TAMPA, Fla. -- Just when the New York Giants were most vulnerable, the Buffalo Bills' no-huddle offense fired blanks.
In the time it took for the Giants to deliver two punishing hits on Bills' big-play man Andre Reed in the second quarter last night, they effectively reduced the hurry-up attack to dump-off passes for running back Thurman Thomas.
Giants' safety Myron Guyton delivered the first big blow to Reed early in the second quarter. His hit prevented Reed from making a catch of a Jim Kelly pass. Moments later came the tangible result of that hit: Reed dropped a pass on third-and-one, and on fourth down the Bills punted.
Reed dropped another pass on the Bills' next series. And later in the period, he was upended on a hit at the knees by linebacker Carl Banks. That hit held Reed to a 4-yard catch on another third-down pass.
More importantly, it made clear the Giants' defensive strategy. Any time Reed came across the middle, he was going to be hammered.
"We had people in place to take their crossing routes away," Banks said after the Giants outlasted the Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV.
"They were running crossing routes and running through big linebackers. We knew we had to do something about it. Get guys lined up in the right position and there was no way in the world those guys [receivers] should be catching passes and not be punished for it."
The Giants defended against the no-huddle with two basic defensive schemes. One employed five defensive backs, the other six. The Giants lined up with only two down defensive linemen, and had one of two linebackers, Lawrence Taylor or Pepper Johnson, help in the pass rush.
The second quarter proved to be pivotal for the Giants. Their offense had been struggling and their defense was barely holding the Bills off. But thanks to Reed's misplays, the Giants forced Buffalo to punt on three successive second-quarter possessions. And when they closed the half with an 87-yard touchdown drive, the momentum had turned.
"We showed a lot of class in the second quarter," Taylor said.
Even though Reed had a game-high eight catches for 62 yards, he was not a factor after the second-quarter pounding. According to Giants cornerback Everson Walls, the Bills took Reed out of the offense as much as anyone.
"Kelly didn't feel good about throwing to him [after that]," Walls said. "We were keying in on him the whole game. Andre's good, but he can't do anything without the ball."
Kelly's passing game worked only sporadically in the second half. The NFL's top-rated passer this season, Kelly completed 18 of 30 passes for 212 yards, but the Bills were only 1-for-8 in third-down conversions. The one successful conversion came on their final offensive series.
"I saw HBO yesterday and [former NFL receiver] Cris Collinsworth said the hurry-up offense and the heat were going to tire us out," the Giants' Johnson said.
"The hurry-up really didn't hurt us, but our offense tired them out with the constant pounding and they were the ones sucking air."
Thurman Thomas was the most productive Bill, rushing for 135 yards on only 15 carries, including a 31-yard TD on a draw play. He also caught five passes for 55 yards.
"We didn't get many opportunities to go with our offense," Kelly said. "When we did, we didn't capitalize. In the first half we had to score more than 20 points, but we didn't. We just felt that every time we got the ball in the second half, we were going to have to score."
Said Buffalo coach Marv Levy, "When you run the no-huddle, you don't have a lot of possession time. And when you don't score, you get rid of it fast. Every offense has its advantages and maybe one of the disadvantages of that approach manifested itself today because of the offense the Giants have."