Bills pound Jaguars on the ground

Scott Pitoniak, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It has been a challenging season for Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson, punctuated by injury and the loss of his starting job to the dynamic C.J. Spiller. But instead of sulking, Jackson has done what he's always done -- plowed forward whenever he got the opportunity.
And in Sunday's 34-18 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in rainy Ralph Wilson Stadium, the opportunities were plentiful and Jackson made the most of them. The six-year veteran out of Division III Coe College rushed 25 times for 109 yards as the Bills won for the second time in three weeks and improved to 5-7 to keep their ultra-slim playoff hopes alive. Jacksonville dropped to 2-10.
It was Jackson's first 100-yard rushing game since last season as the Bills ground out 232 yards and wore down the Jaguars, who won the time of possession, 35:09 to 24:51.
"I was real happy for him because there is nobody that continues to work harder to help this football team win than Fred," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "I was really excited for him."
In recent weeks, Gailey made Spiller the starter and said he would follow a formula where Spiller would get about 60 percent of the touches to Jackson's 40 percent. But he decided to scrap that equation Sunday. And although Spiller carried just 14 times, he was still able to be effective, gaining 77 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown burst that put the Bills up by 24 points early in the fourth quarter.
"Both of these guys -- and every player in this league -- has pride," Gailey said. "They want to play. They want to be big contributors. But how you handle it is the key. You can handle it with class. They are each other's biggest supporter and we are blessed to be able to have that situation with two classy, talented backs."
With the wind and rain making passing more precarious than usual, Jackson believed the Bills would emphasize a ground-and-pound.
"I felt coming out here, seeing (the inclement weather), we were going to have to run the ball," Jackson said. "I felt I would be able to get out there and get that opportunity and make plays. I told CJ to expect the ball a lot today. We got the running game going early."
Jacksonville came into the game riding the hot hand of Chad Henne, who had thrown for 615 yards and six touchdowns the last two games in place of injured starter Blaine Gabbert. But the Bills defense strung together its third consecutive solid performance, limiting Henne to 18 completions in 41 attempts for 208 yards and one score.
Henne was sacked four times, intercepted once and also fumbled once. The Jags converted just one of 10 third downs and was zero-for-three on fourth-down-conversion attempts.
"Yeah, we did take a step back," said Henne, whose 57.8 pass efficiency rating was half of what he compiled in his previous two games. "We hurt ourselves with a lot of penalties. We didn't run the ball very well. It was just poor execution by us."
The Bills entered the game with the league's 30th-ranked run defense but limited the injury-depleted Jags' running back corps to 50 yards on 18 carries, a paltry 2.8 per carry average. Once again, injured star Maurice Jones-Drew was sorely missed.
"We didn't get it established," Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey said of the running game. "We really couldn't. The yards we got were hard-earned. We weren't getting into the second level very many times."
The Bills scored first on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Fitzpatrick with 9:10 left in the first quarter. The key play in the drive was a 51-yard pass down the middle to rookie T.J. Graham to the Jags 1.
Early in the second quarter, Jags linebacker Paul Posluszny intercepted a pass intended for Stevie Johnson and returned it 5 yards to the Bills 32. Buffalo's defense held and Jacksonville settled for a 36-yard field goal by Josh Scobee, his 20th in 21 attempts this season.
After the Bills failed to convert a fourth-and-5 from the Jacksonville 37, the Jags took a 10-7 lead on a 1-yard bootleg by Henne. The drive featured a 24-yard pass interference call against Bills cornerback Ron Brooks, a 24-yard completion to Cecil Shorts and a 12-yard dump-off to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Buffalo responded with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Fitpatrick to tight end Scott Chandler with 1:56 to go. The drive began on the Jacksonville 26, thanks to a 55-yard kickoff return by Marcus Easley and a personal foul against Richard Murphy.
The Bills increased their lead to 17-10 with 34 seconds left in the half on a 29-yard field goal by Rian Lindell. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams set up the field goal when he stripped Henne of the ball and recovered at the Jags 14.
Fitzpatrick's 13-yard touchdown pass to Johnson on the Bills' first possession of the second half increased their lead to two touchdowns. Brad Smith gave Buffalo a great drive start with a 38-yard kickoff return to the Bills 39.
Lindell's 50-yard field goal with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter increased Buffalo's cushion to 27-10. And on the Bills next series, Spiller turned the game into a rout with a 44-yard touchdown run.
Jacksonville closed to 34-18 with 10:47 remaining on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Henne to Shorts and a two-point conversion run by Montell Owens. The scores came after Antwon Blake recovered a muffed punt by Justin Rogers, who was filling in for injured punt returner Leodis McKelvin.
NOTES: Jason Babin, who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the week, made his first start at defensive end with two tackles and two assists for the Jaguars. He also was whistled for a roughing-the-passer. . . . Graham, starting in place of injured Donald Jones at wide receiver, had a career-best reception of 51 yards, 27 longer than his previous best. . . . Posluszny, a second-round pick of the Bills in 2007, had two tackles, six assists tackles and an interception in his return to Buffalo. It was his third pick of the year. . . . Fitzpatrick was 9 of 17 for 112 yards. He was intercepted once. . . . Fitzpatrick and Johnson have combined for 22 touchdowns, tying Jim Kelly and Pete Metzelaars for the fourth most-prolific passing combo in Bills history . . . Mularkey was 14-18 in his two seasons coaching the Bills. His 9-7 finish in 2004 marked the last time the Bills enjoyed a winning season.

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