Neither Doug Flutie nor Rob Johnson could have made a throw like this one. No way Alex Van Pelt would have even attempted it. For Drew Bledsoe, however, it was no problem.
Facing fourth and nine on the New York Jets’ 29-yard line, his Buffalo Bills trailing by a touchdown, Bledsoe stood calmly in the pocket and delivered a perfect touchdown strike into the open arms of wide receiver Eric Moulds.
Along with the 72,751 fans in Ralph Wilson Stadium, I rose off my seat in exultation. One of the game’s brightest stars just a few years ago, the legend of Drew Bledsoe was about to be reborn. The Buffalo Bills, one of the most tortured franchises in all of professional sports, were about to bring new hope to their upstate fans.
Then, like something out of a Greek tragedy (you know, the one that deals with 21st-century American sports), the New York Jets stole all of Bledsoe’s thunder. Chad Morton, who had already returned one kick 98 yards for a touchdown, took the opening kick of overtime 95 yards to the house, winning the game for the Jets, 37-31.
As Bledsoe walked off the field, however, he held his head high. He had reason to be proud. Though the Bills lost the battle, they showed that they are capable of winning the war. Buffalo out-rushed, out-passed and out-played the Jets. But in football, the better team does not always win. And Buffalo, except for those two crucial gaffes on special teams, was clearly the superior squad.
With Moulds and second-year tailback Travis Henry, who ran for over 100 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Jets, to complement their strong-armed signal caller, the Bills have everything they need for a run into the playoffs. The last time the Bills did that, they had another guy who could have gunned that pass into Moulds. A guy by the name of Jim Kelley.
Week 1 Highlights
St. Louis at Denver: Did the Patriots break the Rams? Ruin the mystique? Everyone assumed that New England’s victory over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI was just an extremely well-timed fluke performance. Maybe that wasn’t the case. In beating the Rams, the Patriots not only beat the Rams, they beat them up. The Broncos copied the Pats’ strategy on Sunday, and they as well met with success. Granted the game was played on natural grass, which isn’t the Rams favorite surface, but the Broncos’ 23-16 victory will still give the rest of the league a tremendous amount of hope.
Philadelphia at Tennessee: The Eagles came into the Tennessee with a tremendous amount of confidence and left the state with one question: Is their defense up to par? Entering the second half with a 14-point lead, the Eagles’ D couldn’t hold on to it, as Steve McNair and the Tennessee wide receivers picked them apart after the break for a 27-24 victory.
Granted, Donovan McNabb and the offense couldn’t muster any points after racking up 24 in the first half, but if the Eagles expect to be able to hold the St. Louis receivers at bay, they should be able to handle the likes of the Titans.
Kansas City at Cleveland: In the NFL there are good games, there are bad games, and then there are WEIRD games. This was one of the weirdest. After Cleveland took a 39-37 lead with 33 seconds left to play, it looked like the Browns had won it. Then, on the game’s final play, things got a little bizarre. As Trent Green of the Chiefs went to the ground on what looked to be a game-ending sack, he dumped the ball off to an offensive lineman, who rumbled into Browns territory but failed to score. The game was over. Or was it? As it turned out, a Cleveland player had thrown his helmet in celebration during the play, which is an automatic personal foul. Since a game can’t end on a defensive penalty, the Chiefs got a chance at redemption, and Morten Andersen made the best of it, from 44 yards out. Presto change-o, the Chiefs win 40-39.
Green Bay 37, Atlanta 34 — Vick opens up his back of tricks, falls to a wily Favre.
Miami 49, Detroit 21 — All together now: Har-ring-ton! Har-ring-ton! Har-ring-ton!
San Diego 34, Cincinnati 6 — 34 points? That’s more than Schottenheimer managed to score all of last season.
Chicago 27, Minnesota 23 — Bears let the Champaign flow after coming from behind on the Vikes.
Washington 31, Arizona 23 — Spurrier 1, rest of the NFL 0.
Indianapolis 28, Jacksonville 25 — Dungy returns to Florida and does what he always did: win.
Carolina 10, Baltimore 7 — OK, the Panthers got their victory, now for the 15 straight losses.
Oakland 31, Seattle 17 — Seahawks may not be in the AFC anymore, but they still know how to get whipped by the Raiders.
New Orleans 26, Tampa Bay 20 — Tom Tupa’s favorite target? The other team.
San Francisco 16, New York 13 — Opening day 2002: EJ’s Excellent Adventure.
Monday Night Preview
Pittsburgh at New England: The Patriots will open their brand new stadium on a national stage. That should provide extra incentive for the Steelers, who assumed they would roll past the Pats in last year’s AFC Championship. Pittsburgh’s appetite for revenge should be satisfied.
Steelers 24, Patriots 17.