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PLAN TO BEAT RAMS DATED TO '99

A little familiarity goes a long way.

In preparing for the St. Louis Rams' high-powered offense, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray went back to his days as defensive backs coach with the Tennessee Titans for a solution.

In 1999, the Rams came to Tennessee as the talk of the NFL with a 6-0 record, a 36.2-point scoring average and a rags-to-riches story in quarterback Kurt Warner.

All the Titans did was hold the Rams scoreless in the first half and record six sacks and three turnovers in a 24-21 victory.

Using some of the same tactics -- such as mixing zone and man coverage and an aggressive pass rush -- Gray orchestrated a game plan that allowed the Bills' defense to get six sacks, force three turnovers and hold the Rams scoreless in the second half of a 37-17 victory.

"We had some success against those guys when they were at the top of the game, so I knew there were some things we could do in order to disrupt their guys in coverage to help us out," Gray said. "The best thing we have here is we've got a lot of good, young DBs that can cover. We've got two linebackers (Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher) that know exactly what they're doing when they're in nickel coverage and we've got penetrating D-linemen.

"So all those things gave us a chance to play more to the things we did in Tennessee instead of having to play a generic defense that everybody else has been playing against the Rams this year."

The Bills' defensive performance was even more impressive given their youthful secondary. Rashad Baker, an undrafted rookie, started at free safety and second-year cornerback Terrence McGee was still filling in for the injured Troy Vincent. Another undrafted rookie, cornerback Jabari Greer, played a prominent role in the nickel package.

Baker played with the poise of a veteran, McGee had eight tackles, a sack and a huge interception in the end zone and Greer had three tackles and a sack on the game's final play.

"I thought they played well," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey. "As a whole, the defense played well. I just felt like those guys didn't do any more than they were supposed to. They understood who they were facing and the potency of them and they stayed away from giving up the big play. They played smart football.

"It's very easy at that age to try and prove your worth, especially when you're getting your first couple of chances. But they didn't do that. That was good to see."

Strong safety Lawyer Milloy had no doubts about Baker performing under pressure. Since training camp, Milloy has been impressed by Baker's confidence.

"He has it," Milloy said. "This is a good time for him to go in, midway through the season. That's when I started my rookie year, around the sixth game. I was a little jittery, but I didn't look back. In this game, I talked to him a little bit. The next game it will be a little less. After that, he controls his own destiny."

Nate Clements' 86-yard punt return for a touchdown Sunday was the second-longest in Bills history behind Keith Moody's 91-yarder against Cleveland in 1977.

With Clements following Jonathan Smith's 70-yarder at New England, the Bills are just one of two teams since 1964 to have two different players return a punt for a touchdown in back-to-back games.

Buffalo also pulled it off in 1966 with Ed Rutkowski (73 yards) and Butch Byrd (72). Deltha O'Neal (57 yards) and Rod Smith (65) did it for Denver last season.

Had Smith not been tackled at the 5-yard line after a 53-yard return against St. Louis, the Bills would have joined Oakland (83 yards by Phillip Buchanon and 79 by Terry Kirby in 2002) as the only teams to have punt return TDs by two players in the same game.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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