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Bills use Big Plays to Knock Out Bucs

Just six days after fumbling one away in Foxborough, the Bills were buoyed by big plays and short memories to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33-20, evening their record at 1-1.

Going into the game, we knew this would go one of two ways: either the Monday night loss against New England would carry over and result in defeat, or the Bills would use Monday night as a means of redemption. Luckily for the raucous home crowd, the latter took place.

The last time the Bills gave their home faithful reason to cheer, you’d have to go all the way back to Oct.19 of last year when the Bills edged out San Diego, 23-14. After that victory, the Bills preceded to lose eight of their final ten games, including five straight at home (four at Ralph Wilson Stadium). In their final three homes games against Cleveland, San Francisco and New England, the Bills scored a total of 30 points.

But on this afternoon the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. The Bills raced out to an early 17-0 lead by way of big scores. Lee Evans got the crowd whipped into a frenzy, hauling in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Trent Edwards and Donte Whitner had the Buffalo faithful dancing in the aisles with his 76-yard interception returned for a touchdown, arguably Whitner’s biggest play of his career in a Bills uniform.

The Bills seemed poised to run away and hide from the Bucs, we all know by now that the Bills always seem to make it interesting, both varieties of good and bad. With Tampa Bay down 20-7 and the Bills in the redzone, Tampa Bay regained the momentum when Fred Jackson fumbled at the Tampa Bay 14-yard line and safety Sabby Piscitelli returned it 72 yards to the Buffalo 8-yard line. One play later, Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich connected with running back Cadillac Williams for an 8-yard score and the Bills, and their fans, went nervously into halftime leading 20-14.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was anxious, frustrated and worried. This had all the makings of the Bills letting their opponent up off the mat and back into the game. What could have been a 23-7 or even a 27-7 halftime lead turned into a one-score game. Which team coming out of the locker were we going to see?

Early in the 3rd quarter, it became gut check time for the Bills. The Bucs made a bold, and looking back now a game-changing decision, to go for it on a fourth-and-one. Whitner made his second big play of the day, stuffing Derrick Ward and taking the wind completely out of the Bucs’ sails.

And then the inevitable happened, and yes I’m talking about the big pink elephant in the room. The Bills big offseason headliner, Terrell Owens, hit pay dirt. After seven generic quarters from Owens, he redeemed himself after dropping a long bomb from Edwards earlier in the game. On a perfect throw from Edwards, Owens hauled in a 43-yard score, his first as a Bill, and The Ralph went wild. Popcorn spilled into the aisles and on the seats. The Edwards-Owens connection broke Tampa’s spirit and put the game out of reach.

The big, backbreaking plays contributed to the win, but Fred Jackson had just as much to do with it. Jackson turned in a effort that Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas could be proud of, rushing for a career best 163 yards on 28 carries. As fans we’ve questioned an awful lot of moves made by the Bills in recent years and the decision to release Dominic Rhodes, essentially leaving Jackson to carry the brunt of the load, seemed curious. After two weeks, I don’t think anyone’s questioning now.

For Tampa Bay, their first ever trip to Buffalo was extremely forgettable. For the second straight week the Bucs gave up 30+ points and were burned by the long ball. Tampa Bay played sloppy, racking up 112 yards on 13 penalties. They converted just 4-of-16 third downs and had only 57 rushing yards on 19 carries, which in turn forced Leftwich to account for 50 pass attempts.

In the end, Buffalo did what we’ve seen the likes of the Steelers, or Colts or Patriots do; they responded after a loss with a big win, and they beat a team they should’ve beaten. Whatever head coach Dick Jauron has said the next week following a loss on Monday Night Football, he’s starting to have that market cornered. For the third straight year, the Bills followed up a loss on Monday night with a win.

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