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The Buffalo Bills haven't been hurting this bad in a long time.

You have to go way back to the bad, old days of 1985, in fact, to recall a day like the 65,199 at the Bills' stadium saw on Sunday.

That '85 season was the last time the Bills started out 0-3. And it was the last time anyone has seen the Bills collapse the way they did in losing to the St. Louis Rams, 34-33.

The Bills lost for the third time in three starts despite taking an 18-point lead four minutes into the third quarter.

They lost despite leading by 11 with 15 minutes to go.

They lost despite getting by far their best offensive output of the season and despite benefiting from four St. Louis turnovers.

"It's embarrassing," said middle linebacker John Holecek. "We embarrassed ourselves. There's no excuse for the way the defense played. We had some big plays, but that doesn't count when you give up so many points and so many yards."

"I just don't know," said cornerback Thomas Smith, shaking his head. "Ever since I've been here, we've never been 0-2 or 0-3."

The 18-point lead was the biggest the Bills have squandered since blowing a 21-0 edge against Pittsburgh in a 30-24 loss on Dec. 15, 1985.

Making matters even worse for the Bills was the injury report. Receiver Andre Reed suffered a separated shoulder and is out for 2 to 4 weeks. Quarterback Rob Johnson was knocked out of the game with a blow to the head in the fourth quarter. He's OK, but the fact he has been KO'd in two out of three games is one of the team's many worries.

In 1985, the Bills were a 2-14 team that was accustomed to losing in all kinds of ways.

No one in the Bills' smallest opening-day crowd since 1984 could have predicted the manner in which the team lost to the Rams.

The Bills' defense, ranked second in the NFL after two weeks, was shredded for 406 yards, including 181 on the ground. Rams running back Greg Hill gained 158 yards on 19 carries.

Rams quarterback Tony Banks threw for 235, engineered scoring drives of 98 and 80 yards and ran for the winning TD from 2 yards out with 11 seconds left in the game.

"Absolutely horrible," coach Wade Phillips said of his team's run defense. "They have a good running back but I guess we're reading our press clippings on how we are going to stop the run. . . . We tried to keep him outside but we didn't do that very well. For them to drive 98 yards is ridiculous to me."

The Rams' winning, 80-yard drive came in the final 3:57. The key play was a 34-yard pass down the middle to Ricky Proehl to the Bills' 14 with 1:09 left.

The Bills were in a two-deep zone with Kurt Schulz and Manny Martin playing back. Banks found Proehl behind Bills linebacker Marlo Perry and in front of Martin.

"They sent three men deep," said Schulz. "They really just split the safeties. Manny was on the strong side. . . . He's gotta cover 50 or 60 yards. They stretched us."

"(Eddie) Kennison was streaking up on the outside, and I was stuck in the middle," Martin said.

Four plays later, on second-and-goal from the Bills' 3, cornerback Ken Irvin was called for holding Proehl after an incomplete pass in the end zone.

It was a rough day for Irvin. He also was called for a 30-yard pass-interference penalty early in the fourth quarter. That one gave the Rams a first down at the 1
and set up a TD that pulled them within 31-28.

"Banks was scrambling around," Irvin said of the holding penalty. "I didn't feel I grabbed the guy intentionally, but the ref called it. It was better than giving up a touchdown."

The Rams got the TD on the next play, when Banks dropped back to pass, saw no one open and ran in.

"It was a play-action pass," Holecek said. "We had the crossing routes and the tight end coming across covered. But Banks is elusive and he got away."

The Bills looked like they were going to waltz to their first win early in the third quarter.

They took a 21-10 lead when Thurman Thomas capped an 80-yard drive by taking a pitch left and following great blocking into the end zone from 14 yards out.

Schulz intercepted Banks' next pass and returned it to the Rams' 16.

On the next play, Johnson faked a handoff and found tight end Jay Riemersma wide open in the right side of the end zone.

It was 28-10 Bills, with 11:41 left in the third quarter.

"I think we got a little complacent," said running back Antowain Smith, who rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries. "It's never over. We had to finish the game like we started the game."

The Bills' offense, however, sputtered from that point on. The next two possessions produced a fumbled snap that the Rams recovered and an interception of Johnson on a short throw for Moulds. Those turnovers led to 10 Rams points and got them back in the game.

On its final seven possessions, the Bills offense produced just three points, six first downs and yielded six sacks.

For the game, the Bills yielded nine sacks. However, at least four of them were due to Johnson not throwing the ball away in time or rolling out to the sideline and out of bounds.

Johnson was hurt on a QB sneak for a first down on the Bills' final possession, with 6:49 left.

"Regardless of how many yards we had, offensively, defensively and special teams, we didn't do enough to win the game," said fullback Sam Gash.

"I think we showed the potential we can have when we scored and went way ahead," Phillips said. "Then we also showed what kind of green team we are as far as realizing how to play when you're ahead."

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