Rod Smith was flashing, buzzing and gleaming like a neon sign on a desert strip. For miles and miles of the game, Smith was the only discernible display on the field.
Smith left everyone behind -- even Mike Anderson and Jake Plummer -- as he darted all over the place for the Denver Broncos on Saturday night. Other than Smith, Denver was frozen in a first-half malaise until cranking up its running game in the second half for an undemanding 28-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Smith finished with 11 receptions, nine in the first half, for 137 yards and a touchdown. Smith's 3-yard touchdown from Jake Plummer with 43 seconds left in the first half tied the game at 7.
"The ball wasn't even designed to go to me," said Smith of his touchdown reception. "It was just a matter of I saw Jake just looking for somebody to throw to. So I just make a play. I saw the ball in the air and tried to make sure that if I didn't get it, no one would get it."
Smith does exactly what a go-to receiver is supposed to do. For the eighth time in the past nine years, Smith went over 1,000 yards for a season. He has 79 catches, which matches his total of a year ago, for 1,003 yards and six touchdowns.
"He's the heart and soul of the offense," said Plummer, who was 20 for 37 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. "As quarterback, you got to love having a guy like that. He really takes the burden off of me."
Smith and Plummer set the tone before Anderson and the running game took over in the second half. Anderson had 32 yards on seven carries by intermission but finished with 97 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Anderson's back-to-back touchdowns in the second half put the game out of reach.
"We just adjusted to what they were doing," Anderson said. "From the start of the game until the half, they were just blitzing. We just adjusted to it."
Bills coach Mike Mularkey lamented the series of events that led to Denver's first touchdown. Cornerback Eric King was flagged for roughing the passer to keep the Denver drive alive. Then the Broncos scored on a tipped pass in the end zone.
"We've got to slow them down (and) we do," Mularkey said. "We have a penalty. It allows them to keep going. We have a tipped ball, guys are around it, touchdown. Instead of getting out of there with a positive, we end up not finishing the drive. I think those type of plays, they take the sail out of your wind a little bit and that's the most frustrating part."
Who's to blame for the fact the Bills have not been able to establish the run? The Bills rushed for 75 yards and Willis McGahee had just 36 on nine carries. Backup Shaud Williams was the leading rusher with five carries for 40 yards.
"I don't know if there's blame," Mularkey said. "We really haven't been efficient running the ball. I thought Kelly (Holcomb) was throwing the ball pretty well. Willis was in and out with little bumps and bruises, and it didn't keep him in a consistent flow. We've played some good defenses that have tried to stop the run. We have a young quarterback who defenses are going to attempt to stop the run (against) and put it in his hands to win it.
"So there's a multitude of reasons why the run game's not as efficient as it ought to be. But I don't know if there's blame on any one person."
The Bills faced a fourth-and-8 play from the Denver 33 in the second quarter. They lined up for a field goal, with Rian Lindell holding and Brian Moorman in the kicking position. Moorman took a direct snap and tried a pooch punt that went into the end zone.
Explained Mularkey: "We were playing for field position. That was the reason for it. I did not feel like a field goal was an opportunity there. We were trying to pin them as far back, playing the field-position game."
Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay, who played at Nebraska from 1999 to 2002 when Turner Gill was the quarterbacks coach, said the new University at Buffalo coach will be successful.
"He's going to be a great coach," Kelsay said. "He's been around a lot of winning teams, playing and coaching. He's a man of high integrity and high moral values. He's a family man who cares about his players and his fellow coaches. He's going to expect a lot out of his kids and coaching staff."