The “Hawk” was aloft in Ralph Wilson Stadium, with the scoreboard-to-tunnel jetstream in full force on a misty, blustery Halloween afternoon, and Josh McCown had no clue how to deal with the less-than-ideal conditions ... or the Buffalo defense. The Cardinals coaching staff tried to protect their young quarterback, but didn’t have much luck: his first-half stats included five completions for 37 yards, three sacks, several other quarterback pressures, and a roughing-the-passer penalty against Sam Adams. By halftime, McCown had to be wondering if there was an easier way to make a living.
Even their only scoring drive needed help, as a Troy Hambrick fumble (forced by Lawyer Milloy, recovered by Ryan Denney) was negated by Aaron Schobel’s offsides penalty four plays before Obafemi Ayanbadejo’s 4-yard touchdown run brought the Cards within 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
That glimmer of hope lasted a mere 13 seconds, or the amount of time it took Terrence McGee to run back the ensuing kickoff for an 87-yard touchdown. With their 10-point lead restored, a 30-mph wind in their face, and Drew Bledsoe also struggling with the inclement weather, the Bills were content to hand off to Willis McGahee and let Brian Moorman punt them out of danger for the remainder of the half.
The third quarter was a battle of field position, and even though they had the wind at their back, Arizona’s special teams couldn’t match Buffalo’s. Late in the quarter, Nate Clements ripped off a 34-yard punt return to set up the offense at the Arizona 19, and they only needed four plays to find the end zone for a 24-7 lead as the final quarter began.
Clements struck again after a Cardinals three-and-out, this time taking a bad Scott Player punt back 40 yards to the Arizona 22. A facemask penalty took the ball half the distance to the goal line, and the Bills offense did the rest. McGahee’s second scoring run was nullified by a holding penalty on Tim Euhus, but the rookie tight end redeemed himself with a 12-yard touchdown catch on the next play.
With the Cards offense still stuck in reverse, Player was called on to punt from his own end zone. This kick was even worse than the last one; even without another long return from Clements, the Bills offense took over at the 30. McGahee pounded over right guard to put his second touchdown back on the stat sheet, and with seven minutes remaining, the first-team offense retired to the sideline with a 38-7 lead. Arizona did manage a late score to make the final margin look a bit more respectable, but by the time Bryant Johnson pulled in McCown’s last pass, the outcome was long since decided.
NOTES: McGahee finished the game with more yards rushing (102) than Josh McCown had passing (101). Bledsoe wasn’t any better, completing 8 of 17 attempts for 81 yards ... Player was simply awful in the Ralph Wilson Stadium wind tunnel, averaging just 36.6 yards on 10 kicks, while Moorman managed 44.1 on his seven attempts ... The Bills defense held Emmitt Smith to 64 yards on 22 carries ... Star rookie wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald dropped two passes and didn’t register a catch for the only time in his career ... The Bills and Cards left the game with identical 2-5 records.
LAST TIME IN ARIZONA: December 19, 1999 – Bills 31, Cardinals 21
In their only previous trip to the Valley of the Sun, the Bills jumped out to a quick two-touchdown lead in a nationally-televised Sunday night game, but Arizona tied the score at 14 just before halftime. A Steve Christie field goal put Buffalo back in front, but clinging to that slim three-point margin late in the fourth quarter, they needed Doug Flutie’s touchdown pass to Jay Riemersma with 3:01 remaining to finally put away the pesky Cardinals.
“I was honing in on him,” Flutie said of Riemersma’s leaping catch in the back of the end zone. “I was putting the ball in a spot where only he could get to it, trying to be real careful with the ball. I put it in a good spot, and he got it. He’s got just a feel that you can’t coach.”
“I think Doug has a lot of confidence in me, and he knows where I’m going to be on certain routes,” Riemersma said. “That’s kind of the relationship we’ve developed, and the chemistry we have.”
Jake Plummer quickly took Arizona down the field, tossing a 26-yard touchdown pass to Rob Moore just after the two-minute warning, but Henry Jones alertly pounced on the ensuing onside kick and sprinted 37 yards to the end zone to apply the final touches on the Bills’ 31-21 win.
“I didn’t want to give Jake the Snake the ball back with timeouts left and time on the clock and his play-making ability,” Jones said. “I was really keyed in trying to get the ball. The ball took a great bounce, and when I saw it take that big hop I knew I could attack it. I don’t know if I saw a little gap out of the corner of my eye, but when it came down, no one was around so I took off with it.”
NOTES: The win by Buffalo officially eliminated division rivals New York and New England from the playoffs ... To counter an aggressive blitz package by Arizona defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis, the Bills pounded the ball in the second half, rushing for 105 of their 159 yards ... Flutie had a decent game, completing 21-of-32 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions deep in Cardinals territory to keep the Bills from extending their lead ... The Buffalo defense stifled Arizona for most of the evening, holding them to 70 yards rushing and sacking Plummer twice (one each by Phil Hansen and Marcellus Wiley). “Jake the Snake” had a rough outing, finishing the game 11-of-29 for just 119 yards and tossing a pick to Donovan Greer.