Playoffs do Lambeau leap to death

It might be time to discard your "Gray must go" signs. The Bills' defense did their best Tampa Bay impression on Dec. 22, holding Brett Favre and the host Packers to just 10 points, and restoring hope that it really is on the right track.

Unfortunately, Drew Bledsoe did his best Rob Johnson impression, holding onto the ball an excessive amount of time all day, leading to six sacks, two interceptions and three lost fumbles, en route to a 10-0 defeat that eliminated Buffalo from postseason contention.

Of course, Bledsoe wasn't entirely the reason Buffalo lost.

Travis Henry noted, "(Green Bay) played a better ball game."


Green Bay's offense and defense played better than Buffalo's. Certainly, the Bills' defense played well, holding the Packers to 223 total yards and just 104 yards passing. But it didn't force the six turnovers or six sacks that the Packers did.

Now the Bills are left to watch the playoffs from their sofas, though Nate Clements wasn't ready to accept that the Bills had been eliminated.

"I don't know who decides all that," Clements obstinately said.

The obvious answer is that the NFL decides.

The real answer was that the Bills decided by not playing well enough in 2002.

"It certainly doesn't fit our expectation for the season," said Bledsoe. "We expected to be in the playoffs and to have a chance.

"But the one thing I do know, the one thing I have great confidence in is that we are going to win here. This team missed our opportunity this year, but I have great confidence that this team, this organization – we are going to have a successful franchise."

They might, but they're going to have to learn from the season's negatives first. They have to use the negatives to create positives later on. That's how they'll become successful.

"It's kind of discouraging," said Eric Moulds. "But at the same time, this is the hand we were dealt. We made this way by not winning games, and anytime you don't win games, you don't put yourself in position to make the playoffs."

Mould's thinking was correct. He knows it takes acceptance of the past to move forward. He knows that Buffalo has only itself to blame.

On this day, the Bills had the offense to blame, ironically, when the offense carried the team most of the season.

The offense just stunk like strong Wisconsin cheese. It made the red zone three times and scored no points. Zero.

Bledsoe threw an interception from the Green Bay 4 on Buffalo's opening possession, set up when rookie nickel back Kevin Thomas intercepted Brett Favre at the Green Bay 40 and returned it 31 yards to the Packers' 9.

That was the great beginning Buffalo's offense was looking for all year. But it wasted the chance.

On the second half's opening drive, down 3-0, Buffalo marched from its 31 to the Packers' 5. But then Bledsoe was sacked on third down and Mike Hollis missed a 33-yard field goal.

Another wasted chance.

Buffalo got to the Green Bay 17 on its last possession, trailing 10-0, but the Packers sacked Bledsoe, forced a fumble and recovered. Two kneel-downs later, the game was over.

In between, there were other missed opportunities.

Peerless Price dropped a 40-yard bomb from Bledsoe that would have put Buffalo inside the Packers' 20 during the third quarter, the team down 3-0.

Price, who had just five catches for 39 yards said, "I just dropped it. I was trying to make something happen before I caught it."

He added, "[That was] the worst game I ever played, I've ever been involved with. I have no idea (why we were so bad). We just didn't execute. Plain and simple. We had opportunities to make plays and we didn't."

He's right. Execution was shoddy.

Two Bledsoe fumbles ended fourth quarter drives. One led to a punt. Henry also fumbled in the first quarter when Buffalo had just entered Green Bay territory.

Overall, Buffalo turned the ball over three times when it crossed the 50, and NFL teams can't win when they do that.

What a waste, because Buffalo's defense was terrific most of the day.

In the fourth quarter, Buffalo down 3-0, Nate Clements intercepted his fifth pass on a deep post route – an acrobatic catch in which he climbed over Green Bay's star receiver Donald Driver and came down with the ball at the Buffalo 10. That was after Clements had just muffed a punt, the pick snuffing out one of the few Packers' scoring opportunities.

