't any turnovers, but you can't have everything, even though this is America.

"At halftime we were down by seven and we knew we could play better," said Chidi Ahanotu. "So we regrouped and we kept doing the things we were doing and correcting things and then it went right. These guys also had two weeks rest in preparing for us. And so they came out in the first half like gangbusters. In the second half, we stepped it up and they kind of (came down)."

Man, that step-it-up defense is awesome. It gave up just three first downs before that final Houston drive. And it forced a crucial three-and-out shortly after Drew Bledsoe tied the game with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Eric Moulds with 10 minutes 39 seconds left. Buffalo got the ball back and scored on a second-straight drive, going 68-yards for the game-winning score to Peerless Price (See "The Big Play.")

Price said, "We believe. Regardless of what the (situation) is, we believe. And it all started with (Drew). He's in there saying like, ‘We're gonna have opportunities, just stay with me.' And that's what we did today. That's what we did against Minnesota. We're gonna have opportunities to make plays and when we do, we just have to go out there and do it. And we've done a tremendous job of doing that this year."

"Everybody came together," said Henry, who rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns. "We just had to not beat ourselves."

Ahanotu added that this game will help Buffalo build some confidence heading to Miami Oct. 20.

"We need to build as many positives as we can," he said "And then keep it going. That's gonna definitely give us some confidence."

That's what beating Iraq, er, Houston will do.


The Big Play

Bills' ball, third and 6 from the Houston 26, four minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the game, game tied at 24.

Drew Bledsoe was in the shotgun. Larry Centers a few steps to his right, with Peerless Price in the slot to Bledsoe's left, Eric Moulds wide left and Josh Reed wide right. Jay Riemersma was on the right side next to tackle Marcus Price, who was filling in for injured rookie Mike Williams.

The Texans were in their nickel defense with cornerback Kenny Wright covering Peerless Price.

Bledsoe took the snap and saw Wright coming on a blitz. Moulds ran a post pattern and Price, seeing that Wright was heading toward Bledsoe, ran a short out, knowing that the safety would take a couple of seconds to get on him. When ex-Bill Matt Stephens arrived, Price had the ball, quickly pivoted inside, which threw Stevens off him and he was clear for the 26-yard touchdown down the left sideline. The Bills had their first lead of the game, which just so happened to be the game-winning score.

"It wasn't designed for me, but you never know when it's coming to you so I think we all did a great job of running our routes even though we we're not the first read. So that's what I did. They blitzed and Drew threw a great ball to me and I was one on one with [free safety] Matt Stevens and

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