The Indianapolis Colts threw something different at the Buffalo Bills Sunday in the RCA Dome: a competitive defense.
A year ago, the Colts' defense was ranked 29th overall. It was unable to stop the run, unable to pressure the quarterback and unable to protect fourth-quarter leads.
Sunday, it excelled in all three areas.
"There in no comparison (to '98). None," tackle Ellis Johnson said after the Colts' harassed quarterback Doug Flutie and harnessed the Bills, 31-14. "(Coordinator) Vic Fangio really put together a great scheme for Buffalo. That's where all the pressure came from.
"Vic put the plan together. All we did was carry it out. It was a great day."
That would depend on which sideline you were standing on.
Flutie, the Bills' elusive quarterback, threw for 300 yards and one touchdown, but virtually every pass was delivered under duress. He was sacked five times and whacked numerous times after throwing a pass. He also was picked off twice, with dime back Tony Blevins returning the second one 74 yards for a game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
"They were hitching up all game," said Blevins, who registered his first career interception. "When they finally went my way, I broke on the ball and was lucky enough to come up with a pick."
"We wanted to pressure him, obviously," Fangio said. "Any good passing team you go against you have to be able to create some pressure. But we also wanted to avoid giving up the big play, which is what they were so good at."
The Bills admitted Fangio's aggressive, attacking approach occasionally gave them fits.
"They gave us a lot of trouble with their zone blitz, which we knew they had," coach Wade Phillips said. "They had some different (blitzes). They had different schemes and things that we hadn't seen before.
"I thought that it hurt us the first two series and after that I thought that we adjusted."
Flutie indicated Buffalo's inability to run the football gave the Colts too many opportunities to apply pressure and placed too heavy a burden on the passing game. The backs rushed 11 times for 23 yards, with Antowain Smith managing just 7 yards on six carries.
In 1998, the Bills featured the NFL's third-ranked running attack.
"I'm exhausted. We had to throw the ball too much," said Flutie, who was 22 for 42.
"We threw the ball well at times, but penalties and a couple of sacks put you out of down-and-distance and then you have to start heaving it."
Colts coach Jim Mora, whose background is rooted on the defensive side of the ball, saw his patience tested a year ago. Sunday, he saw something worthy of praise: a defense that more than held its own.
"Man, I can't tell you how nice that is," he said. "You can't win and you can't be a good football team unless you can play defense.
"I'm going to give credit to the defensive staff. I thought we had one heck of a game plan."