Unfortunately, Buffalo couldn't do anything with the turnover, punting three plays later.

"Those guys stepped up, made a ton of plays," lamented Price. "And we just looked terrible."

Bledsoe said, "The defense really played well today. They did a good job on shutting down the running game, and they turned the ball over for us a [a couple] times. Yeah, our defense really played well today. They played well enough for us to win the game, we just couldn't put enough points on the board offensively."

Eric Moulds said, "We felt we played good enough to win defensively. Offensively we didn't make enough plays. I felt we ran the ball effectively at some point in the second half, but overall, as far as being a balanced offense, we didn't do it today."

Green Bay's defensive front-four dominated Buffalo's line, making it difficult to move the football.

"Every time I got the ball, I was seeing those green jerseys," said Henry, who finished with 46 yards on 20 carries. "We couldn't run the ball today. We couldn't throw the ball today, and when you can't do that, (you lose)."

"It was just a matter of them winning the line of scrimmage," said Gregg Williams. "They won the battle of the line of scrimmage against our offensive line. And our offensive line has won most of those all year long. They didn't today."

"It was just us. It was nothing they did," Price said. "It was a lot of mistakes. I don't think we regressed. We had a lot of success early, and now, we ain't making plays. We made those plays earlier in the year."

Green Bay took a 3-0 second quarter lead when it capitalized on a drive start at its 48 following a Brian Moorman punt from the Buffalo 10. It drove 37 yards for the Ryan Longwell 33-yard field goal.

And that would really be all it needed.

It added a Donald Driver 11-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter as insurance shortly after Bledsoe fumbled at his 40 and Jamal Reynolds recovered (see "The Big Play").

The Driver score came one play after Buffalo thought it recovered a fumble. Running back Ahman Green caught a swing pass, and appeared to fumble it after he took two steps when a Buffalo defender popped him. Clements picked it up and might have gone the distance to give Buffalo a 7-3 lead, but the officials ruled that it was an incomplete pass.

Clements said, "The whistle seemed late. Even some of their players were chasing me."

"To us it's a fumble," said Williams. "You can't challenge it once it's ruled an incomplete pass. I can challenge the spot – one-and-a-half, two yards – but I wasn't going to make that challenge. But what I did talk to the official (about was) that's why (they're) supposed to err on the other side. Mike Sherman's supposed to have that challenge, not me. And that's what instant replay is for is for that play to be ruled a fumble."

Not on this day. Not during this season.

What a waste.

Big play

Bills' ball, third and 14 from the Buffalo 45, 9 minutes, 1 second remaining in the fourth quarter, Green Bay winning 3-0.

Buffalo lined up in a three-wide receiver set with two wide receivers and a tight end on the left side and a receiver on the right. With Larry Centers to his right, Drew Bledsoe took the snap from the shotgun formation.

Green Bay rushed five, getting gorgeous one-on-one matchups for each defender. Vonnie Holliday, playing defensive tackle, went around right guard Marques Sullivan and tackled Bledsoe, knocking the ball from his hands. Strongside linebacker Na'il Diggs penetrated on left tackle Jonas Jennings and also converged on the Bills quarterback, jumping on his back. Right end Jamal Reynolds spotted the loose football and pounced on it.

Four plays later Brett Favre threw 11 yards to Donald Driver for the game-winning score.

"They basically did what we had seen, for the most part," said Drew Bledsoe, speaking generally of the Packers' penchant for forcing him to hold onto the football because they covered excellently. That was the major reason for three of Bledsoe's four fourth quarter fumbles. "They do a good job mixing up their coverages, mixing in a few blitzes here and there, but it was nothing we hadn't seen."

"It was a combination of things," Gregg Williams said of the pass protection. "It just wasn't all pressure. It was more technique than anything."

And also, it was Holliday, who recorded a Packers record five sacks.

"Talk to Mike Sherman about Vonnie Holliday," said Williams, absolutely disgusted.

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