7:00 PM ET, August 15, 2004
Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, NY
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- The cheers went up the instant Willis McGahee took the field. How's that for pressure?"I was like, 'Man, I better do something," the Buffalo Bills running back said.And McGahee delivered, scoring the go-ahead touchdown in his NFL preseason debut and helping the Bills to a 16-6 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.McGahee scored on a 1-yard plunge, and finished with 13 carries for 58 yards and one catch for 9 yards. After 19 months of recuperation and countless questions about his health, McGahee finally began providing some answers after missing all of his rookie season while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery."Another step up the ladder," McGahee said. "I'm taking nice strides. I'm not rushing it. I'm just moving along, forward progress."It was an encouraging start for McGahee and the Bills (1-0) under rookie coach Mike Mularkey, Pittsburgh's former offensive coordinator who took over following Gregg Williams' dismissal last December.Besides McGahee, the Bills showed confidence in what had been an underutilized running attack last year. And Buffalo's defense was strong, registering two turnovers and three sacks in limiting the Broncos to a pair of field goals by Jason Elam.It was a different story for Denver (0-2), which continued to struggle on offense after a sloppy outing in last week's 20-17 loss to Washington.Starter Jake Plummer went 3-of-11 for 40 yards passing and two interceptions, giving him three in two preseason games.No worries, said Plummer, who has three more preseason games -- starting with next week's game at Seattle -- to get the kinks out."What's the date today?" Plummer said testily in response to a reporter's question. "We've got a month left to play. If we go out and stink it up this bad in the first week of the season, then I'll be concerned."There's suddenly fewer concerns in Buffalo now that McGahee is showing he can provide the Bills with a solid 1-2 rushing punch when teamed with starter Travis Henry.The cheers went up when McGahee first took the field, lining up beside Henry late in the first quarter. And the crowd was already on its feet in anticipation before McGahee followed two blockers into the end zone, putting the Bills ahead 10-3 with 4:37 left in the second quarter."It felt great to just get into the end zone. That was a goal of mine," McGahee said. "It was really good to hear all of those cheers. It means a lot."McGahee's confidence appeared to grow as the game progressed. On the Bills' first drive of the third quarter, McGahee reeled off a strong 16-yard scamper to the left, and followed it up with a few nifty cutbacks, breaking three tackles, for a 6-yard gain.This is what everyone hoped to expect from McGahee. He's the former Miami star the Bills selected 23rd overall in the 2003 draft, knowing that he would need at least a year to recover after he was hurt in his final college game, the national championship against Ohio State.McGahee had already provided a glimpse of his talent when he scored four times, all from within 2 yards, in a controlled scrimmage against Cleveland earlier this month."I think the rust is getting further off," Mularkey said. "Comparing him to the scrimmage to the preseason game, I think he started stronger than he did. He ran well."Buffalo's Rian Lindell rounded out the scoring with three field goals, including a 42-yarder to put the game away with 2:10 left. Rookie quarterback J.P. Losman, the second of Buffalo's two first-round picks in April, had an encouraging performance, finishing 5-of-5 for 55 yards passing. He also ran three times for 37 yards.Plummer struggled in Denver's first two drives, both ending with interceptions. He didn't get much help as his receivers dropped several easy catches, including one by Ashley Lelie, whose bobble led to Terrence McGee's interception.
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