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Surprise! SURPRISE!
Peter King
September 15, 2003
The Bills picked up an ex-Patriot, then decked his old team in an opening week full of upset
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September 15, 2003

Surprise! Surprise!

The Bills picked up an ex-Patriot, then decked his old team in an opening week full of upset

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In the meantime Buffalo and New England tried to focus on their game plans, which were now affected by how much Milloy could help his new team with the knowledge he had of the Patriots' systems. While Bills coach Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride were debriefing Milloy, they learned how to beat the Patriots' secondary with a deep seam route they love to run with wideout Eric Moulds. Milloy told the coaches that fourth-year strong safety Antwan Harris, the man who replaced him in New England, would be assigned to provide deep help on Josh Reed, the wide receiver working across the middle on the play. And he said by the time Harris realized that quarterback Drew Bledsoe was going deep to Moulds up the left seam, it would be too late for him to recover and help Law.

"When Lawyer told us that," says Bledsoe, "we knew Ty would be out on an island against Eric and it would be a great play for us."

The perfect time to run it came midway through the first quarter, with Buffalo leading 7-0 but facing a first-and-20 situation on its 11. Bledsoe's execution was brilliant. He first looked to his right, then at Reed flashing across the middle from the left. Then Bledsoe suddenly looked down the left side and threw to Moulds, who had a step on Law. By the time Harris recognized the play, he was three steps late, and the ball settled into Moulds's arms for a 49-yard gain. Law made the tackle, then angrily gestured to Harris that he should have been there to help. "That was a big play," Law said. "[Harris] should have been there. But I screw up some plays too."

Bledsoe then continued what turned out to be a 15-play drive, eating up almost eight minutes on the clock and cashing in with a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dave Moore.

"Lawyer would have gotten there in time," says Williams. "In fact, he would have killed Eric. He would have knocked his block off, and we probably wouldn't have completed the pass. Antwan was just a step slow."

Ultimately Milloy's abrupt change of address may have shifted the balance of power in the AFC East in the Bills' favor. In the off-season Buffalo president and general manager Tom Donahoe shrewdly upgraded a defense that last year ranked 27th in the league in points allowed by signing free agents Sam Adams at tackle, and Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey at linebacker. The secondary, however, was relatively untouched. But when Milloy became available, Donahoe says he immediately phoned owner Ralph Wilson to ask if he could stretch his budget and pursue the All-Pro safety. (Buffalo was $4 million under the cap.)

"I said to him, 'Are you kidding me? Go! Go get him!' " says Wilson, who called his G.M. 10 times over the next two days for updates on where negotiations stood. The two sides agreed on a four-year, $15 million contract, with $7 million in salary and bonus in 2003. And by Sunday afternoon Milloy didn't look at all downcast about leaving New England.

It was hard to believe while watching the Bills dominate the Patriots that New England had whipped Buffalo 38-7 on the same field 10 months earlier, its fifth straight win in the series. The main reason for the Bills' about-face: defensive speed. "We really only had one linebacker, London Fletcher, last year," Donaboe says. Now they've got three. Posey didn't have great numbers on Sunday (four tackles), but he's an explosive player who, at 249 pounds, is big enough to take on tight ends. Spikes played like a man possessed, with six tackles, three passes batted down and the first two-interception game of his career. Forty-five minutes after the game, he was still so revved up that he looked like he could play another four quarters. "We're just as fast as any defense in the league," said Spikes, who signed with Buffalo after five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. "Then we add Lawyer, and that got everyone juiced. We want to be one of the great defenses, like the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Ravens."

The Bills got an unexpected boost from the 330-pound Adams: In the second quarter he jumped to catch an ill-timed pass from Brady, then rumbled 37 yards for a touchdown that made the score 21-0. ("My factor back," Williams called him after the game.) On the Pats' next play Adams shot through the line to sack Brady for a nine-yard loss. "Nobody gives me much credit for being an athlete," Adams said afterward, "but I am."

Said Bledsoe, "You have no idea how sweet it is to have a defense like this."

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