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GROUND CONTROL
WORKHORSE MCGAHEE, DEFENSE HELP ROCK JETS

Willis McGahee tossed his dirty, scratched-up jersey to equipment manager Dave Hojnowski in the locker room Sunday evening and said, "Hey, I want to keep that one. I'm going to be superstitious about it."

The Buffalo Bills running back has reason to think there's something special about the blue No. 21 shirt he wore against the New York Jets. He has worn the same one three straight home games, and he has three 100-yard rushing days to show for it.

Luck, however, had nothing to do with the Bills' 22-17 victory.

The Bills improved to 3-5 by outrushing and outhitting the Jets in an impressive display of power football.

"The thing that I like is that the team is starting to take on the personality that (head coach) Mike (Mularkey) has been preaching since he first got here," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "We're showing the power running game, special teams are playing very well, we've been efficient the last couple of games in not turning the ball over, and our defense is playing well."

The Jets (6-2) entered the game No. 2 in the NFL in rushing, but the Bills outgained them on the ground, 157-88. The Jets were No. 3 in the NFL in time of possession, but the Bills held a clock edge of 37:28 to 22:32. The Jets were No. 2 in quarterback sacks, but the Bills kept Bledsoe unscathed and kept Jets quarterback Chad Pennington on the run all day.

"We whipped their butts today -- point blank," said Bills defensive tackle Pat Williams. "They were talking all week about their D-line, 'Fear Factor,' this and that. You didn't hear John Abraham's name all day or Shaun Ellis' name all day. . . . We kicked their butts."

McGahee gave the crowd of 72,574 in Ralph Wilson Stadium their money's worth.

The 6-foot, 230-pound back rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. His 37 carries tied for the second most in Bills history, behind only O.J. Simpson's mark of 39. McGahee has 345 yards in three starts and is the first Bills back to go for 100 or more in his first three career starts.

"God's on my side in that situation," McGahee said. "I give thanks to him and thanks to the O-line. They have faith in me, and I have to make them look good."

"He played great," said Jets back Curtis Martin. "I saw him make people miss today. I saw him run through arm tackles, and I saw him use some speed to get around the corner."

McGahee used his speed to give the Bills a 7-0 lead 9:42 into the game. The Bills had taken over at the Jets' 21 after London Fletcher and Nate Clements forced a fumble by Pennington.

On a fourth-and-1 situation from the Jets' 12, Mularkey eschewed a field-goal try and sent McGahee on a counter run off right tackle. Fullback Daimon Shelton and defensive tackle-turned-guard Justin Bannan led the way, and McGahee outran everyone to the sideline and into the end zone.

He celebrated by doing his version of the Lambeau Leap -- the Buffalo Bounce? -- and diving into the first row of fans in the corner of the end zone.

"Hey, we've got to start our own tradition," McGahee said.

The Bills took command on the first drive of the third quarter, marching 77 yards in 13 plays to a touchdown that put them ahead, 17-10.

It wasn't fancy. The signature play of the march was a 12-yard toss sweep by McGahee to the Jets' 6, with tackle Jonas Jennings blowing out Abraham, the Jets' star defensive end, and Shelton bulldozing linebacker Eric Barton. Bledsoe capped the march with a 4-yard TD strike to rookie Lee Evans, who made a diving catch in the right corner of the end zone.

"Drew has been playing the game for a long time, and he knows where to put the ball," Evans said. "That pass plays to his strength."

The Bills' second-ranked defense took the game over from there.

Martin, who has five 100-yard games this year, managed just 21 yards on nine carries after intermission. He finished with 67 yards.

The Jets had just three first downs in the second half. In their blowout of Miami last Monday night, the Jets' backs had 12 gains of 10 yards or more. Against the Bills they had just one. The Bills' defensive line and linebackers strung out the Jets' vaunted power sweep plays.

"They run those better than anybody, but we've got team speed better than anybody," said free safety Izell Reese. "As far as sideline to sideline goes, when you have those big guys who can run laterally as well as we do, it's huge. And that's another linebacker going in the hole when Lawyer (Milloy) drops down there."

An interception by Milloy two minutes into the fourth quarter set the Bills up at the Jets' 24. Milloy read Pennington's eyes and jumped in front of a third-down slant pass for Wayne Chrebet. It led to a Rian Lindell field goal that put the Bills ahead, 20-10.

With 6:04 left, the Bills got a safety, set up by a 39-yard coffin-corner punt by Brian Moorman. Williams tackled Martin in the end zone to make it 22-10.

The Jets pulled within five points when quarterback Quincy Carter -- subbing after Pennington hurt his shoulder -- threw a 51-yard TD pass to Santana Moss. Cornerback Terrence McGee was burned on the play.

But the Bills' offense was able to run out the final 4:06, thanks to a 27-yard sideline pass to Evans.

For the second straight game, Bledsoe had no interceptions and no sacks.

"It seems like we're starting to get it," he said of Mularkey's blueprint. "And that's what allows me to have a sense of optimism on what we can do the rest of the year."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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