If the Buffalo Bills were supposed to have mailed this one in, someone forgot to put a stamp on the envelope.
The Bills did not treat their final game of the preseason Friday night like, well, their final game of the preseason.
Rather than merely striving to stay healthy for the regular season, they put together a strong performance in all phases on the way to a 27-17 home victory over the Washington Redskins. The Bills generated 399 yards to Washington's 270, outrushing the Redskins by a whopping 230 yards to 77. The Bills finished with 16 rushing first downs.
"Overall, we had a heck of a game," coach Wade Phillips said. "Any time you have almost 400 yards, and 230 yards rushing, you've got to feel like you've had a good step forward. I think our team responded well.
"Overall, I've got to be happy where we are right now. Certainly, we're ready for the regular season (which opens a week from Sunday in San Diego)."
The win gave Phillips a 2-2 record in his first preseason as the Bills' coach, while the Redskins dropped to 1-3.
Quarterback Rob Johnson was flawless in one series of action, during which he led the Bills to a touchdown.
No. 2 QB Doug Flutie was also impressive, leading the Bills on a 99-yard TD march and an 80-yard drive to a field goal.
The Bills' running game, led once again by rookie running back Jonathan Linton, tore through a defense that the Redskins supposedly upgraded by spending $57 million on defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson. Linton finished with a game-high 97 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He also led the Bills with three receptions for 35 yards.
Buffalo's defense staged an impressive goal-line stand to prevent one score. And Marcellus Wiley, starting at defensive end for Bruce Smith, registered two of the team's three sacks, forcing a fumble on the second that led to a score.
The Bills' offense came out smoking, as Johnson hit all four of the passes he attempted for 70 yards and a touchdown.
The drive nearly was stopped when running back Thurman Thomas fumbled, but the ball rolled out of bounds 7 yards behind the line. On the next play, Johnson made a great read on a blown coverage in which two Redskin defenders collided, leaving Eric Moulds wide open. Johnson hit Moulds on a 13-yard pass, and the receiver turned it into a 52-yard gain to the Washington 9. Three plays later, Johnson, behind excellent protection, patiently waited for a receiver to get open in the end zone, and quickly flicked the ball to tight end Lonnie Johnson for the score.
"We've improved every game, with the possible exception of the Carolina game (which the Bills lost, 12-7, on Aug. 14)," said Johnson, who finished the preseason 28 for 41 for 329 yards and three touchdowns, without throwing an interception. "Since that game, we've definitely improved offensively every time out. I feel good about next week and feel that we are ready."
Johnson offered high praise for the work of the Bills' offensive line.
"The offensive line has played great the last two times out," he said. "I didn't get touched tonight, and they did a great job last week in Chicago."
After the Redskins downed a punt at the Buffalo 1 -- with Darryl Pounds jumping with his back to the goal line and tossing the ball back to Scott Turner -- the Bills began their most impressive drive of the summer.
With Flutie at quarterback, the Bills unleashed the type of grind-it-out attack that is the signature of new offensive coordinator Joe Pendry. Eight consecutive runs -- including four in a row by Linton -- pushed the ball to midfield. After Flutie was flagged for intentional grounding, he connected with Linton for a 22-yard screen pass to the Washington 39. Two plays later, Darick Holmes blasted through the line for a 30-yard gain to the Redskin 7. Two plays later, Linton rambled 5 yards for the touchdown to give Buffalo a 14-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the half.
Linton accounted for 58 yards of the drive.
"This preseason's been like a dream come true for me," said Linton, who finished the preseason with a team-high 218 yards on 48 carries. "I did the things that I set out to do. I hit my goals in improving as an all-around football player. I came in here trying to be a better pro player, and I think I've done that."
A muffed punt by Bills rookie receiver Fred Coleman gave Washington the ball at the Buffalo 20. With backup Jeff Hostetler replacing Gus Frerotte at quarterback, the Redskins drove to the 1. But the Bills' defense held tough.
Flutie then led the Bills on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring march, which ended with a 38-yard field goal by Steve Christie to give Buffalo a 17-0 halftime lead. Flutie helped set up the score with his best throw of the preseason, a 58-yard strike on a play-action pass that receiver Kevin Williams caught in stride as he raced down the sideline to the Redskins' 40.
"When you're backed up like that, you have to take a crack at it with a play-action pass," said Flutie, who also had a 4-yard run on fourth-and-3 from the Washington 32. "The safety stayed inside on his side of the field, so I went one-on-one with Kevin, and his guy rolled up and gambled."
In four possessions, Flutie went 4 for 11 for 88 yards before Alex Van Pelt took his place for the second series of the third quarter.
On Washington's first possession of the second half Wiley sacked third-string QB Trent Green and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Pat Williams. Three plays later, Linton barreled in from 4 yards to give the Bills a 24-0 lead.
The Redskins finally scored with 3:51 left in the third quarter when running back Skip Hicks sped 25 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
A Buffalo turnover set up Washington's second score, as a Van Pelt pass was tipped at the line by defensive tackle Marc Boutte and intercepted by rookie linebacker Shawn Barber, who returned it 16 yards for a TD to make it 24-14 with 2:01 remaining in the third quarter. Each team had a fourth-quarter field goal.