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Van Pelt's debut a success With Evans, Owens bottled up, Jackson led run and pass attack

There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron dismissed offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt a mere 10 days before the regular-season opener.

Maybe Jauron knew what he was doing.

Despite the Bills' disappointing 25-24 loss to the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, Van Pelt's debut as coordinator has to be viewed as a success.

A big key for any play-caller is being able to stay one step ahead of the opponent. Van Pelt dialed up several plays on the Bills' three scoring drives that caught the Patriots off guard and had them on their heels.

The Bills gained only 276 total yards and possessed the ball just under 23 minutes. Van Pelt also wasn't able to push the ball downfield to wide receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans.

But with the Patriots' game plan geared toward stopping Owens and Evans, Van Pelt adjusted and made running back Fred Jackson the focal point of the attack.

Jackson was the Bills' leading rusher and receiver, with 57 yards on the ground and another 83 through the air on five catches. The Bills exploited the Patriots' defense with screen passes and getting Jackson matched up against a linebacker.

None of the plays Van Pelt called would have worked without good blocking from the offensive line.

Center Geoff Hangartner, tackles Demetrius Bell and Brad Butler and rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre all contributed to big plays.

On the Bills' first-quarter scoring drive, they faced third-and-6 from New England's 49-yard line when Van Pelt decided to test the middle of the Patriots' defense with a running play.

Bell helped Levitre double team defensive tackle Vince Wilfork before Bell peeled off that block and locked up outside linebacker Gary Guyton. With tight end Shawn Nelson coming across the formation to get a piece of defensive end Jarvis Green, Jackson had a gaping hole and ripped off a 16-yard gain to the Patriots' 33.

The next play was a perfectly executed screen pass as quarterback Trent Edwards drew in the rush and tossed the ball to Jackson, who followed blockers down the far sideline for a 21-yard pickup.

Edwards' 11-yard touchdown pass to Nelson two plays later was the result of Van Pelt taking advantage of the Patriots' focus on the run. A fake handoff to Jackson froze outside linebacker Pierre Woods long enough for Nelson to sneak out into the flat.

Woods read the play too late and couldn't catch Nelson as he ran past several pursuing Patriots and dove across the goal line. With a rusher in his face, Edwards delivered an accurate throw.

* In the third quarter, Edwards kept a drive alive on third down by escaping pressure and finding Owens, who found room in zone coverage behind the linebackers on a crossing route and gained 19 yards for his first catch of the game.

After a sack, the Bills faced third-and-20 at New England's 38. But Edwards hit tight end Derek Schouman down the seam for a 16-yard play to set up Rian Lindell's 40-yard field goal.

* An offensive pass interference penalty on Owens put the Bills in a third-and-15 hole at their 33. The Bills lined up with three wide receivers and Jackson in the backfield. A fake handoff to Jackson held the linebackers in place as Jackson leaked out into the right flat. Wood also allowed defensive tackle Mike Wright to come through the line uncontested. With pressure in his face, Edwards calmly dumped the ball off to Jackson, who was sprung by a block by Wood, and gained 18 yards for a first down.

Two plays later, it was Jackson again. The Patriots were thinking pass as Edwards was in the shotgun with three wide receivers. But Edwards waited for the pass rush to develop and then handed off to Jackson, who got solid blocks from all five offensive linemen and another from Owens downfield for a 10-yard run.

The drive ended on Edwards' 10-yard touchdown pass to Jackson that gave the Bills a 24-13 lead. The screen was the perfect call against the blitz. The Patriots sent six defenders as the Bills' O-line let the rushers through. Despite the pressure, Edwards sold the play with a quick pump fake to his right and then a throw to Jackson in the left flat. Hangartner delivered the block that sprung Jackson into the secondary, and Edwards and Levitre took care of another defender to complete the play.

>Other observations

* The Bills blitzed only 15 times against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw the ball 53 times. There were 12 five-man rushes and six men were sent three times. The Bills got one sack and several pressures, but it wasn't enough to rattle the unflappable Brady.

* It was a rough night for cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Not only did his fumble on a kickoff return set up the Patriots' winning touchdown, he missed a couple of tackles that allowed receivers to gain extra yardage.

* The Bills and Patriots tried to take away the big play to outside receivers by playing their safeties deep. The Patriots exploited that defense by getting tight end Ben Watson deep between safeties Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott for two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Patriots were able to isolate Watson one-on-one against linebacker Keith Ellison, a former defensive back, but he was no match for Watson's speed and athleticism on the touchdowns.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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