The misery ended Sunday for the Buffalo Bills' special teams.
The Bills' special teams shook off their bad start to the 1997 season by playing a huge role in the 22-13 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Chris Mohr's downed punt at the Detroit 1-yard-line led directly to the go-ahead points when Barry Sanders was tackled for a safety that gave the Bills a 15-13 lead.
The Bills also blocked a punt that led to a field goal. They got their best kickoff return of the season, a 53-yarder by Eric Moulds, which set up the first touchdown. And Steve Christie kicked his longest field goal of the season, a 47-yarder.
"It's gratifying for the special teams to come up with big plays," said Ken Irvin, who blocked the punt. "Actually we've been playing good other than two plays. We have great special teams here and hopefully we can keep it going."
The Bills' special teams have been a team strength virtually every year of Marv Levy's tenure in Buffalo. But in the previous three games, they gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns, lost two muffed punts and fumbled a punt attempt.
Sunday there were none of those uncharacteristic gaffes.
Mohr had a brilliant game, punting for a gross average of 45 yards and putting two punts inside the 20. The last one, from the Lions' 40 to their 1, was his best.
"Everybody thinks from the 40-yard line it's an easy punt," Mohr said. "But it's really a harder punt because you catch the ball and try to get the ball off at regular speed, then you've got to decelerate to hit the ball. I try to line it, keep it on the corner and have my guys run down and down it."
Mohr's boot landed at the 5, and Eric Smedley downed it.
"Eric made a great play by staying out of the end zone because if you even breathe on the white line, the officials will raise their hand up and call it a touchback," Mohr said.
Irvin's block came with 17 seconds left in the first half. The Bills recovered at the Lions' 15, and two plays later, Christie kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Bills a 13-3 lead. Irvin rushed wide off the left side of the Lions' line and was untouched.
"We thought we could block one," said Mark Pike. "They've had rough problems with protection. Pittsburgh blocked two on them in preseason and somebody (Atlanta) blocked one in the regular season."
The Bills put return man Steve Tasker up in the middle of the line as a rusher, and used Jeff Burris deep as the return man on the play.
"It was kind of designed for Steve to beat the center, and we always have our outside guys coming," Pike said.
"Their wing backs were drawn inside, and after the first two steps I thought I could block it," Irvin said.
It was the Bills' first block since Gabe Northern had one at Philadelphia in the 10th game last year.
Moulds' big return came in the second quarter. Two plays later, Todd Collins threw a 43-yard TD pass to Andre Reed.
The Lions' kickoff landed close to the left sideline. Moulds picked it up on one bounce, made a great cut across the field to his right near the 35 and was tackled at the Lions' 40.
"They were trying to kick away from me and keep me off balance," Moulds said.
"I saw the kick was about 3 yards from the sideline and I didn't want to take a chance of letting it bounce maybe in or maybe out. So I fielded it and the guys did a great job on their blocks."
"I'm glad the results were better but I never panicked," said special teams coach Bruce DeHaven. "I knew the results would turn the other way."