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HOME FINALE IS A FLOP MONDAY BILLBOARD / By News football staff

Big picture: The Bills made their last home game of the season a night to forget. Saturday night's 28-17 loss to the Denver Broncos ensured this will be the fourth time in the last nine seasons that the Bills have suffered 10 losses or more in a season.

Player of the game: There was no answer for Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith. While it wasn't a total abuse job like Miami's Chris Chambers a few weeks ago, Smith's 11-catch, 137-yard evening, which included a touchdown, was special. The other Denver receivers had nine receptions combined. Special mention goes to running back Mike Anderson, who rushed for 97 yards while scoring two touchdowns.

Play of the game: In the third quarter on third and 10 from the Buffalo 44, Jake Plummer hooked up with wideout Ashley Lelie, who made a stunning, two-handed, over-the-shoulder grab for 40 yards to the Bills 4. That set up Plummer's 7-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Duke and the Broncos' first lead of the night at 14-7.

Unsung hero: Broncos linebacker Al Wilson was credited for only six tackles, but he seemed to always hover around the ball. He recorded a sack and deflected three passes.

Game Balls: Give one to Smith, Anderson and Plummer, who passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 6.3 yards on three carries.

Star sighting: Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins from the R&B group TLC with her friend, injured Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes.

One of many signs: "All I want for Christmas is a Plummer signed football. I have the Sharpie!"

Best chant: "Let's go Sabres!"

Zebra report: The refs were obviously not in a rush to get home. They whistled both teams for 21 penalties and 172 yards. The Bills were hit 12 times for 82 yards, while the Broncos were popped nine times for 90 yards. The penalties seemed to hurt the Bills more often than not. In the second quarter following a 27-yard completion from Kelly Holcomb to Eric Moulds to the Denver 32, Chris Villarrial was twice hit with false start penalties. Toss in a sack by Wilson and the drive ended with a Brian Moorman punt instead of points.

Quote unquote: "I think coach (Mularkey) said it best, "We're not a mentally tough team.' " - Strong safety Lawyer Milloy.

Counting the house: A crowd of 71,887.

Coming attractions: The Bills' final two games are on the road, starting next Saturday at Cincinnati and on New Year's Day at the New York Jets.

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>Grading the Bills

RUNNING GAME: F. OK, so the Broncos were focused on the run. Still, the Bills didn't get back to it. Willis only had nine carries.

PASSING GAME: D. Moulds was good. Holcomb was OK. Evans had drops. Bills just aren't good enough to sustain drives against a quality defense.

RUN DEFENSE: D. Final numbers were awful. Penetration was good early. If offense stepped up, run front might have survived better.

PASS DEFENSE: D. Blitz worked in first half. Clements forced a fumble. But when run game got going, Denver did anything it wanted.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Moorman had great night but bad coaching decision to pooch punt from Denver 33 hurt his average. Returns were good.

COACHING: F. Way too many mistakes, from silly penalties to lining up wrong. Coaches lack confidence in run game. Defensive plan was fine.

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>Grading the Broncos

Running game: A. After a slow start, Ponies wound up with 178 yards. They were averaging 157. O-line was outstanding.

Passing game: B. Jake showed good mobility in pocket and didn't throw a pick. Rod Smith is a pro's pro. Lelie made awesome catch on go-ahead drive.

Run defense: A. No. 2-ranked run defense had easy night at office. Bills couldn't sustain drives, and never got into running rhythm.

Pass defense: A. Broncos didn't stop Bills as much as Bills stopped themselves with penalties. Good tackling in secondary.

Special teams: D. Sauerbrun shanked two punts early. Kickoffs were short. Coverage team had tough time catching McGee.

Coaching: B. Even though Bills were focused on run, Broncs came out passing too much. Team played with poise, confidence.

- Compiled by News football writers

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