Peyton Manning Passes the Bills Again and Again



Professional football may have brought smiles back to the faces of many around the league this weekend. That wasn't the case in Buffalo, as Peyton Manning left Bills fans looking at the heavens screaming, "Why, why?"

Manning torched the Bills secondary, going 23 for 29 for 421 yards and four touchdowns. His performance marked the first time a Bills opponent had passed for over 400 yards against the team since Steve Young did in 1992 in the infamous no-punt game. The difference in that game was that Jim Kelly was able to keep pace and eventually lead his team to victory.

Yesterday, Rob Johnson seemed content to plod along, never seizing the chance to turn the game into a wide-open shoot out against a suspect defense. The Bills offense only generated one meaningful touchdown, a four-yard scamper by Travis Henry that tied the game in the second quarter.

The best game of Manning's career followed what may have been his worst start. In the game's first possession, Manning tried to hit Jerome Pathon on a sideline out-pattern. Rookie cornerback Nate Clements stepped in front of the ball and coasted 48 yards to the end zone for his first NFL touchdown, and an early 7-0 advantage for the Bills.

No sooner had Manning shaken off the interception than the Bills defense forced its second turnover when cornerback Antoine Winfield stripped tight end Ken Dilger at the Colts' 38-yard line. Kenyatta Wright recovered, and Buffalo had a chance to take a commanding lead early in the game in front of a shell shocked Colts crowd.

It didn't happen. Johnson threw three straight times for a net total of one yard, and the Bills were forced to punt.

It looked like the Bills defense had forced their third turnover in as many possessions, but a defensive holding call against Winfield wiped out Clements' second interception of the afternoon and gave the Colts a first and goal at the one-yard line. Edgerrin James ran it in from the one, and the floodgates had opened.

The Colts scored touchdowns on their next four possessions, taking a 35-17 halftime advantage and putting the game out of reach. The scores were reminiscent of the backyard strikes of childhood pickup games. It wasn't anything fancy; the Colts' receivers just outran the Bills' defensive backs downfield, and Manning had ample time to pick out the receivers behind a steadfast offensive line. Jerome Pathon got so far behind the secondary that there wasn't a Bill in the picture as he crossed the goal line on a 63-yard flea-flicker.

Johnson then led the Bills on an 85-yard march to tie the score. The big play on the drive was a 34-yard run on reverse by Peerless Price, who took it down to the four-yard line. From there, Henry showed why he is considered one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season. He carried the ball off guard, and was met by a host of Colts tacklers. Not to be deterred, Henry bounced outside and dragged a Colt linebacker into the end zone.

Manning answered with another two-play drive, which culminated in a 39-yard touchdown strike to Marvin Harrison. Johnson then threw his only interception of the evening, lofting a wounded duck behind intended receiver Eric Moulds. The ball deflected into the hands of safety Chad Cota at the Bills 39-yard line. Manning then tossed a 39-yard bomb to Harrison for the score, and the rout was on. Harrison caught his third touchdown, this time a 7-yard strike over the middle to stake the Colts to an 18-point halftime advantage.

While it was the Colts offense that bludgeoned the Bills for 555 yards yesterday afternoon, the Bills also inflicted a lot of damage on themselves. They didn't just shoot themselves in the foot with penalties; they more or less took the bullet in the face.

Under new Coach Gregg Williams supposedly disciplined regime, the Bills took an unprecedented 18 penalties for 128 yards. Just when things looked like they couldn't get any worse, they did. Already missing all-pro linebacker Sam Cowart for the season, the Bills now may be without their most potent offensive threat in Eric Moulds, who went out with a leg injury late in the game.

The Bills will get a chance to get off the snide next week, when they return home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.