Certainly there is lingering disappointment that the Bills didn’t make the playoffs, but the Bengals victory had psychological purpose. It meant Buffalo’s only losing season during the past five years was in 2001. And it tied the club record for best one-season turnaround.
Basically, the convincing victory showed the team is on the right track.
Eric Moulds said simply, “8-8 sounds better than 7-9.”
Everyone was happy with the building-block win over Cincinnati. Even Bengals president Mike Brown, who by virtue of the Bills limiting Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna to 55 offensive snaps, doesn’t have to pay the passer a $1.6 million bonus because he played in less than 80 percent of Cincinnati’s plays this year.
Kitna was five plays short and just a few tenths of a percent off.
Hey, numbers are numbers.
For the Bills, the numbers that mattered in this game were third-down conversions and time of possession.
Buffalo was eight of 15 on third downs and Cincinnati was just one of nine. Buffalo held the ball for 38 minutes, 38 seconds; the Bengals 21 minutes, 22 seconds.
Buffalo scored on four of its first five possessions and took a 20-3 lead into halftime on a Drew Bledsoe 7-yard touchdown run (see “The Big Play”) and an Eric Moulds two-yard touchdown catch. It opened a 27-3 lead on Larry Centers’ four-yard run with one minute, 37 seconds left in the third quarter. It became domination, though it wasn’t looking like that initially because the Bengals forced Buffalo into two field goals on the Bills’ two first-quarter red zone possessions.
Bledsoe acknowledged that production inside the opponent’s 20 was a problem late in the year.
“In order for us to take that next step offensively, we have to operate with more precision and have to be able to sustain drives, march the ball down and put it in the end zone,” he said.”
But overall, the Bills came out and performed well in a game that had no playoff impact, a tribute to Gregg Williams.
“We wanted to play hard,” said Moulds, who finished with 100 catches this year – the 39th receiver in NFL history to record 100 in a season. He also broke his own club record of 94 catches in 2000. “I think we all said to ourselves that we were going to make plays and win this game.”
Moulds added, “One-hundred catches is great, but it would have felt so much better if I would have had 100 catches and we were going to the playoffs next week.”
Buffalo might have made the playoffs if the defense played the way it played the last two-and-a-half games.
The unit forced four Cincinnati punts and a fumble on its first five possessions. The game was over after that. The unit finished the game strong with Nate Clements and Ahmad Brooks intercepting Kitna on the Bengals’ final two drives. Buffalo held Cincinnati to 84 yard rushing, with three-time Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon limited to 53 yards on 13 carries.
“We did some things to slow the Bengals down a little bit,” said Gregg Williams. “We came up with some turnovers, which was good. An improving defense in the month of December is something I need to see …
“We like the fact that we’ve made improvement, but unless you’re in the playoffs, you are never satisfied. We like the fact that we’ve tied the franchise record for improvement from one year to the next, but again, it’s not good enough.”
Keith Newman said, “It’s always great to go out on a positive note. I think 8-8 sounds a lot better than 7-9. It was a good win for the team.”
“It was a good season,” said Travis Henry, who rushed for 80 yards, but fumbled twice, continuing a season-long epidemic. “We have showed a lot of character this year and today. We wanted to finish the season on a strong note and we just came out and played the game like we had a shot to go to the playoffs. I think that really shows the character of this football team.”
Tom Donahoe was very pleased with the effort. After the game, he defended his head coach and the job he had done this year.
“Some of the criticism of Gregg was unfair and unwarranted,” he said. “Our coaches in two years have not operated with a full roster. Next year we will. And I’m anxious to see them coach and perform with a full complement of players.”
Sounds like the pressure will really be on in Buffalo next season. And it starts this off-season.
Bills’ ball, third and goal from the Cincinnati 7, 10 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Buffalo winning 6-0.
Bills used a four-wide receiver set with Larry Centers in the backfield. Peerless Price, lined up on the right side, a few steps off the line of scrimmage, sandwiched between Josh Reed and Charles Johnson. He went in motion from right to left. Eric Moulds lined up wide left.
Bledsoe took the snap and dropped back to pass. All of the receivers ran toward the outside, leaving the middle exposed. After about three seconds, he took off. The Bengals rushed just four linemen. Right guard Marques Sullivan cleared left end Bernard Whittington out of the way and center Trey Teague floated out with Bledsoe and obstructed dime backer Jason Perry just enough for the quarterback to dive in for the score. Bengal defensive back Marquand Manuel had the best shot at Bledsoe, but once he realized Bledsoe was running, he was too far to make a play. Buffalo took a 13-0 and started its biggest rout of the year.
“It was a called draw,” said Bledsoe, who then jokingly added, “They just decided they were going to give the ball to the best athlete on the team.”
“We just got off to a very poor start,” said Bengals coach Dick LeBeau. “We got too far behind in the first half. We made a lot of mistakes. We couldn’t get them off the field on third down.”
Bledsoe’s touchdown run was one of eight third down situations Buffalo converted.